It’s funny how the start of Q2 lines up so well with the beginning of Spring, isn’t it? We are generally advocates for keeping your personal life separate from your professional life, but sometimes nature’s seasons and life’s cadence line up perfectly with work.
In January, we explained why the new year is an opportune time to assess your organization’s effectiveness. We also laid out three ways companies can plan to level up in 2023. As the second quarter kicks off, we want to relate how the freshness and possibility of Spring can lend new energy to your executive office.
We know what you’re thinking. “A fresh start for Spring? How groundbreaking.”
It’s true that we will hardly be the only ones to suggest a good clean and spruce as the season kicks off, but we think we may have some niche ideas of how you can bring spring cleaning to your workplace.
If you want to clean out your desk’s junk drawer (or junk pile if you’re like some of us), we can suggest some playlists and podcasts to keep you company as you tidy. But if you’re interested in really taking stock of how Q1 went and how your work can be its best for the rest of 2023, keep reading.
A good spring cleaning does three things: assesses the current state of things, purges, saves, or adjusts things that are either unneeded or helpful, and ends with a resolve to attempt new habits. To give your executive office a good spring cleaning, we recommend assessing, purging/saving, and resolving in three distinct areas of your executive office: technology, time, and team.
Office tech has a sneaky way of making you confident that it’s being adequately maintained. Think about it: your web browser tells you when it needs an update, prompting you to close your tabs and start a new session. Your computer does the same. The developers and marketing teams behind your most-used cloud-based software send regular email blasts summarizing bug fixes, updates, and new features. All of this can lead to a false sense of confidence in your technology, but it’s important to look further and assess if your technology is serving your current needs and effectively helping or improving your team’s work.
- Assess the lifecycle of your technology.
Ask your team or IT leader to compile a list of software and paid-use tools that your colleagues use. The list should include what the software does, when your team began using it, who on the team uses it, and a rating of how effective it is in improving your organization’s work or making your team more efficient. Use this list to ascertain if the technology still serves the same purpose it did when your team first began using it. Research if there are better, simpler, or cheaper options in the marketplace. Analyze if your team has too many or too few users of the software.
- Purge, save, or adjust your technology.
Once you’ve assessed your roster of tools and technology, decide what you’re going to get rid of or keep. It may be that you need to increase or decrease the number of licenses your office has for a particular tool—if more members of your team could benefit from access to something, by all means, keep tending to it and increase access for your colleagues. Perhaps you’ve found an alternative document management tool that offers more features than your current system at a similar price. Now might be a great time to do a trial run with this new tool. If you’ve found software or tools your team has outgrown, ditch it. You’ll have simpler technology, shorter onboarding as new colleagues learn that technology, and you’ll also save some money.
- Resolve to do this again.
Don’t let this exercise be a one-time thing. Get together with the person who made that list of software in step one and decide on an appropriate time to do this exercise again. Routine ‘cleaning’ of your office’s technology makes for an easier, simpler experience at work.
As an executive advisory firm, we hear from executives all the time that they wish there were more hours in a day. We don’t have a magic wand to cram more time into your life, but we do have some tools and techniques to get more out of your time. When you begin being more thoughtful and intentional about how you use your time, you’ll find that your time goes farther, allowing you to get more done and feel more balanced.
- Assess how your time is being spent.
Just because your daily agenda has back-to-back meetings, scheduled bathroom breaks, and hardly any time for meals, doesn’t mean you’re getting the most out of your time. To get a clear picture of how your time is being spent, commit to noting every spontaneous meeting, phone call, fire you put out, and change of plans for the next month. Use this log and your executive calendar to conduct a time audit. A time audit will reveal how much of your time is spent in which areas. For a basic time audit, we recommend assessing how much of your time falls into the categories of meetings, travel, personal, and other.
- Purge, save, or adjust your routines.
Sit down with the person who manages your calendar and find areas where you could make double use of your time. For example, could you catch up on emails and phone calls during your car rides if you hired a driver? Also, be on the lookout for time-saving alternatives. Would getting at-home gym equipment cut down on time spent travelling to fitness classes? How could your calendar be reshuffled to allow for more family dinners and less interruptions during your strategy sessions? By adjusting the routines in your calendar and ditching the tasks that could be done by someone else, you can make better use of the time you do have and enjoy what matters most to you.
- Resolve to commit to better habits and boundaries.
Once you decide to outsource a task to someone with more time and the same (or better) capability, let them take that task and run with it. Resist the urge to meddle and focus on the parts of your calendar that you’ve committed to. This is an exercise in boundaries—you don’t have to take every surprise call (voicemail exists!) and the sky won’t fall if you actually leave the office at 4 to make it to dinner on time. When you attempt better calendar hygiene, things may feel uncomfortable at first, but we promise your meeting FOMO will wear off once you’re laughing with your partner over a phone-free meal or finally getting that drink with your best friend.
The best CEOs are not the busiest CEOs. Drowning in work and endless conference calls is not admirable nor is it healthy. Commit to more balance by drawing boundaries on how much of your time goes where. Decide with earnest if you can make better use of your time—for example, catching up on emails during travel could be one solution, but squeezing in a nap could be the best choice too. The best CEOs are the ones that set an example of balance, avoid burnout, and demonstrate strong boundaries.
