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Executive Level Ideas for Getting Organized

Executive level personnel operate at a fast pace and with high priority to-do lists. They are charged with leading departments, managing employees, making key decisions, negotiating contracts, and plowing through a travel schedule that would leave most people spinning. Correspondence multiplies quickly. Email in-boxes fill up faster than they can be managed. Meetings require solid planning. Booking travel is time consuming.  

How does a busy executive stay organized and on top of the proverbial ‘to-do’ list? Tips and tricks are available for solo and partnered approaches to regrouping, reorganizing, and gaining traction on day-to-day tasks. 

Bumpy Days

The challenges and priorities encountered by a busy executive often make other tasks and responsibilities difficult to manage. On a daily basis, projects are interrupted by common administrative road bumps that impact: 

  • Time management: Balancing competing priorities and meeting inflexible deadlines are common challenges in the day of a busy executive. 
  • Decision making: ‘Information overload’ impacts the ability for an executive to make valuable and necessary business decisions while making routine tasks seem insurmountable. 
  • Effective and prompt communication: Interacting effectively with customers, investors, fellow executives, and employees proves challenging when balancing distractions, overload, and time shortages. 
  • Stress and burnout: Executives are human. Attempting to manage tasks and responsibilities beyond one’s threshold can result in feeling overwhelmed and disengaged.  
  • Work-life balance: A strained imbalance between personal and professional lives decreases motivation, increases frustration, and leads to low productivity and dissatisfaction within both worlds. 

Tips for Working Solo

In order to effectively manage the balance of daily and overarching obligations, executives need organization. Here are some ways to achieve it: 

  1. Create a system for managing tasks and responsibilities. Utilizing a project management tool such as a calendar or task master system may help account for hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. Trello and Asana are project management tools that can be tailored to the needs and preferences of the executive. 
  2. Prioritize daily tasks and upcoming initiatives. Identifying things that are most important to complete first can build traction on what needs to be done next. However, an executive must balance their immediate, daily tasks with bigger picture, management-level activity. Prioritizing helps draw focus to what is most important, while having a to-do list or a place to ‘brain dump’ helps prevent feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious, and pressured. 
  3. Declutter physical and digital spaces. Stress and distractions negatively impact an already hectic workday. Utilizing a system of organization allows for an easier visual of what needs to be completed and when. Knowing where to look for files, documents, supplies, and reference materials saves time and prevents panic.  
  4. Schedule “appointments” for your own work. Time blocks are essential in managing the challenge of an executive’s schedule. Whether for an important meeting, time to review emails, or scheduling a personal appointment, putting your tasks in your calendar will help carve out opportunity to tackle mundane tasks while clearly identifying (and thus protecting) moments when ‘do not disturb’ is necessary. 
  5. Take a break. Despite the busy days that executives encounter, they are human and need downtime. Taking time to rest and recharge without guilt encourages improved focus and helps thwart burnout.  

A Helping Hand

Tools and tricks of the trade are helpful; however, the hectic role of an executive often prompts the need for more support. Virtual Executive Assistants (VEAs) exist to make the world of office tasks and time management easier. Enlisting the model of virtual support has several bonuses. For example, with the help of technology, their remote work is performed seamlessly, and without incurring the overhead of a role that has a physical presence in the office.  

VEAs aid in support and organization by: 

  1. Handling daily tasks: By creating and managing to-do lists, assistants are able to track tasks and deadlines. They can chart the progress and develop routines, allowing daily duties to meld into a smooth pattern, while offering the flexibility to manage other, ‘pop up’ tasks and longer term projects. 
  2. Managing email: An organized inbox is helpful in saving time and giving focus. A VEA provides a first glance, flagging important messages, sifting through noise, and helping to respond as appropriate. 
  3. Maintaining calendars: A VEA books appointments, schedules meetings, sends reminders, and performs other time-related tasks. 
  4. Planning travel: The alignment of flights, hotels, ground transportation, and meeting schedules is well orchestrated by a VEA. Details prior to the trip, such as Visa or passport acquisition are also managed.
  5. Assisting in document production: Whether a slide deck requires editing for a corporate presentation, or a report needs to be reviewed for accuracy, VEAs are at the ready to alleviate such tasks from the busy day of the executive. Creating and maintaining documents is well-managed with help. 

In time, a successful partnership unfolds between the executive and the assistant as they align in systems and processes, allowing one to anticipate and proactively manage the next steps of the other. Maintaining organization is key. Establishing camaraderie and a solid working relationship is vital. 

Partnering for Success  

A VEA is an extension of the executive they support. Just as they want to perform their best, there are things that can be done from the executive level to foster their success. 

  • Define: Establish a clear understanding of what tasks are expected of the VEA and those that will remain with the executive. Clear lines of responsibilities will keep things efficient and effective. 
  • Communicate: Make a point to regularly check-in with one another. Review priorities, discuss progress, plan changes, discuss needs, and define tools required to manage the workload. This will help keep both on a trajectory toward meeting goals and expectations. 
  • Delegate: Holding on to tasks and projects is human nature, however, it is also time consuming and overwhelming. Comfort must be gained in trusting the virtual assistant with duties, while creating processes that promote alignment and rhythm within the partnership. 
  • Trust: Preferences will be learned, and confidence earned. Assistants need to be afforded the right balance of direction and autonomy. Investing in and empowering their success will make a direct impact on the success of the executive.  
  • Assess: Regularly provide feedback on the work the VEA is performing. This will give them a perspective of the things they are doing well, while indicating where skills need to be refined. Communication strengthens working relationships.
  • Appreciate: VEAs are ready to step in and help. Acknowledging their efforts and abilities goes a long way. Particularly in a remote environment, where the day-to-day sociability is absent, a simple thank you or a small gesture of appreciation can go a long way in building a positive and productive professional relationship. 

Use of the VEA model as a resource for organization and task management provides a solid tool for executives to better manage their higher level responsibilities and their time. 

Ongoing Efforts

The level of activity within the day of a busy executive is challenging. Organizational tools and practices are meant to provide guidance, structure, and coordination and continue to evolve as they are utilized. Refining strategy, having patience, and identifying what works, helps build a solid foundation of tools and processes that contribute to a well-managed, executive-level workday.   

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