Day in the Life of a Content Manager

My department has recently been conducting interviews for new marketing specialists and even a content specialist. One of the smartest questions I think a candidate can ask is: What’s a typical day like for you in this job?

A few years back, I actually recommended to different academic departments in our institution that they build out content around this question in relation to life (day-in-the-life) as a medical student, resident, fellow, nurse in training, and surprise! It does really well.

Screenshot of content created for Day in the Life content series | Day in the Life of a Content Manager
Example of content we create for “Day in the Life” type pieces. These are used for recruitment on our academic websites and tend to perform well, which in this case translates to roughly 80% higher time on page compared to most of the other site pages.

So, in lieu of my sometimes so-deep-we’re-gasping-for-air posts, I’ll just stick to something simple: Day in the life!

Background: I’m coming up on year five of being resident web content manager at University of Utah Health. The journey has taken me through many sidewinders and close to some fascinating dead drops, but through it to date, I’ve kept these skills sharp and picked up some new ones:

  • writing,
  • editing,
  • data analysis,
  • SEO,
  • managerial work,
  • reporting,
  • client management,
  • project management,
  • networking,
  • reading, and
  • strategic thinking.

At this point in time, my team manages roughly 30K webpages across five (give or take) subdomains. At any time we are each (there are three of us and an SEO/digital analyst) managing 15 clients personally in a particular week, but that client list rotates.

The work we do is assist in structuring content governance (as we can’t manage all the pages personally), information architecture, new website set ups, and then conduct more in-depth content work for department priorities (that hopefully align with business goals), such as writing, auditing, and optimizing various webpages/content types.

First Things First: Pacify the Inbox (9–9:30 am)

Every morning when I get in and turn on my computer to check my email inbox, I make sure my water bottle is filled up. I also usually say hi to anyone else on the floor or around me. I may not have time or be in the mindset to start a conversation, but individually acknowledging co-workers by name as I see them throughout the day is really important to me.

As I review any emails that came in after I left the previous day, I use this as a way to orient myself to the day’s work load. I also double check the day’s calendar. The best days are mornings with just a few newsletters and few to no client responses. That means I can begin work on something substantive.

Then there are the days that I have meetings right away. I try to keep meetings first thing to a minimum—and our culture begets a lottttttt of meetings—but I really need those first few organizational minutes turning on computer and reviewing my calendar for the day.

Calendar day from first thing on through | Day in the Life of a Content Manager
Notice the blocked out “work time” areas. When I have serious deadlines to make, I can’t be open to meetings all day, so I block off time to work. Sometimes it makes other people crazy, but it keeps MY workload sane…

I’ll answer any truly important emails or emails with quick-Q answers. Now I’ll take time to review my task list from yesterday. These are items to follow up on from that I didn’t answer yet or small maintenance Qs that I want to follow up on.

If I have a high priority project, however, I’ll start work on that in the morning, as usually I’m a bit sharper mentally at this time.

High priority projects could include writing or editing something, QA’ing a website, continuing a content audit, keyword research, work in the content management system updating CTA (call to action) links that aren’t working or have changed for some reason. Anything I have scheduled to complete in the sprint* or for a meeting.

Mid-Morning

Depending on the day, I’ll either be in meetings or I might be taking care of any of the following five levels of work types:

  1. Basic maintenance: Updates to contact info, updates to provider/doc lists on websites, vanity url requests, contact info requests (who can help me do XYZ?), and the like. We are lucky to have a person who manages the basic maintenance queue who can assist with these types of requests; though, my team does some of them as well. Rule of thumb: Requests that take 10 minutes or fewer.
  2. Content maintenance: This usually involves a request to add a content page on a site or add a significant content chunk somewhere. There can also be things we have to untangle as to who to contact to get an issue addressed. These are middle level maintenance tasks that take a little longer than 30 minutes to do but fewer than three hours.
  3. New webpage requests: These requests can come from departments that need a lab site set up or a folder structure done. Typically the client can add the content themselves, but it takes some time to set up the bones of the site and check that they have training. There can also be requests for page setups for new services, clinics, locations, or the like. These are hard to measure time-wise. I actually prefer a complexity level measure. The more stakeholders you have to work with at any given time, the more complex I consider the task. Sometimes they cannot be completed during a sprint, in which case I schedule them in an upcoming sprint.
  4. Feature requests or project requests. These are genuine I-need-a-site-rework, I-need-a-new-feature, I-need-a-content-module-created. These need to be broken down into our sprint time periods as they often involve meeting personally with the client or significant research or writing time and effort. For example, we have a new health center opening, which entailed a roughly 25-webpage build with about 35 stakeholders involved. Sometimes the client will want what I call a feature, which has to have a developer or UX (user experience) specialist work on. These types of tasks also have to be scheduled once we have gathered the basic client objectives and time constraints.
  5. Priority projects or department projects. There are priority services identified by our institution that our marketing department supports. These projects are usually driven by the fiscal year. Typically they involve a project plan (including an associated content strategy) and scheduling throughout each quarter. These involve lots of writing, editing, client time, SEO optimization, and support work.

