Last updated: December 29

CEO performance tools: Low-tech/high-impact tools to stay organized 

Boost your performance immediately with a simple system that costs nothing, doesn’t require software upgrades or expensive monthly subscription fees.

12 Sheets/12 Weeks System

During our recent quarterly planning meeting, Maddison Shears, our Digital Marketing Specialist asked me why I created this 12 sheets system when there is so much great technology available for tracking performance and staying organized.

Here is a recap of our discussion.

I love technology performance tools. However, what I don’t like is the feeling that my activities are being monitored or I lose access to it because it’s on a remote server. If the power goes down, I don’t have access to my sheets.

It may sound suspicious, but sometimes I simply want to track my thoughts and “to dos” without digital monitoring. Meta data is everywhere, but not in the 12 sheets system. In the last three years, I’ve developed a very simple but effective system for monitoring my quarterly goals. It’s so simple, anyone can use it, it doesn’t require much training, and you won’t need a software developer to make changes. I call it 12 sheets/12 weeks, which is a simple system I created as a companion tool to our popular CEO 90-day Plan.

How the tool works

I choose blue paper because the paper stands out clearly on my desk, especially if I have a lot of paper at my fingertips, I can clearly identify the “blue sheet” which is what I call it. The sheet is double sided and on one side is a quadrant that helps to prioritize the week. Each week is one sheet. Twelve sheets equals the 12 weeks in one corporate quarter, hence the name 12 weeks, 12 sheets.

It’s divided into high value and low value activities and high urgency and low urgency activities. Then I include a number of activities I must do each day/week to ensure my quarterly goals are achieved. The second side of the blue sheet includes the days of the week with a space for each day where I can jot down my meetings and commitments. While I certainly (and consistently) use an electronic calendar, I like to have the entire week at a glance as I navigate my way through the day.

sample of 12 weeks 12 sheets
12 weeks 12 sheets sample

How I use 12 sheets

I keep a regular manilla folder for each quarter and at the end of each quarter and at the end of the year, I can flip through the 52 weeks of the year and take an inventory of achievements and any outstanding items that may have slipped off my radar.

The tool is also effective for keeping track of personal branding activities. The founder of the 360Reach survey, William Arruda, is famous for his conviction that you can elevate your brand in 9 minutes per day. I ensure I have a reminder on the sheet to do regular outreach to my network and because it’s in front of me every day, it becomes a standard practice. Once I make outreach to a client, supplier, or partner, I automatically transfer that information into our CRM.

Health and fitness is important to me as well, so I use the sheet to remind me to get out for a workout each day. The items most important are the values I hold close personally and as a brand, so these items are featured on the sheet. For example, family is a core value, and so I have reminders there to connect with my daughters daily.

For the busy CEO who needs to accomplish specific KPIs each quarter, the sheet helps to anchor your intention and attention to the KPI. At the end of each week, I review the sheets to see what I have left to do and what can be removed or delegated to another member of the team and what can be eliminated.

Yes, it is low tech, but I’ve found it keeps me organized especially with so many projects on the go simultaneously. You may want to use this approach to accompany MS Project or other project management tools.

Simple, calm, paddle boarding

Engaging your executive leadership team

The significance of communication with your team and other constituents, such as the board of directors, cannot be overstated. Building engagement and commitment is also a predictor of success. Companies who experience high engagement rates are generally more profitable, and a cornerstone of engagement is regular, consistent, and clear communication with your team.

One public company technology CEO, we worked with created a standard practice of a weekly audio message to all 6700 employees. He never missed a Monday morning with the message. In the message, he expressed his appreciation for the work of the employees, explained the challenges he was facing for the week ahead and a recap of the previous week. Transparency was his core value, and he expressed this personal core value through this vehicle. Your outreach may include a video, e-mail, or audio message. The vehicle is irrelevant, but the practice is highly effective when done consistently, and it’s a great way to build your personal brand.

He was known across the industry for this practice because he used it in every company he served. This is what I consider effective personal branding. Your brand speaks for you when you’re not in the room.

engaged team

The data sheet

A companion tool to the 12 sheets/12 weeks system includes another low-tech tool, which we’ve coined the “data sheet”. The data sheet is a Word document we use for every project, committee, or plan. If you’re chairing the ESG committee in your organization (as an example), consider using a Data Sheet to organize information. The information may include email communications, random thoughts, agendas, white papers, and draft reports. The benefit of the data sheet is for you alone. It is not a document you will share with anyone. It serves as a searchable repository for your interactions, ideas, and information.

