Life or Laptop

In my bestselling book ‘The Lazy Project Manager[1]’ I have one chapter entitled ‘Breathe Normally’ where I describe the following situation:

You are on yet another flight, either to or from your latest project engagement, somewhere in the world. Maybe you have been lucky, maybe the flight is on time and you know your luggage is safely stored in the overhead locker, you are not seated in the middle seat between two sumo wrestlers with body odour and this flight does offer complimentary in-flight beverages.

You settle back in your seat and begin to drift in to that ‘yet another flight’ snooze, vaguely aware that the cabin crew member is, for the one thousandth time, explaining to you how to complete that complex conundrum of buckling and unbuckling your seat belt. You begin to disengage from the world around you…

But wait! The lady in the uniform, vainly talking to everyone but knowing no-one is listening in return, is about to utter a supreme piece of wisdom.

In the event of an emergency, an oxygen mask will drop in front of you from the panel above. Place the mask over your mouth and nose, straighten out the strap, and pull the strap to be sure it is tight on your face. After you are wearing it securely, a tug on the hose will start the oxygen flow. It makes sense to put your own mask on first, before helping others. Breathe normally.

Breathe normally.

To begin with I used to think that this was the craziest thing possible to say. If I was ever on a flight where the oxygen masks were to drop down you can be sure that I would place the mask over my face, pull the strap as tight as possible, tug the hose until I felt the sweet taste of oxygen flowing. But the last thing I would do would be to breathe normally. I would breathe like it was my last moments on this earth (or air at this point, earth presumably about to enter the equation in a rather nasty crashing, crushing, exploding sort of way).

Breathe normally.

Not a hope in hell!

But actually breathing normally is really, really good advice. Being calm, wasting less energy, wasting less oxygen, thinking clearly and considering the situation in a reasonable, objective manner is absolutely what is most likely to help you to survive.

In the project world when all around you are going crazy with panic then breathing normally will allow you to consider the situation, assess the core issues, plan a response and carry out the actions with the minimum amount of effort and to the maximum effect.



I was sadly reminded of this advice when I read about the crash of Emirates Flight 521 which was a scheduled international passenger flight from Thiruvananthapuram, India, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, operated by Emirates using a Boeing 777-300.

On 3 August 2016, the aircraft carrying 282 passengers and 18 crew crashed while landing at Dubai International Airport. All 300 people on board survived the accident and were safely evacuated from the aircraft. This, of course, is an excellent outcome considering what happened to the aircraft very shortly after the evacuation had been completed, and all credit to the crew for managing this situation.

Emirates is one of my preferred airlines and I have only positive experiences from the many miles I have journeyed under their care.

But there were some disturbing images recorded in the smoke filled plane with passengers attempting to retrieve luggage from the overhead compartments instead of focusing on the clear priority of getting everyone off the plane as quickly as possible. Perhaps this is human nature, certainly this is not the only example of this behaviour – other plane emergencies have experienced similar actions.

The thing is we all face priorities, daily, and we all have to make decisions, sometimes difficult ones, but rarely can you be faced with such a simple decision as in the case of EK521. There is nothing I own that outweighs my own life. Simple. And there is nothing I own that outweighs another person’s life either. Simple.

Breathing normally is critical and sometimes those decisions that you have to make, for yourself, and for those around you aren’t even decisions at all, there is only one answer.


Whilst no passenger died sadly Jassim Al Baloushi, a firefighter, died while battling the flames aboard Emirates flight EK521 and my thoughts go to his family for their loss.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, commented ‘We offer our condolences to the family and friends of the nation’s martyr and we pray Allah grant them patience and solace’.

Saif Al Suwaidi, director of the General Civil Aviation Authority, said: ‘I salute his ultimate sacrifice that kept many from harm’s way. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family’.


Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion-dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.



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