It’s impossible to organize others without first organizing yourself. So let’s start with you, the executive, and then we can talk about your team and how you can better organize them.
6 Ways to Improve at Organizing Yourself and Others
1. Get Better Organized
Some executives are born organized. Others have to work hard at maintaining order and keeping themselves and their organizations from descending into chaos. Whether it comes naturally or takes great effort, organization is an attainable skill. You can develop this skill by:
- Planning—happening to life instead of letting life happen to you; proactively deciding how your time and space will be used. As an executive, you need to do this on the group level as well as the individual level.
- Becoming adept at priority management and rigorously prioritizing to-dos, tasks, and projects.
- Maintaining sufficient margin between appointments to refocus, re-energize, and prepare, ensuring that one meeting running too long doesn’t cause you to show up late and flustered at the next.
2. Better Manage Meetings
This entails physical, mental, and logistical preparation. The better you prepare, the better your meetings and their outcomes. You can prepare for a meeting effectively by:
- Deciding what needs to be accomplished during the meeting.
- Planning an agenda accordingly, in order of priority and time sensitivity.
- Distributing that agenda to all meeting participants ahead of time so they can prepare.
- Checking in with all participants before the meeting to make sure they are prepared.
Executives also need great meeting follow-up skills. All your preparation will be for nothing if you do not ensure accountability for tasks assigned during meetings.
For more help with meeting management, see “Execution: Managing Meetings.”
3. Organize Spaces
Disorganized spaces create clutter and chaos, which in turn produce confusion and disorientation. Time that should be spent accomplishing something gets wasted trying to find things, such as important files or documents. Productivity falls as a result. Spaces that must be organized include:
- Online spaces, such as your e-filing system, inbox and subfolders, and other electronic systems.
- Physical spaces.
- Team communication systems.
- Personal organizational systems, such as apps that help with note tracking etc. (Evernote, OneNote, and others).
Making your workspace more efficient makes your work more efficient. Here are some ways to accomplish this:
- Declutter. Get rid of anything you haven’t used in the past year. Be ruthless about this. Archive, delete, dump, shred, give away—do whatever it takes to remove it all from your workspaces!
- Sort and place. Distribute each item you’ve kept according to categories, and put those groups into separate, easy-to-find spaces.
- Establish work zones—distinct areas for different things, such as tasks, projects, reference materials, etc.
4. Design Personal Organizational Systems
A system will help you to stay both consistent and efficient with organizing your time. It also helps to automate a lot of what you do, so you don’t have to think about what to do next. Finally, it helps with remembering what needs to happen. Designing such a system means:
- Deciding what to do each day/week/month. As mentioned above, to-do lists help here.
- Creating an ongoing calendar. This can be a scheduling app or anything else that helps you note and remember appointments and events.
- Creating reminders for upcoming appointments and events. Setting up automated notifications, asking someone else (an administrative assistant, your spouse, anyone) to remind you, or even festooning your office with sticky notes can all work if done well and consistently.
- Focusing on one thing at a time—when it’s time to do that one thing, don’t try to multitask. People think they can multitask, but research shows they’re actually switching back and forth—concentrating on one task, then the other, and back again. In the end, neither task gets the full attention it needs to be done well.
- Making sure whatever needs to be done gets done on time. This means not procrastinating. Top executives force themselves to do distasteful things despite a strong desire to procrastinate. Push through this!
- Having a means of delegating, so you can do whatever you need to well, in a timely manner.
The key, whatever system you use and however you design it, is to stick with it. A second key is to only have one system. The more systems you have for organizing yourself, the more difficult they are to maintain. Efficiency experts strongly believe in having just one system.
5. Structure Your Calendars
Great calendaring boosts personal and team productivity. Many executives leverage an executive assistant, while many others keep their own calendar. If you are in the latter camp, try following these steps:
- Note any daily/weekly activities, such as regular meetings, communication (email, phone calls, etc.), administration, development, etc.
- Set time blocks for these activities and appointments.
- Highlight major deadlines and important dates.
- Leave margins between scheduled obligations when possible.
- Immediately write in new information, activities, and appointments as soon as they’re planned.
- Review the calendar periodically to keep it top of mind.
- Use whichever tool works best for creating a master calendar and reminders of activities and appointments (for example, Google Calendar, Booker, Jobber, AppointmentPlus, Visual Planning, etc.).
6. Develop Better Systems of Task Management
It would be nice if tasks managed themselves, but they don’t. You, the executive, have to do it.
The best and easiest way is by developing systems of task management that work well for you and using them consistently. This can be done “old school”—by hand and hard copy—or by employing software like Smartsheet, Workfront, Kintone, or Asana. However you do it, your system needs to allow for collaboration, subtask creation and organization, and recurring task management.
Task management is the nemesis of most executives. There is no perfect system, because there is always an overwhelming number of tasks to be accomplished and never enough time to accomplish all of them. All systems, therefore, are suboptimal.
Until such a time that a bot is created that will read our minds and auto-complete our tasks, this will be an area of struggle for even the best of the best executives. The key: pick a system that works for you and stick with it. Hopping around continually to multiple systems can lead to task management schizophrenia.
Why the Organizing Self and Others Competency Matters
The better you can organize yourself and others, the more productive you and your entire staff will become. This is because good organization:
- Minimizes the stress caused by confusion and inefficiency.
- Maximizes the clarity and concentration needed for optimal work.
- Fosters wellbeing and mental health so everyone feels better about their own work, improving motivation and productivity.
Developing This Strength
Start by taking an honest look at your attitudes and behaviors concerning organizing yourself and others. How are you doing with that? What are your strengths? What areas do you need to improve in?
To facilitate improvement, you can:
- Read good books, such as Getting Organized by Chris Crouch, Atomic Habits by James Clear, Good to Great by Jim Collins, The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, etc.
- Research articles on personal organization, organizing workspaces, organizing a team, preparing for meetings, developing task management systems, etc.
- Get a coach and work with them on skills and attitudes related to organizing yourself and others. A coach helps keep you accountable as you progress in this area.
If you are a genuine CEO or senior executive and serious about improving, I would be happy to be your coach. Click the button below to schedule the first of several complimentary executive coaching sessions.
About This Competency
Organizing Self and Others is one of SOLID’s 50 competencies critical to executive success. It falls under the category of Execution, one of 5 categories within the competency model, which is explained and downloadable at the end of this article. Overall, executives are responsible for, and must be competent in:
E8. ORGANIZING SELF AND OTHERS: Getting better organized; being better prepared for meetings; organizing the offices; designing personal organizational systems; structuring calendars; developing better systems of task management.
About Our Competency Model
The SOLID Competency Model is based on two decades of research. It is founded on the premise that all executive competencies can be categorized into these five groupings: Core Character, Execution, Relationship, Management and Leadership. Executives must master all five categories to achieve excellence in their roles. This model is useful for gauging and quantifying your skillset, understanding what it takes to be an effective executive, and providing a framework for improving performance. For more information, download “SOLID Executive Competencies: What It Takes to Be an Executive.”
Looking constructively at yourself isn’t easy, but doing so provides the catalyst for transformational change. Having a balanced, objective look at your skillset and a willingness to be self-critical for the sake of continuous improvement are major markers of a top executive. Take the next step and download “Eliminate Executive Blind Spots” to explore your strengths and weaknesses and remove any blind spots you may have.
About the Author
Daniel Mueller is one of the earliest pioneers of the executive coaching industry, and since 1987 has provided executive coaching for more than 1,500 CEOs and executives, delivered over 86,000 executive coaching sessions, and witnessed a major transformation in the lives of most clients. Read more about Daniel Mueller.