12 Tips for Staying Organized as a CEO

John Rampton
John Rampton  |  April 9, 2019

 When I tell someone I’m a CEO and company founder of a time management app, they often wonder how I got to this position. I tell them that my organization skills are part of the reason why. 

People naturally assume I have a team to handle everything for me. It’s true – I do have incredibly talented team members that have my back every step of the way. However, it wasn’t always that way. Before I had a team to rely on, I had to learn how to be organized and manage my time on my own – a skill that helped me get to where I am today.

How to stay organized as a leader

Even now, I’m still learning. Here are 12 tips that I’ve used to stay organized as a CEO that might work for you:

  1. Maintain multiple time perspectives
  2. Book all vacations a year in advance
  3. Segment the week by business area
  4. Incorporate color in calendar scheduling
  5. Filter emails and limit checking them
  6. Add a little AI and automation to your work
  7. Save “thinking” work for optimum times
  8. Stop and regroup before emotions take over
  9. Lean on your team
  10. Allow for spillover
  11. Invest in a whiteboard and journal
  12. Turn off and decompress

1. Maintain multiple time perspectives

Some time management articles say to have a short-term view, while others tout the longer term. In reality, you should have three views: an in-the-moment view, a short-term, and a long-term.

First, it’s important to keep a real-time view to account for where you’re at in your priorities list and how you can remain on target. This perspective also better accounts for the unexpected, giving you freedom to recalculate what you can still get done if something throws you off schedule. As a CEO, you have to work this way because the unexpected happens regularly. 

Second, have a short-term view that covers the week and month to address projects in process as well as work around upcoming appointments or personal obligations. For example, if I know I have a trip or family events, I will shift certain work to other days.

Third, create a long-term view of the quarter or six months at the most to focus on financial and project goals that you set for the company as well as for yourself. Put these perspectives together on a solution that offers free calendar tools, and you’ll have a more complete view of where you need to be at with what you want to accomplish in a given frame of time.

2. Book all vacations a year in advance

Being a CEO shouldn’t be all work and no play. Strong organizational skills involve creating a work-life balance and recharging the mental and physical batteries after having to make tough decisions all year long.

To ensure this happens, book your personal or family vacations as soon as the new year starts. By doing this, you can schedule work as well as determine business trips and speaking events around your time off.

While school holidays will eventually be a factor for my family, right now I can travel with my young daughter and wife during off-peak business and tourist seasons to get the maximum enjoyment – and value – from my vacation. 

work-life balanceImage courtesy of iStock

3. Segment the week by business area

I realized multitasking and balancing multiple projects wasn’t the best organization tool for me, so it made sense to restructure my entire week to focus on one key aspect of my responsibilities per day (as much as possible). Likewise, you should set one day aside for marketing, another for strategic planning, the next for internal issues and employee interaction, and so on. Plan what works best for you in the order that makes the most sense in conjunction to your schedule.

Rather than just giving an hour here or there to these critical areas or feeling pulled in so many directions at once, devote an entire day to each segment. This makes it easier to put your complete focus into an area and dive deep with the team working in each of those functions or projects. By doing this, you’ll achieve balance in how you approach the business at hand.

4. Incorporate color in calendar scheduling

Although having a segmented work week helps to some degree, there are still some tasks that you’ll have to address daily. To keep these top of mind, have them in your calendar app template marked by different colors to represent what they involve.

Applying color to your calendar(s) is especially helpful in tracking travel, meetings, and personal obligations. The colors also provide a way to measure balance across your priorities by offering a quick accounting of time spent in each area.

Since there are so many digital calendars available that offer these features, be sure to check out some helpful calendar reviews before selecting one that works best for your color and labeling preferences. 

color coded calendarImage courtesy of iStock

5. Filter emails and limit checking them

I’ve turned off the notification sound for my emails on all devices so I’m not inclined to check and respond as each one hits my inbox because it’s too distracting to my overall thought process and doesn’t do anything but create room for more emails to appear. When I used to respond to emails as they arrived, I realized that it took up most of my day.

However, if you train yourself to check once in the morning and once in the late afternoon, you’ll naturally spend less time glued to your inbox. Another trick is to filter your emails into folders so you can avoid some junk or spam emails altogether, or others that can be responded to at a later date.

