Alex Witt is a political strategist for U.S. Democratic Party candidates and progressive causes. She most recently worked on Cory Booker’s presidential campaign as chief of staff for communications, digital, policy, and research. Before that, she worked at the communications agency Bully Pulpit Interactive, led the digital department on Ralph Northam’s successful gubernatorial campaign in Virginia, worked on Hillary Clinton’s social media team during the 2016 presidential election, and worked on the content team at the Democratic National Committee.
Here, Alex shares what her typical day in the world of a high-pressure political campaign looks like, and how she uses Todoist and other strategies to manage the competing demands of creative work — like producing social, ad, and email campaigns — with scheduling, meetings, and events.
Morning coffee, to-do list check-in, and ‘Today Show’ ritual
When I’m working on a campaign, I wake up to my iPhone alarm around 6:30 most mornings. I scroll through my email and text messages, Twitter, and news push alerts to make sure there isn’t anything I’ve missed overnight. With a 24-7 news cycle, the political landscape can shift even while you’re asleep — it’s critical to stay connected, especially in the first few hours of the day when narratives are being set. I’ll answer any outstanding messages before getting out of bed and send any immediately relevant news flags to my team on Slack or, if it’s really urgent, by text.
I walk downstairs and make two cups of coffee. While my coffee brews, I review my Todoist to-dos to plan my day. I’ll do a brain dump of anything that’s popped up overnight, reschedule anything overdue and take a peek at my next seven days.
One of my favorite morning rituals is watching the Today Show with my first cup of coffee. It’s something my parents do every morning, and I like maintaining that routine from growing up. I think it also helps center my work around what people who don’t live and breathe politics online every day see. While I’m watching, I’ll check my Google Calendar and mentally prepare for any important meetings.
At about 7:30 AM, I’ll do some sort of exercise for 30 minutes at home — taking a spin class on my Peloton or doing some light yoga or some sort of strength training through the Peloton digital app. Then, I’ll take a quick shower while listening to “Up First” on the NPR app and carpool to the office with my partner and my roommate.
At-work: balancing meetings with ‘deep work’ in the high pressure world of politics
I get to work around 8:50 AM, sipping that all-important second cup of coffee. I’ll make a bowl of instant oatmeal with a scoop of peanut butter and, if I’m lucky, some blueberries. Campaigns tend to have a lot of morning meetings — it’s important to align on message and priorities first thing before the day (and the news cycle) really get going. These daily senior staff and communications meetings are probably the most predictable parts of my day.
During these meetings, I’ll update specific Todoist tasks with time deadlines to help prioritize them on my daily list. I’ll also add any new long-term tasks or reminders.
Afterwards, I have a two-hour window without meetings, which is my best shot at getting any deep work done. This is when I’ll write long-form content or develop strategy or project management documents.
Managing the constant flow of news and requests is one of the hardest parts of working on a campaign. It’s not uncommon to step away from your devices and return to dozens of Slack messages and emails. Additionally, most campaign teams work in big, open-office plans, which can be really distracting. One of my best investments was a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, which I use to drown out background noise with Spotify’s Coffee Table Jazz or White Noise playlists.
I typically work in 30-minute increments and then take a break to answer any emails. And if I see a flurry of desktop notifications from Slack, I know I need to take a look. I aspire to Inbox Zero, but I don’t file any emails until the concern is addressed, so I generally have about 20 or so in my unread inbox.
I heat up my lunch around noon. I’m lucky to have a partner who makes home-cooked meals in the evenings, so we usually eat leftovers for lunch. I’m guilty of eating lunch at my desk, but that’s my opportunity to scroll through my personal social media accounts and read any extracurricular articles. I use the app Pocket to save articles as I see them and especially love the New York Times Cooking and Smarter Living sections; PoPville, a local blog for Washington, D.C.; and culture pieces from New York Magazine.
The afternoons on our campaign are devoted to meetings. Depending on the day, I could have a scheduling meeting where we review the candidate’s travel, meetings with other departments to discuss cross-team projects, standing check-ins with team members, or project-based strategy sessions. At any time, I’m balancing a lot of different projects and priorities, so I’m a stickler for fastidious note taking. I take them on my laptop in Google Docs and afterwards, identify any action items to put in my Todoist as tasks. They go in my campaign project and I add a label to them. My labels correspond with the specific team working on a task (Communications, Digital Fundraising, Policy, Video, etc.) This helps me take a 10,000-foot view of our work and identify whether any teams could use additional resources or help. If it’s a particularly big project, like a debate or a campaign launch, I’ll create a separate section for the task.
My meetings typically end around 6 or 7 PM. That’s when I’ll start reviewing any outstanding tasks and reprioritizing for the next day. I’ll dig in on email, which I’ve been answering throughout the day. I usually leave the office around 7:30.
Evening check-ins with the campaign from home and unwinding
I’m an introvert, so I like to spend my evenings at home. I typically keep in touch with my colleagues throughout the evening via Slack — there’s almost always some type of campaign event then, as that’s when most voters are off work. I’ll have a glass of red wine and take care of any household chores I need to get done, which I track in a Todoist project called “Home”. My partner makes supper, and we eat around 8:30 or 9 PM. Then, we might watch a football or basketball game on TV with our roommate or maybe a Netflix series or documentary. We recently watched Free Solo and got really into adventure docs!
I’ll head to bed around 10:30 or so and read for 30 minutes or until I’m tired. I use a Kindle because it makes borrowing books from the public library really easy. I just download something new when I’m finished. I try to read fiction because I think it helps my creativity, and I track the books on Goodreads — I recently read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and loved it! Then, I hit the lights and go to sleep.