How a single index card helps the president of the New York Stock Exchange keep her chaotic day in check

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Stacey Cunningham NYSE Trading Floor

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NYSE president Stacey Cunningham.

Long gone are the days of traders frantically running around the New York Stock Exchange floor, but running America's largest exchange still gets chaotic.

From unexpected market swings to visits from CEOs and foreign dignitaries, NYSE president Stacey Cunningham has to always be ready to adapt her schedule. "It can sometimes be a challenge to balance competing priorities and still maintain focus on less time-sensitive - but equally important - initiatives," she told Business Insider.

Cunningham became the first female head of the 227-year-old organization last year, and has been working to keep NYSE ahead through the implementation of cutting-edge technology.

But to keep track of the day's responsibilities, the tech-savvy executive uses a surprisingly traditional solution: a single index card. Cunningham jots down her responsibilities and allots a percentage to each, giving her a rough guide to how she should be spending her day.

"It's easy to become reactive and focus on tasks that are actively demanding my attention," Cunningham told Business Insider. "The card serves as a touchstone to confirm I haven't strayed too far off track." She said that she will periodically check the card to see how well she's sticking to her plan, adjusting as needed.

Cunningham's approach is somewhere in between those advocated by two of the internet's biggest productivity gurus, podcaster and "The 4-Hour Workweek" author Tim Ferriss and Georgetown associate professor and "Digital Minimalism" author Cal Newport. Ferriss recommends writing three top priorities for a day on a Post-It note, to remind himself that just a few tasks outweigh likely everything else that pops up that day, while Newport is obsessive about assigning specific time frames to each of the day's tasks.

As the leader of an organization that isn't always predictable, Cunningham ranks her priorities without getting into minute by minute breakdowns.

Her responsibilities include competing for the biggest initial public offerings of the year by convincing companies about to list on the NYSE, as opposed to competitors like Nasdaq, fostering relationships with existing clients, and overseeing the development of new market data and trading software to maintain an edge.

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And since she's charged not just with managing her own time, but also the priorities of her team, Cunningham added that she takes a similar scheduling approach to the way she divides responsibilities, according to skill sets. "Given our need to divide and conquer in order to scale, I put tremendous emphasis on team composition," she said. Similar to how she breaks down a day into slices that ensure she gets everything done with the proper amount of effort, she views teams as having a set of required skills and compiles a group that collectively meets all of them.

She explained she's built this into the way the NYSE hires.

"By building the right talent pool and then effectively allocating our resources, we are equipped to think creatively and strategically, and execute efficiently and flawlessly," Cunningham said.

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