Time Management Paper

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Management Time: Who's Got the Monkey?
by William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass

Summary:

In this article the issue of managers running out of time and their subordinates running out of work is discussed. The author argues that for managers to function effectively, they need to be able to spend their time as much as possible on activities which are imposed on them by their own management or by their peers. However, a lot of managers seem to spent too much time on ‘self-imposed’ tasks, such as handling subordinates’ problems.

To further explain this, the author uses the metaphor of having ‘a monkey on the back’. For example if a subordinate comes to a manager with a question or a problem and the manager replies “let me think on it” or “I’ll get back to you”. The manager has just allowed a "monkey" to leap from the subordinate's back to his/her back, by accepting primary responsibility for a subordinate’s problem or action item

This means that the person who requested for help, was able to offload his/her problem to the manager, thus reducing his/her workload. At the same time, the manager has increased his/her workload. The manager is now in fact working for the subordinates, allowing them control of the timing and content of his/her agenda, thus reducing the manager’s ability to attend to his/her own priorities and restricting the availability of the manager to the group. This is especially the case if the manager is dealing with several “monkeys” at the same time.

Ultimately, this may cause the work of the entire team to suffer. To maintain the leverage the manager needs to establish strict guidelines about accepting and handling responsibilities that arise from subordinates.

The proposed solution in the article to this problem appears simple: develop your subordinates’ initiative so that they can deal with the problems or action items by themselves. For example: instead of the manager taking the initiative, the manager and the...
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