President Obama's Former Deputy Chief of Staff on "How to Get Shit Done"
Need help conquering the day? Multitasking pro Alyssa Mastromonacoknows all the tricks.
I am not here to tell you to lean in. As a matter of fact, sometimes, if you really want to be the boss of yourself, you’ve got to lean out.
Let me start by saying that my time in politics was good training for learning how to get shit done. I cut my political teeth with Bernie Sanders in 1996. I worked for John Kerry on his presidential campaign and was a part of Barack Obama’s team from the very beginning, when he was a senator. At the White House I was Obama’s deputy chief of staff and the first woman to occupy the office next to the Oval. There I oversaw the Military Office (think Air Force One, Marine One, Camp David) and the vetting, nomination, and confirmation of cabinet secretaries. I also helped plan trips on a tight budget and traveled to more than 60 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve written two books, rescued several Persian cats, and learned how to do push-ups. This is not to say I have all the answers; I definitely don’t, but here’s what I do know.
If you want to be the chief of staff of your own life, you have to ask yourself some essential questions: When do you function best? Are you cool as a cucumber or prone to bouts of anxiety? What are your priorities? Are you goal-oriented? How do you keep track of impending tasks? How do you fuel yourself? Do you need to eat healthy? Sleep a lot? Work out? Do you just need a hamburger sometimes to get up and go?
That’s the starter kit. Who are you?
I’ve figured out that I need a decent amount of sleep. I get tense when I’m going to give a speech or a presentation, which can give me anxiety and trigger my IBS. I have to wind down at the end of the day for at least two hours. All of the above can be helped with some medical marijuana. (Yes, I said it. And I also love the Grateful Dead, so there.)
Whether I was working at the White House or writing a book, I couldn’t — and still can’t — do anything without to-do lists. I break them down by what needs to happen today, tomorrow, next week, and in the long term. The latter generally applies to things like registering my car, renewing a passport, or taking clothes to be hemmed. If I don’t put them to paper, I will most likely spend the day trying to remember all the things I need to do instead of actually doing them. I will gleefully put a green line through each task once it’s completed. I’m quite pleased with myself on the days when everything gets done.
Most important, being the boss of you means being OK with putting yourself first. Be your own No. 1! Sometimes that requires being more social or saying no to things and not feeling guilty. Feeling guilty is wasted time and energy.
It doesn’t necessarily boil down to waking up at 5 a.m., drinking green juice, looking perfect, and making millions while saving the whales. (Although if that’s your jam, go for it.) Knowing what you have to do, how you are going to get it done, and actually doing it is the best feeling. But forgiving yourself when you fall short or miss the mark or when life gets in the way is just as important. Like when your beloved rescue cat Norm makes you late because he pees on you, as mine just did. That was not on my list, by the way …
Mastromonaco’s book So Here’s the Thing … is out now.
For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download on May 17.