Who's Got the Monkey

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How come you've worked hard all day but haven't started the one task that was most important to you? As a manager, how come your daily work schedule often falls in a heap by mid-morning? Who's got the monkey? The answer is, you have - probably several! "Management Time: Who's got the Monkey" has been the second most popular management article ever published by the Harvard Business Review ("Management Time: Who's got the Monkey", by William Oncken and Donald Wass, first published by Harvard Business Review, 1974) and has been reprinted several times. Thirty odd years later, the message Oncken and Wass sent us on management, still holds true today. They suggested that there are three types of management-imposed time pressure - Boss, System, and Self. Boss-imposed time pressure

Activities, which must be accomplished, or we'll suffer the consequences! System-imposed time pressure

Those activities/requests which come from peers and colleagues. The penalties are not so severe or as swift, but we may still suffer if these things are not done. Self-imposed time pressure

Those activities we ourselves initiate or agree to do - particularly those things which have been upwardly delegated from people who report to us. As managers, these activities impact heavily on our discretionary time and the penalty for not doing these is stress. Oncken and Wass used the monkey analogy to make their point. As the manager, when someone in our team talks about a "problem" they want to "run past us", the monkey (in other words, the problem) is very clearly on their back. But when we respond with something like "Well, I haven't got time right now, but leave it with me", the monkey immediately leaps from their shoulders to ours. We have just been on the receiving end of an excellent piece of upward delegation! If this happens to you every day (or at least more often than it should), you'll soon be carrying a cagefull of monkeys on your back. Not only have you reduced your...
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