6. Add a little AI and automation to your work

When your organization skills start to wane, you can count on technology to help you shine. Automating tasks can save an enormous amount of time, but voice-activated devices, like voice assistants that use artificial intelligence provide even more ways to help you stay organized.

This technology even does some of the thinking and decision-making on scheduling, email responses, and meetings! Look for more applications of artificial intelligence, tools, and platforms that use machine learning and AI in your day-to-day. 

automation of workImage courtesy of iStock

7. Save “thinking” work for optimum times

To get the most done, I push all the tasks that require the deepest thinking and creativity for a time of the day when I know my brain is running at peak capacity. For me, that’s very early in the morning, but you might get the most brain work done late at night or mid-morning depending on how you work best. 

The important part is to understand when you’re at your mental best and not use this time for meetings or tasks that may not require as much cerebral power.

8. Stop and regroup before emotions take over

Life as a CEO can be very stressful when there are so many people counting on you and so many critical decisions to make. There have been some frustrating situations where the lack of power to control or influence things has led to emotions running on high. When emotions take over, organization and the ability to pivot or make split-second decisions all disappear. I’ve even seen some CEOs lose their cool and panic. That doesn’t help anyone or solve the problem. 

To keep calm and level-headed, your best bet is to step away from the situation. During the time you take a break, go for a walk, meditate, or do something that fulfills you. It’s in these physical actions that you can find a way to collect yourself, think about how to change the situation, and enact a mindful solution. 

office meditationImage courtesy of iStock

9. Lean on your team

In spending a significant part of my career as a company founder where I did most of the work myself, the most challenging part of leading a larger organization has been to let go of stuff and hand it off for others to do. Some might refer to this feeling as me losing control, but it’s no easy task to organize through delegation.

To lean on others more and not feel guilty about it, it’s crucial to find trustworthy people and let go of the need to oversee what they were doing. Adding remote staff is one way to get over this feeling; you physically cannot run into their office and check on them, meaning you have to enact your faith in others and how easily you trust. This tip serves a dual purpose because it also helps to retain talent when you give them more challenging work that was once on your plate. They also feel like an integral part of the team and know they’re making a difference.

10. Allow for spillover

Don’t knock yourself as a poor organizer because you didn’t get everything done that you wanted to during your original time frame. Keep track of those spillover items or tasks by adding them into the next few days (which also leads to a side tip of not planning too many to-dos in one day). 

Make notes as to why you weren’t able to accomplish these things so you can make adjustments that can help get more of those things done in the future. The spillover tasks become the ideal place to reflect on your organizational processes to use as areas for improvement. 

planning with sticky notesImage courtesy of iStock

11. Invest in a whiteboard and journal

Despite being an advocate of technology, there are still some tried and true methods that are helpful organization tools. Using a whiteboard and a journal involve the physical act of writing, which produces a very different feeling and connection than typing.

A whiteboard allows you to write specific things down and see them all day, which holds you accountable from escaping priority-level tasks that you’ve written down. You can’t just close out of a tab on your browser window or swipe away a meeting or task notification.

As a bonus, the physical act of crossing items off of a handwritten list creates a greater sense of accomplishment. Likewise, a journal produces similar feelings but provides a more expansive platform for reflection that is easy to review.

12. Turn off and decompress

I used to just keep going, answering emails at all hours of the night or on the weekends when I wasn’t in the office. It seemed to be more productive, but it really wasn’t. It would cause me to rush decisions or not put the most thought behind interactions because I was too tired.

Organization also involves knowing when to switch off and get the necessary rest. Decompressing with rest and social activities provides a way to build up the strength to take on work the next day in a more effective way. 

man closing computerImage courtesy of iStock

A work in progress

Will these tips help you become more organized as a CEO? Probably. I’d like to think they can benefit you just as much as they’ve done for me. Still, I see myself as a work in progress. There are more things I can do to become more organized in my role as CEO. It’s a learning process that I enjoy even more so when I get advice and tips from my colleagues on how they stay organized as leaders. 

Want to work smarter, not harder, and learn more about increasing your productivity? Check out some examples of organizational charts to help you get started! 

John Rampton
Author

John Rampton

John Rampton is a serial entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru, author, speaker, connector and startup enthusiast. He is founder and CEO of productivity solution Calendar. He was named #2 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine and blogging Expert by Time. He currently advises several companies in the San Francisco Bay area.