In 1974 and again in 1999, Harvard Business Review published the classic, best-selling article, Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?which featured time management principles and a monkey on the back metaphor to illustrate interactions between executives and their employees and the effects of subordinate-imposed time. The author suggested that to manage the monkeys you feed, shoot, or put them on someone else’s back.

I’ve been intrigued with the concept, but always felt that we needed a more current metaphor — one that didn’t involve dead monkeys or creating burdens by the transference of animals to another’s back. I suggest ping pong.

Employees in start-up firms, many of which have offices adorned with ping pong tables, say that ping pong is a metaphor for the way that they approach challenges. The metaphor suggests action, movement, gamesmanship, and strategy.

While there are boundaries, play is usually fast and requires quick reaction. It’s the perfect circumstance for refining decision making and applying creative solutions (e.g., flick, smash, chop, block, lob, drip-spin, etc.). Ping pong stimulates readiness, inspires breakthrough thinking, and leaves you wanting more.

Why It’s Good for Workers

When you reduce reaction time, you facilitate others’ work, empower them to make decisions and take action, and stimulate intrinsic motivators (e.g., autonomy, mastery, purpose, progress and social interaction).

Why It’s Good for Productivity

The right rhythm and pace of working fuels real business results and productivity. You can increase employee satisfaction by allowing employees to experience meaningful achievement and by stimulating pride, higher levels of engagement, and a sense of accomplishment.

Why It’s Good for Executives

When you classify the urgent and important daily and reduce reaction time, you can improve how you work, be seen as a decision maker, bypass the negative impact associated with hyper-delayed reaction time, and directly contribute to the success of others.

I’ll take ping pong over 60 screaming monkeys any day.

About the Author


Donna leads high-stakes, social impact organizations and projects. Her track record shows a relentless focus on results and innovative strategies that favorably impact the bottom line, operational efficiency and organizational culture. She is a driver of positive and disruptive change and brand transformations that outperform business objectives. A leader in international development, a champion for social innovation and environmental issues, Donna thrives in organizations that see the world through an environment, water, sustainability, agriculture, public health, and social impact lens.