Do you have a monkey on your back?

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monkey-nails-1200059_1920I am sure that occasionally a colleague asks you to take over a task he or she was supposed to do. Or, a client calls you to help out on an additional challenge he or she has. This problem, burden or challenge is a monkey. They take a lot of time and energy.


Before you know it, you’ve got 10 of those monkeys on your back at the end of the morning.

Why is this so?

You accept monkeys because you don’t want to disappoint anybody by saying “no”. It can also be that you like your work so much that you just can’t get enough of it. Perhaps you’re very loyal to your company. It might also be that you just like to help anyone who asks for it and you want to be nice. You drop whatever you were doing and take care (feed) the monkey. You’re becoming a magnet for monkeys.

Sometimes, there are too many monkeys on your back and you just can’t get rid of them, let alone, do your regular work.

Recognize this? Well, here’s how to deal with monkeys:

First, before starting the day, make a list of tasks you need to do and block time specifically for monkeys. So, when someone tries to give you a monkey, agree on a time that you’ll deal with it.

Then, ask specific questions on what needs to be done, what you have to do and what others can do. Listen carefully, lean in and show empathy. The other one might be at loss and in distress. Help the other to calm down.

Make sure you know what the monkey (problem) is. Sometimes the other just wants you to listen.

Inform by when they need the task to be done. Check this against your own time schedule and priorities. If it fits, great! If not, propose a new deadline or offer them that you’ll try to find someone else to do it.

By saying, “I will check out what I can do” you’re not promising them anything. The monkey is not on your back, yet.

Ask for help. This can be from your colleagues, your boss or even from the person (client) asking you to do this task.

Offer help, generate ideas on how the other can take care of the monkey for themselves without it getting on your back.

Based on your knowledge on what the monkey exactly is, together with all your other priorities, you can decide to take care of the monkey or to dismiss it.

That is to say “no”, politely. Explain what it takes to complete the task and that it doesn’t fit in your schedule and your own priorities. You could say that by helping them, this would make someone else unhappy and that’s not what you want. Of course you’re making them unhappy by declining the monkey but be aware that if you’re saying “no” to someone else, you’re saying “yes” to yourself!

You’ll have to start somewhere to be assertive and say “no”, otherwise monkeys will find you constantly. Just be polite and create understanding.

Monkeys can be quite distracting. Especially when you’ve a lot to do. A visualization technique I use when I need to focus and a lot of monkeys have turned up, is to imagine a golden cage. Every time a monkey disturbs my train of thought, I gently pick it up, and put it in the golden cage. This helps me not to become a magnet for monkeys.

What tips do you have on how to deal with monkeys? I am curious and I am looking forward hearing from you!

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Walter Van Noten
5 September 2016 17:55

I found that monkeys are easier to deal with if you allow input only at one or two set times during the day. Not allow yourself to be interrupted by monkeys. That way, they only appear when you are ready to deal with them.