The Air Traffic Controller’s Story


Janice has just arrived on shift. Glancing at the numerous blips on the radar screen, she can feel the anxiety grow in the pit of her stomach. “It’s going to be another stressful day”, she thinks to herself as she slides into her chair. “Hotel Mike Delta 664 is in approach, Romeo Mike Lima 541 and Alpha Alpha Victor 411 are stacked” her co-worker is saying, handing over shift. “It’s all yours”, the co-worker says as she leaves.


Out the large control tower window, Janice can see HMD664 landing on the runway. “Where to?” comes the pilot’s voice over the radio. “Um, just hang around there on the runway for a bit” Janice replies “I’ll deal with you in a moment.” In the mean time, RML541 started its approach on the runway. “Am I clear for approach?” the pilot of AAV411’s voice comes through the headphones. “Yes, you are clear AAV411”, says Janice, glancing at all the other blips on her screen – each little triangle representing yet another plane needing to land.


RML541 and AAV411 have joined HMD664 on the runway and both those pilots are yelling over the radio at Janice, wanting to know where to taxi to. Janice looks out the window at the planes on the runway and thinks “I’ve gotta deal with this” while she can literally feel the stress build up in her body. But she doesn’t. She leaves these planes on the runway and allows six more planes to land. By now, the runway is in chaos. So Janice does what she always does: she gets up, walks out of the tower and down to the runway. She walks past each plane, looks at it and walks on. Sometimes she’ll stop for a moment to chat to the plane’s pilot, high up in the cockpit. Then she moves on down the runway, looking at each plane, before returning to her control tower.


All this walking up and down took quite a bit of time! Now there are even more planes sitting on the runway. Janice feels a headache starting to develop right in the middle of her forehead. She knows there is a backlog developing. But she still keeps landing planes on the runway. Eventually her boss storms in. “Why isn’t RML541 at the gate yet?” he yells. And the cargo department calls wanting to know why their delivery is late. And all the pilots are screaming at Janice over the radio. And Janice feels like the out-of-control air traffic controller that she is.


What a ridiculous story, you might think. And you would be absolutely right! (My apologies to the entire airline industry – I know this is NOT how it’s done!)


But here’s the thing: why do I see so many people treat their inboxes the way Janice treats the runway and their incoming e-mail like Janice’s planes? How come e-mails gets “parked” in the inbox instead of handled immediately? And scrolling up and down the inbox? It doesn’t work for Janice and it won’t work for us!


Our inboxes are runways. Our incoming e-mails are planes. And we need to control it all – effectively – not like Janice.



Tiana Wilson-Buys is a Business Coach and Productivity Strategist. She offers a free 30-minute virtual meeting to help you get organised. Book your slot here.