Prioritize and Take Care of Yourself, Family
Oregon Rep. Phil Barnhart was a practicing psychologist for 18 years before being elected to the state legislature 12 years ago. He said it’s increasingly difficult for people to balance their work and home lives in our connected culture, but it’s vitally important for legislators to remember where their priorities lay. Here are his tips on how to keep it all together, even during the
heat of a legislative session.
MORE ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER.
The constant presence of technology in most people’s lives makes it harder than ever to get away from your job, Barnhart said. But working 24 hours a day isn’t necessarily going to make you better at your job. “People in the public eye, it’s even a little more difficult because it is really easy to get completely absorbed in the public process and ignore your personal life and personal responsibility,” he said. “My view is if you do that, eventually you become ineffective. You can’t function … if you don’t take care of your personal health and you have to take care of your personal relationships.”
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
Although legislators often worry about taking care of their constituents, the first person they need to take care of, Barnhart said, is themselves. “You have to attend to your own health,” he said, “getting enough sleep, eating properly, getting enough exercise and those kinds of things. You can skimp on it now and then when push comes to shove, but basically if you don’t do that (take care of yourself), you’ll get sick and you won’t be able to handle any of your other priorities.”
TAKE CARE OF YOUR CHILDREN.
Barnhart said you have to take care of yourself first to be able to take care of others. “If you have young children, they come second, they have to,” Barnhart said. “There’s no other way around that.”
TAKE CARE OF YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER.
Barnhart said too often, spouses take a back seat when things get tough for a legislator. That’s not a good thing. “You can’t put it off all the time,” Barnhart said. “You have to get back to that relationship and do what it takes, actually do the good things that allow you to renew that relationship, keep it fresh and interesting and vital. … Too many colleagues have gone through divorces because of the difficulty they face here. It’s devastating. It’s a horror. Most of them don’t stay, they can’t because they’re personally too devastated to function.”
MAKE A LIST OF YOUR PRIORITIES.
“I try to keep it simple because I need it simple for myself,” Barnhart said. “In the middle of a crisis you’ve got four things pulling at you and you have to figure out which thing you’re going to attend to. Having this very simple priority list in my head makes it easier for me to make the right choices.”