Meetings may involve various clients or stakeholders. Often if I have to travel to campus to meet with a client (our office is located in an administrative area further from campus, which is, however, better for lunch dine-ins or drive-throughs!), I’ll usually have to schedule two to three weeks out as travel time adds 40 minutes on to the meeting time and requires planning.

There are also interdisciplinary team meetings for priority and department projects as well as phone meetings/check ins for ongoing client projects. Then there are administrative meetings, like sprint planning meetings or project check-ins where we may be working with the devs, UX, or UI.

Lunch Time! Or Mid-Day Networking (11:30 am–1 pm)

Lunch is usually on the fly. I have long given up on packing a lunch as I never remember it. So, sometimes I’ll order in (I claim credit here for identifying a particular sandwich delivery service-to-my-desk option that the entire building uses). If I go out, it will usually be for a networking lunch with colleagues.

If I have a less intensive week with projects or deadlines, I use lunch as an excuse to keep up with friends in the department or do genuine networking. This also helps me remember to take some time for a break as even if I’m dug in to a project; my productivity is better if I take a breather.

It’s the same after lunch, except I stop answering emails. Anything that arrives in the email inbox after two or three gets pushed into the to-do task list that I answer on the following day. This helps me finish a project that needs doing or remain focused on a task. Around three I usually hit a slump period, so I may walk around (in an ideal world) or stop to chat with co-workers.

I also may *not-ashamed-to-admit* have hit up the caffeine machine for some Dewy goodness. (I do have a balance though – more water than other beverages goes in throughout the day.)

Towards the end of the day I usually get a second wind, but I may not be as clear headed, so I might work on optimizing a piece, keyword research, editing, reporting, but generally projects that are less cognitively demanding.

The Dismount (5:30-6 pm)

When I’m ready to wrap up, I’ll check what’s on the calendar for the next day. I rarely, rarely check or answer emails at home, so unless someone texts me, I’m off for rest and relaxation (AKA: cat feeding, grooming, and entertaining…).

Bitmoji goodness: What a day! | Day in the Life of a Content Manager
Day’s end—that’s a wrap!

And that’s a wrap! I really value the physical separation of work and home life. It helps me keep burn out at bay. Obviously there is no way to completely keep the two separate, but some boundaries always help in the pursuit of happiness.

And, as they say in Zombieland**, I try to take time to enjoy the little things.

*We use sprints in this case to denote bi-monthly cadences rather than in the true Scrum sense. The reason for this is to give us reporting periods. As a content practitioner, I find Kanban to be a bit more our style, but there are particular periods, like when working with developers, that sprints fit a work load.

I also find the terminology and concept of sprints a great way to communicate deadlines and work load to clients. If I indicate to them that we have a workload queue and give them some sense of measure to it, they are far likelier to have balanced expectations on project delivery.

**Random, I know, but I recently saw the reboot, Zombieland: Double Tap, and nearly cried I laughed so hard. Little things…

Setting Up Your Employee to Succeed: An Astonishing Idea

I literally never heard or read of this concept until this last year, 2018. I’m not kidding! Who knew that not only was there a philosophy and school of thought RE management, but that some organizations literally structure a plan for their employees to succeed!

I am still dumbfounded by this concept in the context of a goal that leadership or management would strive to achieve. And I think it’s just that the idea is so new to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had great bosses (at least one) that gave me what I needed to succeed, but I also recognize that not every boss will intuitively understand every employee enough to do this. Each employee is unique; therefore, their way to success will be different as well.

Expectations

In the past my experiences as an employee have always been focused around figuring out what the boss likes and trying (or not) to please them. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. Never, in my life, did it occur to me that a boss could give me parameters around which I could build my own success OR that they might allow me the freedom to define my own success.

