Monkeys, Ants, and Gratitude

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil….always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:15-16, 20

My aunt is not really my aunt. She is the sister of the woman my uncle married, which makes us completely unrelated. Still, I call her aunt, and she is a mentor to me. She introduced me to the concept of the monkeys in an article from Harvard Business Review.

It’s easy and sometimes even desirable to be wanted, needed, and even honored to be asked to do something at work. “Leave it with me.” These four words can feel so good when you say them, but as Mike Clayton says in this video, it adds one more monkey to your desk. Someone asks for your advice and instead you do it for them. This adds one more task (monkey) before the important priorities you may have wanted to work on and complete.

If you don’t have monkeys on your desk, you may have ants. Actually, it’s referred to as the “aunt trap” at Manager Tools. It means one of your boss’s peer ask you to do something but forgets to inform your boss. Usually, the project pulls you away from the priorities your boss set for you. Sometimes it’s referred to the uncle trap, but it’s not just something men do—we all tend to do push monkeys around as we get into progressively difficult and expanding roles.

Whether you have an aunt problem or your aunt introduces you to the monkey problem, there are plenty of people who used those four words “leave it with me” and lived unwisely.

I didn’t see why I shouldn’t say “leave it with me” for years. I used to think that making the most of every opportunity meant doing it all. I wanted to prove I was a valuable hire, that I could do whatever was handed to me, and that I could do it all right now right away. It’s taken a few burnouts, stray monkeys, and some ants crawling around my desk to learn that I’m not to do it all—I’m to live wisely. I’ve learned that the most wisest way to live may mean saying no so I can focus on what God has asked me to do.

What I love so much about this passage is that the paragraph ends with thankfulness. It’s hard to skirt around monkeys with gratitude. It’s much easier to be thankful for teammates, for growth, and for opportunities that make sense with the role and calling God has given me the privilege to live out. Living wisely makes me genuinely grateful, not fake grateful. And, it removes monkeys, too.

If you have an aunt problem or some monkeys on your desk, Mike Clayton recommends four next steps:

  1. Identify with the person the problem (the what)
  2. Identify with the person the owner (the who)
  3. Identify with the person the next steps and the authority to act (the how)
  4. Identify with the person a time to check in (the what if)

Do you have a way you deal with monkeys or ants? Share it on Facebook @HopelesslyHopefulBooks.

Pre-order Hopelessly Hopeful During Separation, a 28-day devotional for people who are separated from their spouse because of marital struggles, before September 28, 2021. A pre-order helps make the book more visible on September 28. Thanks!!

Photo by Norbert Levajsics on Unsplash

© 2021, Mollie Bond. All rights reserved. Originally published at


  1. I’m not sure where this came from, but my husband and I joke about the penguins on our iceberg. When we get too many, penguins start sliding off. It’s a super helpful image in my brain to keep my penguins manageable. =)


  2. I LOVE that! So great. It actually reminds me of an old Wii game that my friend enjoyed. We played it a lot because penguins were her favorite, and it was a test of your balance. If you couldn’t balance on the Wii board perfectly, they’d go flying off. Hm, sounds like a metaphor!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s