Fear not, we are not suggesting you “clean house” and let go of your entire executive office team. Rather, we encourage you to examine how your team can be more efficient, effective, and satisfied in their work. You’d be surprised by how much of our advisory firm’s work is not centered around vacating and filling roles in executive offices. Oftentimes, an executive office has the right people in place, but has misaligned responsibilities and expectations.
- Assess all the objectives and responsibilities held by your executive office.
Just as the technology within your office had a specific purpose when it was first implemented, sometimes our staff members have outdated objectives and responsibilities. Ask each of your staff members to describe their role and responsibilities as if they were speaking to a friend. Assure them that this is not an assessment of their time, performance, or enthusiasm for their job. Request their honesty in this exercise. The goal is to learn what your team’s day-to-day work is like so that you can assess the appropriateness of your staff’s titles, reporting structures, and job descriptions.
- Purge, save, or adjust the responsibilities, processes, and structures within your team.
Once you have compared your employees’ day-to-day realities to the job descriptions you originally wrote for them, it is time to decide if anyone on your team needs an adjustment in title, pay, job description, or a change in who they work most closely with. When an employee is first hired, there has been lots of recent intention and thoughtfulness toward their job description and objectives. As years pass and that employee develops and learns new aspects of the business, their day-to-day experience may stray from what was originally planned for them in the job they accepted. As you conduct this exercise, it’s important to assess if your team members need to be steered back into their original role and all it entails, or if they might be ready for a new title or set of official responsibilities. It’s possible that some of your team members are tending to things that are above or below their pay grade, or that would be beneficial for their colleagues to learn to increase cross-training and competencies. Perhaps a shake-up in who works most closely with one another would improve communication and collaboration on your team.
- Resolve to stay aligned.
Habits are hard to break. After you’ve adjusted the responsibilities of your staff members, commit them to memory. For example, if you’ve altered a colleague’s responsibilities to include learning and operating a certain piece of software, go to that colleague with questions instead of the resident expert whose experience you’ve relied on in the past. Consulting new employees on things that were once outside their wheelhouse will boost their confidence and demonstrate your trust in them. It will also help cement the adjustments into place for others who take notice.
Sprucing up how your executive office team operates can make a big difference. Even if you don’t make any adjustments, showing your team you’re tuned in and attentive to their experiences at work will go a long way. Your staff will appreciate this exercise serving as a check-in and this will give them an opportunity to communicate with you about things they might not ordinarily want to bother you with.
Taking the time to bring some spring cleaning to your office will allow for simplicity, calmer days, and more balance. If you’ve ever felt like you’re spinning your wheels throughout the workday, working through the above exercises may give you a sense of control and awareness over what’s helping and hindering your success.
We’ve given you three areas in which you can do three spring cleaning tasks for your executive office—assess, purge/save/adjust, and resolve in the areas of your technology, time, and team. Three is a small number, and spring cleaning likely sounds easy and innocent—but we know that the spring cleaning exercises we’ve outlined aren’t an easy lift. Reflecting on and adjusting the habits and norms of your executive office does take time, intention, and a bit of bravery.
Prime Chief of Staff’s team of executive advisors has been hard at work through this year’s first quarter developing processes and frameworks that are helping our clients take control of their value and achievement. We’re thrilled to be debuting two exciting things—our effectiveness diagnostic and our calendar auditing process, offered in conjunction with our assessments.
The effectiveness diagnostic is a tool used by executives to discover, develop, and measure the strengths of their team. The diagnostic is performed each quarter, taking about 10 minutes of each staff member’s time. The diagnostic results include scores on our 6 Key Effectiveness Practices, providing insight on each person, their strengths, and who works best together to achieve your office’s goals. The effectiveness diagnostic is meant to increase alignment among your team members, ensuring each colleague is owning the appropriate responsibilities and is on the right path to excel. Our team is available to you for results breakdowns, advisory services, and advice on how to pair your diagnostic results with the vision you have for your executive office.
Executives often lament to us that their time seems to evaporate right in front of them. One executive even told us that their kid requested more time for books before bed, but they weren’t sure how to make more time available. That executive was exasperated, and we knew we had to find a novel way to approach this problem. We started brainstorming a way to understand how executives’ time is spent, what’s pulling them away from their priorities, and how we could help our clients devote time to the things that are most important to them. Our solution is to culminate information from your executive calendar (whether that be Outlook, Gmail, etc.) as well as phone logs and meetings to categorize your time. We pull data from various points in your unique year- from your ‘busy season’ to how many meetings you took over your holiday “break”. Our team reviews the data collected and presents objective totals of how you spend your time, what’s getting the most of your attention, and areas where your time allotment isn’t matching your priorities.
Prime Chief of Staff is the leader in the executive office space. We are honored to support our clients in building the executive office that will take their organizations to new heights and bring achievement to executives and their teams. We are pleased to provide this guide on how to bring some spring cleaning to your executive office. We hope that you’ll engage with this article and comment if you have any questions or feedback. If you are interested in either of our tools to aid you in your ‘spring cleaning,’ please submit an interest form so our team may connect with you.
Photo by cottonbro studio