How Whack-A-Mole Can Improve Your Productivity

Whack-A-MoleHave you ever played Whack-A-Mole, the classic arcade game?  You’ve got a padded hammer, and when a mole pops up, you whack it back down. The object of the game is to nail as many moles as you can before they duck back into the hole.

The moles don’t stay up for very long. As the game continues, two moles pop up simultaneously, then perhaps three, and eventually on opposite sides of the grid. In the end game, it gets crazy, because time is running out fast.

Does this remind you of your job? You have to move quickly to respond, sometimes without much real information.  You knock one mole down and two others pop up.  It’s always nuts close to deadlines. The more you do the harder it gets…

And how about that other player—obviously not as good a corporate citizen as you.  While you’re trying to whack as many moles as you can, you observe the peer next to you, who is being very selective, perhaps only focusing on one or two moles. 

You’ve got to wonder, don’t you, “Is that a better way?”

Here are three actions to help you deal with the Whack-A-Mole conundrum:

  • You don’t have to whack every mole. It’s not possible, and you really shouldn’t try. So don’t.
  • Your workday is a zero-sum game.  You don’t likely have bundles of free time at your disposal. If you add a new chunk to your workload, something somewhere is going to have to give. As former Medtronic CEO and Harvard professor Bill George says, don’t keep piling stuff on. If you’re considering adding to your to-do list, then immediately ask, “What can I add to my not-to-do list.”
  • You’re probably going to have a dramatic turn of events everyday; the negative ones are the most memorable. You’re going to miss some moles. But the sky isn’t falling, and you have a sacred responsibility to be a healthy role-model to those you lead. 

Having a strategic focus is critical. People either get that or they don’t. Be one of those who get it. 

About the author

Dr. Dick Ruhe is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Photo Credit: Whack-A-Mole photo courtesy Miami Herald blog (

8 thoughts on “How Whack-A-Mole Can Improve Your Productivity

  1. Great post. Having the discipline to keep a “what not to do list” can be a huge enabler to drive focus and prioritization. Pick the big things and deliberately say “no” to as many small ones as possible. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Lovely article! You made me smile at the beginning and then you got me thinking! I am a perfectionist so I suffer every time when I can’t finish a task in time or when I can’t do everything on my agenda. But I guess you are right when you say that no one can do everything, because is not possible. After all Rome wasn’t built in a day either.

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