At first glance it might not seem like the famous board game has much to do with your career, but delve a little deeper and snakes and ladders can teach you a lot about how to approach your working life.

When I was a lad we had a mountain of board games that was topped-up every Christmas and they were a constant source of arguments between my mum and dad. Favourites included Scrabble, Monopoly and Hotel.

All had a clear aim – to get the highest score or to hoard as much money or as many assets as possible.

In the workplace, the aims of the game are normally pretty clear, but how you achieve the final result is not. Deciding what to work at is a constant battle.

Ask your manager and you will get the corporate speak ‘focus on the greatest return on investment’ or ‘focus on the highest value products’ and this is usually peppered with ‘you are accountable for…’. What you really want is a simple way to prioritise your work and this article may have a workable solution.

One board game that I never hear described as a family favourite is ‘Snakes and ladders.’ I think the explanation is simple - it combines the fear of snakes (known as ophidiophobia) with the fear of climbing (climacophobia) and expects it to be fun! It just isn’t.

How can a game ending at the beginning or starting at the end be enjoyable?

Now take Snakes and ladders and think about how this relates to the workplace – this seems much easier. You have the snakes, both people (you know who they are) and projects that keep dragging you down. Then you have the ladders or bridges that can be thought of as promotions or building new relationships. In the real-world you don’t have to roll a dice, you just need to plan and prioritise; building ladders along the way and avoiding or minimising the snakes.

This all sounds very nice, but how do you do that?

A very practical approach to prioritisation is the time management matrix shown in the below table.


IMPORTANT  Priority 1 'Do it now'

a. A PR crisis.

b.Meeting a hard and fast deadline.

Priority 2 'Decide when + date'

a.Building bridges with Colleagues or departments.

b.Personal development.

NOT IMPORTANT Priority 3 'Delegate'

a. Certain meetings.

b.Picking up work delegated by your boss.

Priority 4 'Dump it'

a. Gossiping at coffee machine.

b. Filing reports.


This tool can be applied to everyday tasks as well as week-to-week tasks. This is how to use it.

Define what is important

The aim of this game is to focus your efforts on priority one and two items and then make time to do these.

For example, it might be important in your role to manage your work emails. In this case try to ensure this is done at set times during the day rather than having your inbox open all day. Indeed, during the average working day it has been estimated that digital media interrupts up to 50% of employees every 15 minutes.

The consequence of interruption to work has been negatively related to decision-making, work efficiency and productivity – so make sure you avoid this snake! This can be done by creating your own rules. In the case of the email game, try setting a rule that means you check your emails two to three times per day.

Open your calendar

Start assigning time in your calendar to work on ‘important, not urgent’ activities. It is a common mistake to focus on ‘urgent, important’ activities and losing focus on other important tasks that aren’t as time-sensitive.

Avoid this snake as it omits the items that you know need to be done but just don’t have time to do them. Now caveat that with ‘need to be done but just don’t have time to do them, yet!’.

This is a ladder.

For example, you may need a qualification to gain a promotion. Assigning activities can be done daily, almost like a to-do list. You can also ask yourself questions like ‘what does a good week or good month look like? Then assign time to plan for a good week or good month.

When entering activities in the calendar make sure they are actionable and achievable – i.e., assign an objective (e.g., personal development), a goal (e.g., book a place on a training course).

Also make sure you assign time to work on ‘urgent, important’ items but work them around the free periods you have in your calendar. Moving items around in the calendar is fine, but don’t delete them. This is a snake in the grass. These items are not going away and they will come back to bite you at some point in the future.

Free time is essential

Lastly, keep some free time in your calendar. This is a ladder and an opportunity to build time with your colleagues. Capture this as conversations and meetings and make sure this is done. This is also a snake! You want to avoid unenjoyable comments like ‘I knew nothing about this’ and having to go back to the beginning of the project.

If you haven’t yet played this game, what are you waiting for?

With a few tweaks you may find it is a very useful and practical tool that can be used to manage your time and help you to achieve your objectives and goals. If nothing else, adding your objectives and goals to your calendar will make it easier to remember what you have achieved when you get to your annual appraisal.

It will also remind you what you need to get done in a day so you can finish on time.


Christopher Ian Wright

Christopher Ian Wright

Christopher Wright is the founder of Red Pharm communications. His MBA dissertation researched the effect of email on worker performance and productivity

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