7 Things Every Executive Needs in Their Nightstand - Senior Executive
Executive Life 6 min

7 Things Every Executive Needs in Their Nightstand

You get a call in the middle of the night, and there’s a work emergency. What do you grab first? We asked executives what they keep in their nightstand — readily available at any time.

by Barbara Michelman on February 11, 2022


  • Contact information — of all staff and trusted advisors — should always be accessible in case of emergency

  • Keep your most-used apps and digital dashboards up-to-date at all times

  • Whether digital or on paper, keep a journal close at hand

  • Reminders of your mission can keep you motivated

Whether it’s responding to an emergency or the daily demands of the business world, executives need to have information readily available within arm’s reach. So, we asked executives what they keep in their nightstands. 

Answers ranged from contact lists of employees and advisors — all of the numbers you might need in an emergency — to reminders of what keeps execs motivated on the job. 

What do you keep in your nightstand? Let us know, then read seven suggestions we’ve heard from business leaders. 

1. An All-staff Contact List

Crises are unpredictable. You won’t know who you’ll need to call until the alarm sounds. 

Ericka Plater, executive director of Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach, always kept the contact information of her leadership team within arm’s reach. However, during the pandemic, she rounded up contact information for all of her staff — stored digitally and in print. If her leadership team is ever out of pocket, Plater says she can now more efficiently roll out changes or problem solve with employees themselves. 

One morning, Plater received a call from her wellness center manager, informing her that the ceiling had caved in due to water damage. “This employee’s supervisor was on his honeymoon, so she called me,” Plater says. With the employee’s number in her phone, Plater knew to pick up. 

2. A List of Trusted Advisers

When faced with big decisions, Angelo Kastroulis scrolls for the contact information of people he has worked with in the past, as well as friends with “unique perspectives on what they have witnessed in their lives.” Kastroulis is CEO of Carrera Group, a for-profit technology consulting firm. These close contacts can act as trusted sounding boards. 

“When I’m in a thinking rut…when normal stuff is not helping…I need to have those colleagues who give really great advice,” he says.

3. Their Go-to Smartphone Apps

Beyond key numbers in your contacts, make sure your phone is equipped with updated versions of your most important apps. 

Brandi Starr, chief operations officer of marketing technology firm Tegrita, says her most valuable app gives her real-time access to Accelo, her company’s CRM. Recently, one of Starr’s employees had not been paid their commission. With the company financials at her fingertips, Starr quickly found the commission information and resolved the discrepancy.

For some execs, go-to apps enable communication — like Slack, Zoom or Microsoft Teams

Melanie Hartwig-Davis, CEO of Maryland-based HD Squared Architects, says video conferencing enables her to troubleshoot problems on a construction site without driving to the location. 

“A contractor can just call to let me know that something came up,” Hartwig-Davis explains. “Sometimes the job site is an hour away. He’ll just say, ‘Can I just FaceTime to show you exactly what’s happening?’” 

4. Key Metrics and Dashboards

Being able to track and report key metrics can prove valuable at a moment’s notice. In order to stay on top of current data, Kastroulis says he always has access to his organizational dashboard to measure everything — from the normal financials (revenue, profitability, cash flow, etc.), work status (such as project-delivery timelines and quality of output), even “people metrics” (employees happiness, number of hours worked and PTO). 

“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it. I like seeing the data, being able to slice it up, to look at the financial statistics, project performance,” he says. Easy access to data helps Kastroulis assess his decision making and understand if his intuition has led to the correct approach. 

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5. Old-school Pen and Paper 

EqualAI CEO Miriam Vogel relies on technology as much as anyone, but says that she’s never far from her print journal. Vogel likes having a visual reminder of her priorities and the ability to cross items off her to-do list with a pen. 

“To be able to flip through it [the journal] very quickly and jump back to what my ideas and priorities were, what I was hoping to do… It’s a helpful reference point, as well as a reminder before I start the day — to focus my efforts,” says Vogel, whose non-profit helps companies reduce bias in artificial intelligence. “I can quickly peruse my journal to see what was important yesterday — to help refocus my thoughts and strategies.” 

6. Or a Digital Journal 

Kastroulis schedules time every day to jot down a thought and review previous entries in a digital journal. “If something hits me as a really important thought, I put it down in my journal,” Kastroulis said. The digital format allows him to easily categorize information, create a digital library and develop a mind map.

“When I feel pressure mounting… I’ve learned to not rush to answer,” he says. “I spend some time with it in the journal…until I have a more settled feeling. [It’s] not necessarily the answer, but I’ve lifted the cognitive load.” 

7. Reminders of Your Mission (Personal and Professional) 

Whether you’re faced with a crisis or just wrapping up a long day, physical reminders of what drives you can help you stay motivated. 

Plater, whose nonprofit provides emergency relief and resources for those in need, says she keeps a print copy of the organization’s mission, values and DEI statement above her computer screen. That reminds her of the “why” on tough days. “Because I’m mission-driven and [focused on] building equitable communities, it brings me back to being grounded in the work,” she says. 

You can also keep inspiring quotes at hand, suggests Catherine LaCour, chief marketing officer for cloud software company Blackbaud. She keeps her two favorites above her desk:

  • “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
  • “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

Motivators can also be personal. Vogel keeps a picture of her daughters nearby. 

“I’m inspired by creating more opportunities, a better world for my daughters,” she says. “Having a picture of them close by at all times is a constant reminder to stay optimistic and look at the future through their eyes. It’s grounding and inspiring.”

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