My personal cultural background operates around a concept called servant leadership.* Namely, the leader is there to make sure the employees get what they need rather than making themselves an all-knowing figurehead who directs from on high. But there is (and I have yet to meet a leader who truly practices this) an element of pride in this concept: that I, as the nominated leader, somehow know better than the team what each team member needs and will elevate them through my own personal wisdom.

This bullsh&$ is actually kind of the opposite of truly helping your employees succeed. Setting yourself up as all-knowing intermediary is a flawed approach because none of us are all-wise, and all of us are generally affected by having power over others.^

In my first management position (by title), I had 10 dressers (assistants to actors with costume changes). One day one of the young dressers asked me a question and I absolutely beamed. She had figured out that my definition of success was not that the dresser was busy every minute, but that they were available and made sure all work that needed to be completed was done.

And that was the very question she asked me: Was anything else that needed to be done? Suddenly, she gained mega points in my mental tally, simply by figuring out what my expectations were.

I realized as I thought about this later, that one aspect of helping your employees to succeed is making known your expectations. You can’t expect anyone to read your mind.

In fact I did my employees a disservice by not communicating these expectations. Whether or not they cared about “succeeding” (via my definition) in this position, I certainly didn’t help them out.

But, are our personal expectations of our employees (and ourselves) truly the measure of success? Success certainly becomes far more tangible if it is tied to an overarching goal or objective.

Tangible Goals & Strategic Objectives

How many of you know what your institution, department, and/or team goals are? Our department worked very hard to define goals and outcomes in the last couple years, but a recent leadership departure has scattered those foci out in the proverbial wind. Granted, the industry (if you can call it that) of the academic medical center certainly doesn’t help anyone out since it’s so immensely divided in strategic objectives it’s nigh impossible to meet all the expectations.**

But, defining goals and/or objectives at any level (and writing them down) will help everyone succeed. Suddenly, you have something that can be defined and measured. You can break down these end games into an achievable journey. And not only is your end game achievable, but you with your employees can customize the way you achieve these goals.

I once thought that there was only one way to do things. That is absolute rubbish. There are not only multiple ways to do things, but there are pros and cons to all of them.

There is a difference, however, between skills and methodology. Skills are like facts, the building blocks of specialty, craft, or trade.

When you sew a seam in a costume, there are techniques to achieve quality. Once you have learned the basic techniques and skills of your specialty area, then you can explore methodologies. Another example: There are different methodologies of project management; however, they are all based around certain skills:

  • Time management
  • Resource management
  • People management

The way you approach those can define your success.

True employee success comes however, I believe, when your employee feels empowered to take their individual skill set and map out a way to achieve the overall goal themselves.

Simple Steps to Prime Your Employees to Succeed

As Steve Jobs said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Your employees should be skilled people in their specialties. You, as their manager, may have some of these skills, but you will be most successful yourself if your skill set is in good management. (But more about that some other time.)

Here are some simple steps to prime your employees to succeed:

  • Know and communicate the endgame
  • Tie in team and employee goals to the endgame
  • Clearly communicate your expectations
  • Allow your employee the freedom to work as suits them best
  • Hold your employee accountable; review and check in as needed

Of course, now that I write that, I realize none of those steps are really simple. Each one involves skill sets that are difficult to master in and off themselves—communication; candid conversations about difficult topics; a modicum of self-mastery so that you don’t project your own emotions on your employees; the ability to accept failures and move on; and, perhaps most important, the ability to listen.

And celebrate your successes!

If you are constantly focusing on where you need to go without appreciating the work that’s been done, how will your employees ever feel successful?

So, it turns out that while I could teach skill sets and I have some good management skills, there is still much to learn. And I can help my employees to succeed if only by acknowledging their expertise and specialty level and not assuming my methodologies are the only way. I can also help them to define (alongside myself) a set of clear achievable goals towards our endgame.^^

And I’m wicked good at throwing celebrations…

 

*Very Christian actually
^And if you think you don’t favor a particular employee, you’re lying. Every manager has a favorite or one they listen to more than others.
**Patient care, research, and education. Those are three wildly difficult areas to define success measures for, so in an institution that has them all squished together—welcome the woes of too many masters.
^^It’s true that the institutional endgame might not be defined or be somewhat nebulous, but you work with what you have…