If you’re like most busy CEOs, sometimes putting your finger on a thought, idea, or source or statistic alludes you. With so many committees and players in that ecosystem, it’s helpful to have a home for these items. Yes, of course there are many tools available today for this purpose, but most of them require significant training (and patience) to master. Sometimes I don’t have the patience to learn a new software and so I don’t bother. Without the data sheet, I find I’m constantly searching email strings and folders on the network looking for a piece of data that I desperately need but cannot locate.

I have data sheets that are more than 15 years old. They keep me organized. They keep me accountable.

Audio recordings—take it to the next level

Here’s how I make data sheets even MORE powerful (audio recordings). After a long board meeting and you’re tired, the last thing you will feel like doing is writing out a long memo to file. Instead, I use audio recordings which I embed into the data sheet. I use a free product called Audacity to record audio memos and when I’m finished, I simply copy them into the data sheet. I’m a touch typist from the old days and my keyboarding speed is fast; however, I can talk faster than I can type and so I find the recording feature much easier and faster, especially when fatigue is setting in and time is short.

The only downside to the audio recording is that it’s not searchable. However, if you take a few moments to type out the top 3-6 takeaways from the meeting, the audio can be a great source of comfort when you need to put your finger on a key piece of information or takeaway. I’m always surprised at the amount of information I forget after going back to check on a meeting or project.

These practices will save you massive time, believe me. As a CEO, especially a new one, time is not your friend, and you will need all the help you can get to track your data, manage your energy and ensure you remain accountable. After all, more eyes are watching you now.

CEO desk

Going back to grade school

Do you remember the days of scissors, glue and scrapbooks in school? I do. So, one of the best low tech digital tools I’ve used is the simple clipping tool. I use this tool to cut/paste content into the data sheet. This is one of the best tools ever. I take screen shots and embed those into the data sheet as well. The data sheet becomes a portfolio of key data and information I can always rely on when my memory doesn’t serve me. Because I know there is a data sheet for every project, committee, and product I’m working on, it gives a great sense of comfort.

Whether you’re the CEO of a private equity portfolio company, the CEO of a mid-cap public company, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the 12 sheets and data sheet can serve you beautifully while making you look like a hero because you can instantly put your fingers on that key piece of information for the Chair of the Board or major shareholder.

Key words and hashtags

To track very specific and highly strategic data, we use keywords and hashtags to tag our richest data. You need to decide what they are, of course. We use “unicorn” for only very special information. That way we can search on “unicorn” and all information relevant to that keyword will be easily found.

Look like a hero in front of your board

We soon discovered that even some of our bigger corporate client CEOs wanted to learn about these tools. When we showed them how we use them, they were enchanted. It was the biggest surprise ever because they are so simple. And the 12 sheets can make you look like a hero in front of the board when you can put your fingers on a key piece of data at the right time.

Give your team a boost

Did you find this article useful? Consider sharing it with your team at your next team meeting. Let us know your thoughts.


Hello this is Maureen Farmer CEO of Westgate Executive branding I want to talk to you about the 12 sheets 12 weeks system that I have created very simple CEO is absolutely love it because of its simplicity and you can ask your assistant at some point to scan the sheets and save them electronically if you wish the beauty of the 12 sheets 12 weeks it is that it mirrors the corporate quarter and you can easily keep track of the sheets there's 52 in a year for 52 weeks and it's really really helpful when you want to put your finger on a detail that you remember from a board meeting back in Q3 maybe it was in August and you know there was a number a detail some some piece of information that you really need to put your fingers on in a heartbeat look at your blue sheets from Q3 and you will surprise yourself because if you've written it down that's likely why you remember that you wrote it down although you may not be able to put your finger on the detail this has happened to me dozens and dozens and dozens of times.

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About executive resume writing author 

Westgate - Maureen Farmer

Maureen Farmer is the Founder & CEO of Westgate Executive Branding & Career Consulting Inc., an international personal branding and career consulting firm delivering premier executive branding and career consulting services for high-profile leaders. Author of The CEO Script Vault: Job Search Scripts for Busy Executives, Maureen believes that when we’re doing work aligned with our values, everyone wins. Using the law of attraction to identify quality employers utilizing the hidden job market is a cornerstone of her career management strategy.

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