Learning From Obama: How the President Gets Things Done

Even with dozens of aides, President Obama has to have some killer management skills in his role as CEO of the United States of America.

No matter your politics, you have to agree President Barack Obama fits a lot into his day.

I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.

Between speeches, policy debates, and executive decisions, the president has to do a lot of legwork to keep everything together. In fact, his daily schedule starts the night before, so he’s ready to go first thing in the morning.

The idea-oriented blog 99U recently compiled a list of organizational techniques the president uses to keep things manageable. Some highlights:

  • Limit decision-making to the big stuff: In a Vanity Fair piece, Obama told journalist Michael Lewis, “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Obama also has his staff filter his decisions through memos with three checkboxes — agree, disagree, or “let’s discuss.”
  • Ignore the noise: Rather than listen to what’s being said about him on CNN or Fox News, the president prefers to tune in to ESPN when traveling — a spot where people are unlikely to be talking about him or his policies.
  • Get in some exercise: The president, in an effort to be more productive throughout the day, gets in 45 minutes of exercise per day.
  • Fit in some Obama time: Don’t mess with dinner. The evening ritual remains a constant in the president’s life, no matter what else is going on. “Sometimes Michelle and I not doing the circuit and going out to dinners with folks is perceived as us being cool,” he told CNN’s Jessica Yellin recently. “It actually really has more to do with us being parents.”

With all the big stuff out there, how do you fit in the small stuff? And what can you — or your association — learn from the president’s process? Shoot us a comment below.

The president compartmentalizes his day to make room for both his job and the things he loves. (Pete Souza/White House/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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