At which time do you wake up in the morning?
It varies. I struggle with insomnia so often I’ll wake up around 3am. But mostly I try to start around 6:00 / 6:30.
What is the first thing you do?
I launch the coffee machine while listening to the FT podcast, then I let my dogs out. If weather permits I like to enjoy a few minutes outside. I try to stay away from any work-related activity until I’ve had time to enjoy the morning for a little while.
Which news sites do you read (if any) in the morning?
I like to read a lot of updates and analyses, so I use an app called Feedly which has really changed my mornings for the better. Before I used to go from news app to newsletters to social media feeds and had to parse through a lot of noise. Now I’ve put all of these, plus a few websites that don’t have RSS or newsletters, into Feedly and defined a few keywords I’m looking for; every morning Feedly gives me a “Priority” reading list with all the news items from thousands of sources with these priority topics and keywords. Plus I can give feedback so it learns from what I read or discard. I can be done with my news roundup in under 10 minutes. It’s saved me a ton of time.
At which time do you go into the office (or start working remotely)?
I mostly work from home, and most of my colleagues are based in Europe, so I’ll often make an early start around 7:00/7:30. I’m most focused and productive in the morning, so I don’t mind starting early.
How many times a day do you check emails?
I do a few check-ins throughout the day, but when I’m focused on a task I don’t look at it. So I’d say one big check in the morning, one big check end of day, and then a few smaller checks throughout the day to make sure I’m not missing out on anything urgent. For each email I assess whether it can be answered now or if it should be turned into a task with a deadline, and then I immediately archive it so it doesn’t linger in inbox limbo. After reading Cal Newport’s “A world without email”, I’ve started focusing more on deep work and avoiding email interruptions. I have deactivated mail alerts on all my devices, and my capacity to respond in a timely manner has not suffered from it. My productivity has greatly benefited from less task-switching.
When is your first meeting?
7:30 / 8:00. Mornings have a lot of meetings, and about a fourth of these are standing catch-ups. But that’s the thing about working remotely: you have to be very conscious about setting up time to connect with colleagues. I find that when I do go into the office, I’ll end up spending a lot of time catching up informally. So having all those meetings ensures I can still have this informal time with colleagues even if we are not in the same office. One of the keys to being efficient in this role is to ensure the right information goes to the right people in the company, and to be able to find the right information from our network of thousands of colleagues efficiently, so these catch-ups are an integral part of the role.
How do you plan your meetings across the week?
I don’t have any theme per day, mostly I concentrate meetings in the morning so I can focus on deep work in the afternoon.
What is the split between internal and external meetings?
I’ve had to check Microsoft Viva Insights to answer that one. Love that tool. I spent about 3-5h per day on meetings, and a good half of these are external, mostly associations.
How do you follow news development between meetings?
I don’t check the news during the day, only that one check in the morning.
How do you organize your calendar?
Mornings are for meetings, afternoon is for deep work. I generally try to frontload my week as it’s when I’ll have the most stamina.
How do you take notes?
I’ve gone back and forth on that one, between digital and handwritten. I’ve landed on handwritten in a notebook: I’ve found it’s easier to keep track of what’s happened recently and makes it easier to have all the right information at hand when exchanging with colleagues or stakeholders.
What is your relationship to Excel?
It’s a tool in the toolbox. And it’s a good tool, so it would be a shame to deprive yourself from it. When you’re looking to assemble furniture you’re not going to use a flat-headed knife instead of a screwdriver, just because you don’t like the screwdriver. The same principle should apply here: Excel is a good tool that can save you time if you know what it can do. I think it’s good to have a basic grasp of what it can offer, and there isn’t that much to learn anymore since it now has a lot of AI options. Couple that with ChatGPT and you won’t ever have to write a formula. But you should be aware of what it can help you with so you can take full advantage of it. For example, you could generate voting maps, vote counts, save time on downloading and handling MEP lists, clean up stakeholders lists, generate a list of all your stakeholders meetings over the past year or on a specific dossier, create stakeholder maps and more. It would be a shame to spend hours on these tasks when excel can do it in seconds, so you can focus on adding value and expertise to the data.
Where do you keep up to date on Public Affairs?
I follow people of interest on LinkedIn. I find LinkedIn remains a place where posts are of good quality and useful exchanges can happen. I’ve met and exchanged with other PA professionals on issues there, where I would not have had the chance to do so if I had waited to meet them in real life.
What is your best tip for managing work/life balance?
Work around your own rhythm. If you are most productive in the mornings, clear space to do deep work then. Ultimately it will save you a lot of time as you’ll be able to get a lot more done, faster than if you were to try to work through your low-energy periods. Another great advice I live by is by Ron Swanson: Don’t half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing. Multitasking does not work, it’s best to focus on one task at a time: it will get done faster and better. And that also means that agonizing over a task is not helpful: do it now or park it for a clear time-slot later, but don’t get worked up over something coming up, it’s a waste of energy.
What do you do to unwind?
I read a lot. I always have at least one fiction and one non-fiction going on, and I alternate between them based on how I feel. Also I go for a run most days. It gives me space to think, and I’ll often come up with solutions and new ideas during my runs.
How does your desk look?
A lot of coffee cups and books. It’s not neat but it’s not out of control either.
Do you answer emails on your phone?
Yes. But I have a good system, as mentioned above, so I have a pretty peaceful relationship with my inbox.
Name a PA pro in the industry you respect and why
Aaron McLoughlin has been a huge influence on how I approach PA. I admire the energy and inventiveness Tim Werkhoven and the Lobium team bring to the field. Alan Hardacre and Paul Shotton are a wealth of knowledge and can provide much-needed structure. My colleagues are all great pros and I love working with them. Otherwise, in terms of references, I often go back to Craig S. Fleisher, Ron S. Burt, Tetlock and other readings when I need to give some structure to a situation.
Which book did you read recently or are you currently reading?
The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles C. Mann. An excellent read on the divergence between two common views of environmentalism. Clear-eyed and entertaining, I highly recommend it.
Which book would you recommend to other PA professionals?
Talking to strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. This book lays out clearly that we all tend to rely on shortcuts when communicating with others, and that these are unreliable. Clear communication is not self-evident, but it is essential.
Which skills will PA pros need the most in 5-10 year?
I think openness to continuously expanding your toolbox beyond pure policy / politics analysis is important. Dipping into a bit of project management, data handling, legal analysis, behavioral economics, network analysis… all of these will enrich your practice immensely. And you don’t need to be an expert in them to reap the benefits, having basic notions is often sufficient.
Do you prefer LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or TikTok, and why/why not?
I only use LinkedIn actively, to keep up-to-date on the latest in the industry. I have a twitter account but I let Feedly parse it for me.
About Lucie L’Hopital Million
Lucie works as Global Government Affairs and Partnerships Manager for Syngenta Group. She studied law and economics.