I recall it like it was yesterday. My extremely demanding boss sauntered over like he had nothing better to do and asked me what I was working on. What happened next is not so clear, except to say I didn’t cover myself with glory by bemoaning my workload and a hundred and one other reasons why I would be failing to deliver my objectives that month………….again!
“People are stealing my time, I keep getting interrupted (this moment being an example), there are not enough hours in the day, people keep making silly mistakes, priorities keep changing, problems keep cropping up, paperwork goes missing, we are continually fire fighting, I don’t have enough people” …..and so it went on.
To his credit the boss listened and didn’t attempt to stop my tirade. Eventually when I paused to draw breath he said, very calmly:
“The problem with you Julian is you always take the monkey off other people and put it on your back”
Now I was incensed, I didn’t have the time to listen to this crap, I don’t have a monkey I’m busy and I heard myself say loudly:
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
Sensing my frustration he explained:
“You see Julian, people continually bring you their problems, let’s call it their monkey, because they know every time they do you take it off their back and put it on yours”
“When do I do that?” I retorted.
“Whenever I ask you to do something you always say yes, regardless of what you are doing”
“But I thought you wanted me to respond positively!” I said.
“Yes I do, but I also want to know how realistic it is against all your other commitments. When you say yes, I have to believe you can fit it in with your other work without compromising anything. If you don’t tell me then how can I know?”
He continued: “I’ve seen you in action. You often reply to people’s requests with: I will make a note to look at it later or I will see what I can do or I will come back with an answer later”
I protested: “But it’s often quicker if I do it myself, it would take longer to explain it than to do it myself”
“Ah yes” he said “but then again you will always have to do it because people won’t have to think for themselves”
Then he asked me the real killer question: “What have you achieved in the last 12 months?” I then ran off a long list of tasks I had undertaken, dealing with this that and the other thing, busy, busy, busy.
He asked me again: “But what have you actually achieved” Again I trotted out a list of tasks, thinking he had clearly gone deaf! After the 3rd time of asking I realised this verbal dance would never end until I responded differently.
The actual answer I needed to say was: “Diddlysquat!”
In truth I had not moved the business or my department forward one iota from where it was 12 months ago. I had done the classic working in the business instead of on the business.
My boss followed this up with the speech about being a busy fool and helped me to see that l was actually my own worst enemy when it came to effective use of my time.
In the following 6 months I became more assertive with people, including the boss, I set clear objectives to do with solving problems and improving things. Guess what? At my next formal review I had so many plaudits about the way things had changed for the better it was nearly embarrassing. Better still I felt more in control and less stressed.
Nowadays I train people for a living and if you happen to come on one of our time management courses you will be introduced to Seamus from Monkey World (pictured), and every time I hear the words I use to use about people stealing my time, you get the monkey put on your back!