Advice on Being the CEO and Product Designer of Your Business

Here at Artbees, because we’re a relatively small company, I have to balance my responsibilities as the CEO while also working as a product manager and designer. This has proven to be a bit challenging though I’ve finally started to find ways of coping with this shuffle back and forth. Make no mistake though, in order to be good at both I had to first make a lot of big mistakes and learn a lot of lessons. So to my fellow future and current CEOs, if you’re wondering how you’re going to manage your company while staying directly involved in the production process, maybe walking a day in my shoes might give you some useful hints:

I have a motto:

“It is not the load that breaks you down, it is the way you carry it.”

-Lena Horne

This quote has always helped me build my daily routine and fine-tune it along the way.

Start Strong

I usually wake up at 7AM, rush to the gym and start running. Admittedly, most of the time I skip my breakfast (I know, I know—shame on me) but honestly I usually don’t have an appetite! After a shower, just when I feel I’ve been reborn again (what an amazing feeling) I walk on over to the office.

After getting to my desk, if I don’t have any immediate urgent tasks to get to, I start feeding my eyes and mind by looking at some behance case studies or dribbble shots. Seeing a collection beautiful and creative works done by the designing community, I immediately start feeling more motivated and excited to create.    

Why am I telling you my morning routine? My point is to encourage you to start playing around with different routines and habits in the morning; even habits you may not naturally be inclined to practice (running at 7AM) may start you off with the right energy you need to focus and create momentum for the rest of the day. It took listening to other mentors and public figures I greatly admired to realize that each of them has a morning ritual they’ve created and adhered to in order to maximize their energy for the rest of the day.

Separate Creatives from Reactives

It’s equally important to study yourself to better understand your energy level and mood at different times of the day. For example, over time I’ve found that I’m not that much of a morning person (yeah that 7AM workout I’ve deemed as a necessary struggle) and I actually become more creative in the afternoon. Unlike most people, I actually feel much more productive and my senses are at their height when I’m tired! So I take on most of the tedious jobs in the morning and leave the tasks that require more creative energy for the afternoon. In other words, I try to start with reactive works first and then later switch to creative ones. Though I do this carefully as I’m always trying to get my morning tasks “completely done” then switch to other tasks. I cannot be exceptionally productive on a new task when I have left something partially done from the previous task.

Advice on Being the CEO

Don’t feel constrained by the traditionally accepted routines most companies abide by. If you know you’re useless that one hour after lunch, don’t plan on running a meeting then. If you know you have a better sense of focus and creativity first thing in the morning, set boundaries to protect that time and communicate it with your team; they’ll appreciate having your undivided attention at a different time than getting a blank stare from you before your first coffee. That all being said, like everything, this requires a balance and good communication. There will be urgent tasks and questions that will force you to break from this pattern, but you should nevertheless strive to maintain it.

I essentially see my role as ensuring that our energy, actions and intentions as a team contribute to achieving the goals we set together.

Get Oriented Frequently

On Fridays, me along with other stakeholders meet up to check the progress of our quarterly goals. The purpose of this meeting is to pause, discuss the current status of the company, review what’s happened during last week and make sure we all refocus on our quarterly goals. I essentially see my role as ensuring that our energy, actions and intentions as a team contribute to achieving the goals we set together. By scheduling this time on a weekly basis, we’re able to maintain the energy behind our intentions and recalibrate our actions to keep in line with our goals. This is also where I can immediately detect our mistakes.

Kill Distractions

As the second half of my day draws closer and I enter into that more creative mode, I start to eliminate all background distractions by closing my email inbox and slack. Yes, I know—this may seem like an impossible option particularly when your team members have become accustomed to being able to ask you questions whenever they need to. Sure, I believe that as the leader of a team I should be present to others for questions and guidance, but again this goes back to communicating those boundaries we mentioned before You’ll find that it’s absolutely necessary to have your own time and space. I don’t believe humans are able to completely focus if they’re multi-tasking and being frequently interrupted from their task. This applies to everyone on our team and so we all have to give each other permission to put up those walls sometimes to completely focus on tasks that require critical thinking and creativity. It may seem like the never-ending echo of this article but this requires communication among team members of their work and time preferences for different tasks—we don’t all always win, but at least we’re aware and more respectful of each other’s style.

Unnecessary Sketches

Sometimes when I don’t have any important tasks coming up on my to-do list, I do some random unnecessary sketches. These might include some etudes about the user experience or designs of a particular feature. I do this not because I’m assigned with a task. I do this to satisfy my curiosity and play with possibilities. I have learned that this kind of free exploration helps me to enjoy my most creative state which often leads to an idea or blueprint for the next big thing.  

Create a Team of Individuals That Motivate One Another

There are many motivation factors that can inspire your team to achieve their goals. It could be as simple as sharing positive customer reactions or metrics showing our improvement; however seemingly small, each should be highlighted to showcase to the team the progress that’s being made.

Advice on Being the CEO

Personally what motivates me the most is when I see someone on the team contributing something that goes beyond their role or responsibilities with a seemingly disregard for only doing what’s on their task list. These individuals aren’t satisfied with just fulfilling the status quo and go above and beyond to do whatever it takes to make something better whether it is part of their duty or not. They strive to pursue what is best for a product and sometimes propose ideas that can even increase their workload. I love to work with these type of people and I feel proud to be a part of team with this mentality. As a CEO you already know that the individuals you invite to work with you have to bring more than just their expertise; picking the right personalities that are self-starting, self-motivated and optimistic characters creates a regenerating and inspiring energy within the team that will perpetuate progress and development.

Advice on Being the CEO

Disengage

People actually come up with most of their new ideas and tap into their creativity during their non-working hours so it’s equally important to allow for time to disengage from work and let your mind play and dabble while participating in other activities. After work, I usually get home by 6:30PM though by then I’m pretty wiped out. I’m not a big TV watcher, but instead prefer to play video games, watch a movie, talk a walk or just wander around. I’d highly recommend this “off-time” because although it doesn’t sound like much, it’s actually very useful as it allows you to detach me from what “should” be done. I discovered this helps me a lot to recover from daily stresses and tensions.

Advice on Being the CEO

Can You Be the CEO And Then Some?

Well, yes and no. Like many people say— “you can have it all, just not all at the same time.” I think the same can be said for those CEOs who are also juggling other important roles in the company. As the CEO of a company there are always going to be some routine tasks that you have to do. From checking emails and responding to business requests, confirming buyouts, going to meetings, and the list goes on. To balance your time among several different responsibilities, create intentional time for each piece of your work and communicate those slots of time with your team. This separation of time can help you switch from one mindset (number-crunching and thinking strategically) to another (designing sketches and thinking creatively) more easily. Be more aware of your energy, routines and preferences and base your schedule off of this; you may be surprised how your focus and capacity changes over time!

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