Congratulations on your recent swearing in! At this point in January, you’re well on your way to retooling your habits and accomplishing goals, but I’ll submit a few more for your new year as a newly-elected public official:
1. Determine: “What do I want to accomplish?”
You have a perfect block of 365 days ahead of you. What do you want to be able to say you accomplished when you get to late December of this year? All the better that you be able to clearly communicate these accomplishments, and their value, to your constituents when you get to the finish line.
Write this list down. Don’t fret about its imperfection. Some goals may be tangible, others more diffuse, but aim for the measurable. Aspire- you may not accomplish everything (it’s an internal list) but set a bar that requires you stretch yourself. Set a monthly reminder to check your progress against this list.
Of course unexpected items will arise (see number 4) but you should be able to work through your year without completely losing your way in striving for the goals you set out for yourself each year.
2. Get organized, now.
One of my mentors during my legislative service used to lovingly refer to his pocket day planner calendar as his “Blueberry” when comparing his organizational infrastructure to that of his younger more “tech-savvy” colleague (so yeah, we’re going back to soon after Blackberrys were the technology of choice in government.) The joke was on me of course- the specific technology doesn’t matter, it’s the systems you put in place to track your life that do.
Ironically, despite many years (a decade plus, yikes) migrating from Palm Pilots to Treos to iPhones, studying David Allen’s GTD and Pomodoros, and all matters of software packages along the way (future blog posts!), I’ve returned to paper (bullet journaling to be exact, another future blog post.) I still rely on a robust ecosystem of digital tools to do my work (yet another future blog post), but what matters is not so much the detailed collection of tools and technology, but the fact that one exists.
You’ll never find the perfect system, but put something in place now to start your year moving forward.
3. Learn to say “no” to invitations.
Hopefully you heard the caution during the campaign not to be a “cocktail candidate” (the candidate who wastes their time seeing the same 100 people at every “hot” event in town when they should be knocking on doors talking to actual voters), and the same caution applies to how you are responding to the myriad of invites you are given. That said, the determination of the invite should not be your guide as to what events you do attend. Protocol matters, and if your elected body should be represented at an important function- make sure someone is there!
4. Beware the “Tyranny of the Immediate.”
Don’t let your public service be driven exclusively by constantly reacting to the crisis of the moment. Work proactively for the long-term achievement of goals. Of course, circumstances arise that will force a rescheduling of your attention, but if this is happening constantly, you’ve fallen victim to what Russ Linden refers to this as the “Tyranny of the Immediate”.
5. Be prepared.
It’s what any Boy Scout would do. No seriously, be prepared for meetings and briefings. If you’re not- that’s a sure sign you’re not saying “no” enough. Are you going to read each and every packet cover to cover? Probably not, but at least come prepared and familiar enough with the materials so your staff can answer questions and engage you in conservation to make sure you’re properly briefed. Picture the hour-long briefing meeting with a handful of staff and an elected who is coming in completely cold- that’s a lot of taxpayer-funded staff time down the drain.
6. Recognize that social media is the party to always leave early.
And while we’re taking the time to talk about your most precious resource- YOUR TIME- don’t blow it all on social media. Certainly in the 21st century, the mark of an accessible elected official is their strategic use of social media to connect with the needs and aspirations of the people they serve.
But the interwebs are littered with examples of haphazard and counterproductive use of social media by electeds. And no, we’re not talking about the 45th President, we’re talking about you. Just as easy as it is to bathe yourself in magnanimous praise of your supporters by engaging on social media 24-7, so too others will find easy sport in engaging you in 140-character mini debates that rarely elevate discourse for the common good.
Twitter, Facebook, they all have their place, but spend too much time on it, and, at best, your constituents will start to question whether your steady posting of pithy replies are really the best use of your time- time that should be spent on their behalf. At worst? You’ll risk coming across as ill-informed, mean, small, easily bait-able, and with a tenuous grasp of grammar. Like this guy.
7. Provide quality constituent service.
And by “quality” I don’t mean, lots of it or solving every problem. Build your intake system for when someone contacts you with an issue facing them- whether over email, by phone or in the grocery store. Be sure to set clear expectations of what you can, and may not be able to, do. Follow up, and seek out the key staff support to help you serve your neighbors.
8. Remember, “What’s the worse they can do to me, vote me out?”
Very few people (but yes, there are some) run for office, “cause they need a job.” They do it because they love working on issues and serving people. Always remember there’s life back the way it was before you ran (and face it, unless you die in office you’re going back sooner or later!) When the tough decisions come, make the right ones, for the people you serve.
9. Seek to expand your network. And constantly use it and nurture it.
You probably built a kitchen cabinet of advisers to support your campaign. Now that you’re in office, use the platform as a way to expand your network. Cold call people. Ask them to coffee. Get to know different people in your community, what their aspirations are, and how you might be able to connect them with other to work for the greater good. I promise it will be one of the most rewarding parts of your work.
10. Recognize you’re not the smartest person in the room.
And you shouldn’t be. Contrary to what you might think, you weren’t elected because you were the smartest candidate in the race, you were elected (ideally) because you were the hardest working, most accessible and demonstrated to be the best who could (and this is key) bring people together to find solutions to problems. I hope you’ll learn the joys of learning from people you never thought you’d have the opportunity to work with, and build upon their ideas and smarts to guide action for the betterment of your community
11. Allow yourself to be wrong.
The corollary to number 10. Look how far we’ve come in political life from fatal accusations of flip-flopping to simply making up facts and statements on the fly. Everyone makes mistakes, and now more than ever in this political environment, your candor in owning them, will be appreciated.
12. Block time for your family.
Your spouse, your partner, your children, your parents, siblings, other important people in your personal life- they love and support you while you’re on this path of service. Make time on your calendar for them. Wall it off. Absolutely this is tough to do give the innate drive of electeds to devote as much time as possible to service, but your staff, colleagues, and constituents will understand and respect you for it.
13. Block time for yourself.
Finally, I offer what James Altucher sums up nicely: “What you need to do is build the house you will live in. You build that house by laying a solid foundation: by building physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.”
These efforts don’t happen unless you block out time for yourself each and every day to work on them. You can fill in the blanks as to what exactly the work is, and how to accomplish it, but… do it. For yourself, and for the people you serve.
Happy new year!