“How often do you keep yourself bustling with tasks that kind of give you the charge that comes from getting something done in the moment, but that doesn’t move you toward your chief goal?” This is the one complaint that I hear expressed by business clients regardless of business or industry type. They know what they want to be and should be doing and yet at the end of the day, week, month or year they are left frustrated with all they haven’t been able to accomplish that they consider to be meaningful in terms of taking them to their job goals.
Todd David wrote an article for Business Insider in which he creatively labeled this unsatisfying result as the Pinball Syndrome. You know … ball comes onto the playing field from all angles and at all speeds and our job is to send them down paths that will give us more points by keeping the ball in play as long as possible. Those who have spent hours and quarters playing these games in arcades know that they provide us with fun and challenge, however, we also know that ultimately we will lose with no real reward or great accomplishment. I think it’s a clever and meaningful analogy.
In coaching a client, one of the first things we might do is establish where that client wants to go from where they are ‘now’. That’s the beginning however, it’s only the
beginning. From this point it’s a matter of making the identified goals happen. Making them happen is the real challenge and as David indicates, the problem is that ”if you reach the end of the day and felt like “I’ve been too busy to get anything done,” that’s the pinball syndrome.”
The things that grab and take our attention seem like they must be done now. I refer to them as ‘blips’ that divert our focus and, too often, take us off course. They might look like this:
- You MUST stay tuned into your email account because the next one might be important and you don’t want the sender to wait for a response.
- You DROP whatever you doing to help another person who stops by to ask if you have a second … a second that becomes many minutes and completely takes you off center for what you know you need to do.
- You CONVINCE yourself that you really should drop into a meeting in case they need your input on the topic … because you can.
- You NEED to send off a quick and short memo that you remember has to be sent today (note: not now)
We’re playing a pinball game when we are giving into the blips and allowing them to hijack our intended path for any day regardless of how important we think they are. The problem is that although they all seem valid, at the end of the day they haven’t moved us any closer to our overriding goals and achieving responsibilities. The result is often a sense of frustration and even overall failure.
When addressing and recognizing the ‘blips’ that manage to take us off course, the biggest admission is that we feel more confident responding to them because we are comfortable and know what we need to do and how to do it. So bring on the ‘blips’ and at the end of my day I’ll be able to check off all that I did to be busy. Busy, yes however not productive where I really need to be. Thus the busy-ness gives us something to hide behind yet doesn’t result in our feeling like we’ve accomplished anything or much.
To keep the Pinball Syndrome out of the job calls for a few straight-forward steps:
- Clearly define the goal … where are you heading and what does it look like when achieved?
- Create the plan to get there … what are the steps you need to take on the way to arriving at your goal? They should be realistic and achievable in a reasonable time-frame
- Create some accountability for yourself … for this you can ask another person to help you make certain you have done what you say you’re going to do. This is often the role of a coach as well as co-workers or trusted friend.
- End each day having prepared your ‘to-do’ list for tomorrow … items you intend to address and categorized as A, B or C based on their priority. This help one stay focused on those things they must do tomorrow leaving lesser priorities for doing when time allows.
- Acknowledge and celebrate … the things you’re doing right that are moving you to your goal. Doing so becomes the fuel that keeps us moving forward because of what we ARE achieving.
Knowing where we want to go and what we are expected to accomplish in order to be considered and seen as successful is an important foundation for job satisfaction and fulfillment. When we’re playing pinball, we’ll have fun and we’ll feel we’ve won the game based on how long and how many silver balls we kept in play … before they fell into the hole. It’s really a lot about nothing. Executing the job as if we’re engaged in a pinball game clearly works against our success and gratification.
Suggestion: go for the personal satisfaction and rewards that come with staying the course even when pushing yourself over the edge into a space of unknowns … one that initially doesn’t feel good or comfortable but gets you to the end goal. And if you still want to incorporate pinball into your life, google can direct you to the perfect neighborhood arcade and it’s only a quarter per game.