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Content Marketing & SEO Blog

Blog about startup growth strategies revolving around content marketing, SEO, CRO, and social media marketing.

How to be an effective manager

Sean Smith

"Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run." - Rudyard Kipling

I am not one to enjoy vagueness, I'll just admit that front and center right off the get-go. I believe being vague gets you no-where fast, it doesn't shorten the process of explanation or speed things up by any stretch of the imagination. I would wager that instead of speeding things up it actually dramatically slows things down.

three problems, three solutions:

Vague Communication

Clear communication is key in task management. At it's core thats essentially all task management is, communication. Don't expect that people are mind readers and know exactly what you are talking about. Usually given the circumstance and setting people can use relativity to determine what someone may be speaking about. You're working on a certain client's work specifically for the day so your boss naturally thinks when you say "I was looking over their analytics" that "their" means the client that you are assigned to that day. Perhaps though your boss is also working on analytics for a different client and posted something in basecamp regarding it and you were copied but didn't notice the notification email regarding the discussion, thus he/she thinks you are talking about the client he is currently doing work for. It's a simple fix to just be more direct and say "I was looking over 'client name's analytics" so that you are both cohesively on the same page, you save time and frustration and thus are more productive and happier in your mindset.

Vague Tasks

Vague communication leads to creating vague tasks. In my opinion a vague task would be something like "research 'x' client's site" instead of "research 'x' client's site's url structure as it pertains to parameters" one is a bit more actionable.

the problem with vague tasks: they are not actionable. A task is supposed to be something direct and actionable that you can instantly go in, solve or start a discussion thread over and check off. A vague task turns into this; go in, look around lackadaisically notice a couple of problems, perhaps take some notes and then if you have a short attention span, pop over to reddit to look at kittens.

the solution to vague tasks: don't write them! Be actionable, be direct! If you see your self writing an indirect or vague task, slap your hand like you're Dr. Strangelove. Break down your indirect tasks into the smallest pieces you can to make them the most actionable they could possibly be. I guarantee if you take 1 minute of thought you could break down and write out 5-10 tasks off of one vague task. The 5-10 tasks you create would be 10x more actionable, meaning that extra 50 seconds of thought and writing that you spent would translate into whomever is assigned to that task taking exponentially less time trying to decipher what you meant by it. Calling you, emailing you which would translate back to you spending far more than an extra minute assigning tasks in the overall scheme of things. Plus those actionable tasks will get done! Besides what is better to show to a client? One stagnant vague task that hasn't gotten done or a finished checklist of 10 actions that took place optimizing their campaign? I'd choose the later.


Having vague tasks only leads to one result, vague action. As I said above vague actions come from vague tasks. No task manager should ever assign a task saying "do what we talked about in the meeting" I'd probably respond with, "well we digressed a lot from the subject so I guess I will digress a lot from my workflow." It just breeds contempt.

It's simple if you have a list that looks like this:

1. Study the 'x' site.

As opposed to this:

1. Study the top level domain redirects of 'x' site
2. Study the Screaming Frog diagnostics for duplicate page titles of 'x' site
3. Study the Screaming Frog diagnostics for 404 errors of 'x' site
4. Study the Screaming Frog diagnostics for missing page titles of 'x' site

5. Study 'x' site's sitemap.xml to make sure it is validated and up to date in Google Webmaster Tools.

Which do you think would be done first? Which do you think would be done better to your expectations? Which do you think would be easier for the person assigned to these tasks to work into his/her schedule?

other problems and solutions:

problem: emails that look like, "we need to talk about 'x' client" need to be discarded

solution: spend 2-5 minutes detailing every piece of the puzzel of your query so that meeting or discussion could be quick and to the point, or might not even have to happen because the reply could be so sharply effective. One 2-5 minute long analytical email is far more effective than a chain of 12 vague emails plus an uncoordinated meeting.

problem: meetings that don't result in a task list with documented action points

solution: If you want to know my true thoughts on meetings that align with that of 37signal's opinions read this quick blog entry from their book "Getting Real" which is a free PDF on their site. If I needed to sum it up each meeting (if you're going to have one) should have an outlined list of talking points, during each talking point there should be notes happening underneath those talking points (text documents in basecamp = the best answer to this i've found) and each pointed note should have actionable tasks being created under it in a designated task list. I might write a blog post about how to manage a meeting using basecamp in a later blog post.

problem: random calls out of the blue or a conference call that goes off on a rambling tangent of misery

solution: basically the same as meetings, have an action list before the phone call if it is a conference call and follow all of the above actions; create a task list based on the call, create a text document to take notes on, create individual actionable tasks that are broken down very effectively. If it is a client or manager of some sort and not a planned call, get to the point. Drill through to acknowledge exactly what it is they are calling about as soon as possible and answer the question, or say "I will research in to that and send you a detailed email of what I find" just anything to get them off of the phone and get you back to being productive.


A not so conclusive conclusion

While it is nice to bask in the enjoyment of just talking and carrying on lavishly with your fellow man or woman it has it's time and place. When you are at work, you want to get shit done. Plain and simple. When you want to relax and enjoy yourself typically isn't during work hours and if you're going by the thoughts put forth by Tim Ferriss regarding the "results only work environment" in his book The 4-Hour Workweek any relaxation should be entirely separate from work. If you can grind out in 4 hours of insanely focused productivity what would otherwise be vaguely sparsed across two to three days of meetings, phone calls and emails with tasks included you suddenly have no reason to work for those other 48-68 hours. I don't know about you but I would much rather spend 2-3 days relaxing and doing whatever I feel like than spending those accumulated hours in vague un-productive rambling sessions.

If you've ever seen the movie "Pursuit of Happyness" with Will Smith think about when he was an intern to become a stockbroker; think about the insane regiments he put himself through to maneuver every second out of every hour towards productivity so that when he left early he was still far more effective than his counterparts.

I encourage you to preach these principles and apply them to your own work environment and you will get the same sort of satisfaction out of it that I have gotten once I applied them to my workflow. Communication to me is everything, life is a constant struggle with communication and when you think about it most problems in the world could be solved through better communication. Marital, political, business, parental, hell even in sports better communication can solve a wide range of problems. I even wrote a previous blog post about how a simple change in communication can make SEO's and developers a dream-team. I love the psychology of communication as it relates to business and I will definitely be putting out a lot more content on it in the future.

Other resources for productivity-induced communication and mindsets that I recommend:


(I have no affiliation to these books or authors other than that I love their work and message)