Productivity For Managers: Daily Goals, Not Distant Ones

by Randy Murray on August 29, 2013

One of the best lessons about management and managing people I learned not in business, but in the classroom.

As a graduate teaching assistant I knew how to give the students assignments to write papers. But I also saw them struggle to do the writing and produce good results. An experienced teacher and classroom observer helped me out. “You need to give them smaller, “today,” goals that will lead them to the bigger goal of writing the paper. Don’t expect that they know how to do the work just because you do and now find it easy.”

It was great advice and it works. If you give someone a task, say to build a four story building, then walk away, it may or not get built and it will almost certainly not be what you expected.

But give someone a goal for today, something that can be done in one day with clear instructions, then do the same thing tomorrow and the day after and soon you’ll get exactly what you wanted.

It’s not micromanaging to give daily goals and tasks. It’s just managing. It’s also training and instruction. Do this for today’s building and you’ll need to do less for the next. Eventually you may be able to tell your experienced and well-trained crew to “build me a four story building with these designs in this spot,” and walk away.

That’s good management.

The Productivity For Managers: Daily Goals, Not Distant Ones by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen Bounds August 29, 2013 at 9:38 am

Hi Randy,

I agree that a sense of urgency and purpose is really important when managing staff, but I wouldn’t advocate daily task assignments except where you are really occupying a mentoring role more than a managing role.

With the section I was managing until recently, we adopted the use of Scrum for all of our non-routine work (we weren’t IT developers, by the way). We found that 3 week planning periods with the team self-managing tasks through stand-up meetings every 2 days was an effective way to balance strategic priorities with tactical execution.

The feedback I got from staff was that they really valued the combination of clear direction – 3 weeks doesn’t give much wriggle room to avoid completion – with empowerment to self-execute during each “sprint”. As the manager, I found that it made all of my meetings and informal discussions more productive and aimed towards tangible outcomes.

Your previous post on “productivity for managers” is in a similar space, but there are some advantages in this approach when juggling multiple priorities.


Randy Murray August 29, 2013 at 12:13 pm

An excellent point and I agree: close, daily goals for a mentoring period, with an expansion to “not quite, but almost daily” goals is a good fit for most effective teams.


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