At which time do you wake up in the morning?
I usually wake up around 0700 in the morning to get my daughter up and ready for school. If I am travelling with work I try to keep the same schedule but I do like to sleep a little longer when I can!
What is the first thing you do?
When I wake up I tend to check the news and sports news and then (like other guest bloggers I am afraid to say) I check my emails. I can’t tell you how happy I am when I see that nothing has changed from when I went to bed – not that this happens too often.
Which news sites do you read (if any) in the morning?
From habit I read the BBC (news and sport) and I also use FlipBoard as my curated news site.
At which time do you go into the office (or start working remotely)?
I mostly work from home or on the road and I tend to start at 0830 as that is when I get back from the school run.
How many times a day do you check emails?
I have my Outlook open at all times so I constantly keep an eye on email traffic. Obviously in meetings, or when I need to get something done, then I close it and try to focus. In honesty I probably check too many times between my computer and my phone.
When is your first meeting?
I often start meetings at 0830 as that is my first available slot and I would prefer to have an 0830 meeting to a 1730 meeting.
How do you plan your meetings across the week?
I would like to say I have some plan but it is hard to do so when you work with different clients and you need to accommodate their needs. For 2023 I have started blocking some slots in the week to try and free up some time – let’s see how that goes!
What is the split between internal and external meetings?
As a consultant my meetings are almost all with my clients and their businesses. I do not do external lobbying as part of my consultancy work. The split I am more focused on is the one between meetings and time to work (i.e. not be in meetings!). I try to keep this to around 50-50 but in some weeks the meetings can jump to 70 or 80% of my time.
How do you follow news development between meetings?
My daily news checks and the different monitoring alerts and updates – as well as client updates – ensure I am updated between meetings. Many clients use Microsoft Teams – allowing me to just check-in there to see what is happening.
How do you organize your calendar?
There is no overarching plan but I do have some ‘rules’ that I try to follow. Start at 0830. Meetings until 1900 (to accommodate US clients). Free hour every day between 1515-1615 to get my daughter from school. Block Friday afternoon to focus on work and prepare for the week ahead. Nothing on weekends!
How do you take notes?
I just started (late last year) using Remarkable 2 – which I am getting used to. So far, I am pretty happy with how it is going as it is great to have everything in one place. Otherwise for meetings and other things I take notes directly into emails that I can send straight after the meeting to save time.
What is your relationship to Excel?
Excel is something I use across the week – from budgeting and invoicing to some stakeholder mapping work. I tend to work more in PowerPoint as most things I work on eventually need to be presented to someone.
What is your favorite app & why?
I would say my mobile banking app is my favorite as it makes my life so much easier to do my banking on the go (as I travel a lot)! Outside of that I love Trello as a tool to organize and plan (for myself and with my business partner).
How many external lunches do you have a week?
I live outside Brussels and post-COVID I find it hard to come into town for lunches as it requires at least a 3hr slot from my day – which is hard to find. I try to come into town when I have several people to meet / things to do which is probably every couple of weeks. Otherwise I travel to meet my clients and hold Workshops almost every second week and then we always have lunches. I probably have more external lunches in other countries than I do in Brussels!
Where do you keep up to date on Public Affairs?
In different places. I find the Public Affairs Council to be an excellent ongoing source of information and support (webinars mostly). Outside of that I teach at different Universities around the world so I keep an eye on the publications coming out from academics. Finally, I follow certain bloggers on Public Affairs, such as Aaron McLoughlin who frequently shares articles and reflections.
What is your best tip for managing work/life balance?
Not an easy one – but an absolutely vital one for everyone to reflect on and (try) to implement. With all of my clients I operate a standard working day to send/receive emails which is 0800-1900 and this helps a lot. Otherwise I try to protect my time and my weekends to ensure I get the downtime I need. Also, as I travel a lot, I no longer book super early flights or trains…I prefer to go the day before and stay in a hotel. Otherwise my wife and daughter are very good at keeping me grounded and connected to the here and now.
What do you do to unwind?
The things that help me unwind (on the small end of the scale) are exercise – either some swimming or going to the gym (not sure a sauna counts as exercise but it sure helps!). Also, here and now time with my family and watching sports. For the bigger end of the scale it is time off which usually means travelling and getting out of the usual daily life and routine. I like to be away when I am on holiday – distant from work and everyday life so I can disconnect.
What is your favorite collaboration tool?
I find Microsoft teams to be super-useful for everything from chat to shared documents etc. It is probably the tool I use the most. As I mentioned earlier Trello is also a great collaboration that I use with my business partner.
How does your desk look?
My desk is in my office at home and it is super tidy and almost quite minimalistic. I have my laptop, monitor, microphone, lamp, diffuser and that is it.
Do you answer emails on your phone?
Yes, for sure. I answer what I would call ‘quick or short’ emails on my phone. I find this helpful to clean my inbox while on the move (which I frequently am).
Name a PA pro in the industry you respect and why
Aaron McLoughlin (whose blogging I follow) is someone I am indebted to. His vision of more systematized and professional Public Affairs is something that I find really inspiring. I am 100% in agreement with him and trying to make it happen!!!
When you go on vacation, do you still answer emails?
Yes, I do. I make slots say every second day (for 30m) for check-in time (for short answers etc). This way I can relax outside of these moments and be more present. I have found, over time trying different things, that this is what works best for me (and my family!).
Who is your idol?
I can’t say I have an idol as such. I think it is better to say I am inspired by different things and different people in different ways and at different times. This can be a conversation at a conference or a Ted Talk or a book I have read. I think this is more accurate.
Which book did you read recently or are you currently reading?
I read all the time. I read a mix of professional (How to Win Campaigns by Chris Rose), personal development (That’s outside my boat) and more fun detective novels (Alphabet Mysteries Series).
Do you read anything before you go to bed?
Very often yes. I try to read one of the three books I am reading at any given time – depending on my mood and how much energy I have. I read on a Kindle so this makes it easy to switch as and how I want.
Which time do you go to bed?
I am an early bird – I tend to go to bed around 21h30 / 22h00 – although I try to read in bed for a while before that. It is nice to have some downtime when my daughter is in bed.
Do you use LinkedIn and/or Twitter for work?
I am active on LinkedIn – in different ways for work (both for my company and with clients). I follow and monitor twitter but I do not often engage myself – although this is obviously something we discuss with clients for their work.
How big is your PA department?
I work as a consultant – and there are three of us in our team right now but we are hoping to take on two extra people early this year…so maybe into double figures by 2024
Where is the PA departments placed in your organization?
From past experience, and seeing how many of my clients work right now, I have experience PA departments in different places. The most common place I have experienced is reporting to a Group General Counsel and less commonly to the CEO. I have always had a very strong view that a PA function needs to report to the CEO to be fully effective in/for an organization – but this is quite a challenge I have found!
About Alan Hardacre
Dr. Alan Hardacre is a well-recognized expert in the field of Advocacy and Public Affairs. He is the co-founder of www.advocacystrategy.com – a dedicated consultancy service for how to build, structure and deliver Public Affairs. Alongside this Alan has a long history of teaching, and writing about, Public Affairs. In 2020 he published a third edition of his best-selling book; ‘How to Work with the EU Institutions…A Practical Guide to Successful Public Affairs in the EU’. He also teaches across Universities in Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland and Thailand.