The Hill Life: Staying Motivated During a Lull

Every business has it’s busy times and it’s slower times.  Some days are a hectic feast of important projects, other days are famine, spent playing Fruit Ninja and DrawSome on the iPad hoping the phone will ring.  On the Hill, we call the latter, In Recess, and the former, In Session.

I don’t know about you, but I have the hardest time staying motivated during recess.  Truth be told, I’ve been working in deadline-driven environments for so long that without that pressure, I find it difficult to do much of anything.  Over the years, I have found that only one thing keeps me motivated during recess: a to do list.

The night before the recess begins, when all the craziness of Session is still fresh in my mind, I do two things.

First, I clean. I scrub my desk spotless.  Papers are thrown away, files are returned to the cabinet and my keyboard gets a thorough disinfecting.  Then, I go through my email inbox and delete all the spam, fundraising requests and other miscellany that’s clogging up my Outlook (literally and figuratively).

Second, I grab my notebook (hard back, spiral bound) and make out The To Do List.  Not, a to do list, THE To Do List.

I put the easiest tasks on the top.  This way, I can get the simple stuff out of the way early.  Not only will this give me a sense of accomplishment as I cross things off my list, it will ensure that no small task lingers too long.

Once those are complete, I tackle the harder jobs.  And I cannot head home on Friday night until all of the tasks are crossed off the list.  Because once we return to the haste and chaos of Session, who knows if I’ll have time to finish anything on the list?

Making a to do list and crossing things off seems so simple, but try completing an entire list and you’ll see what a challenge it can be.  Especially with the siren’s song that is Words with Friends ringing in your ears.  But there is nothing better than heading home after a recess week knowing that you have nothing left outstanding, it makes that first Monday back in Session so much easier.

So how do you stay motivated during Recess or a lull at work?  Besides coffee…of course.


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  1. urbanbluegrass says:

    Thanks for the post Belle! I'm going through the same thing right now and while I made a to-do list, I think THE to do list will definitely get a fire under me!

    April 11, 2012/Reply
  2. Dakota says:

    If I know things are going to be slow I try to schedule networking lunches/coffees with people that are a bit too far away to see during a regular day. I get to see old faces, network and catch up, and I get a break from the office.

    April 11, 2012/Reply
  3. Heatherskib says:

    I'm on crazy mode. but on lulls I volunteer to learn new skills.

    April 11, 2012/Reply
  4. Mary says:

    I think I work in a much more flexible office environment than the Hill but when I'm having a slower week I just get to the office late or leave early. The amount of overtime I work during the busy weeks more than makes up for absence during the slower weeks. That way, instead of sitting in the office playing Words with Friends I get out to run errands, get Dr.s appointments out of the way, people watch in the park, etc. I'm also in school part time so i'll use free time at work to get my reading for class done.

    April 11, 2012/Reply
  5. Courtney says:

    I read blogs and then leave early. just trying to keep it real.

    April 11, 2012/Reply
  6. r says:

    I'm no longer on the Hill (so no very clear periods of slowness) but in my former life I used to be fairly diligent about setting up meetings with experts on issues that I needed to learn more about. I'd try to set these up at the end of a session, before recess-brain took over. The meetings were normally longer than in-session meetings could be, and they often prompted me to continue reading/thinking/etc over the recess break.

    April 11, 2012/Reply
  7. Shannon says:

    Never been on the Hill, but I've had jobs with lulls. The big thing that helps me to stay motivated is to spend the last five minutes of every day clearing off my desk and making a to-do list for the following day. Otherwise, when it's slow, it's all too easy to come in, sip coffee, and dawdle online all morning. Having a to-do list staring me in the face motivates me to keep moving.

    I also try to enjoy the lulls, though – they're a great opportunity to get to know colleagues and slow down a bit.

    April 11, 2012/Reply
  8. E says:

    AMEN to Courtney! Glad I'm not the only one.

    April 11, 2012/Reply
  9. desigirl says:

    I don't work on the hill (i'm an in-house attorney). The first week after the end of any quarter is a lull for me and I catch up on my reading (bar journals, trade magazines ect), schedule networking lunches, and file things. On a lazy Friday afternoon, provided my boss has left the building, I will leave early and head to the mall for some window shopping.

    April 11, 2012/Reply
  10. helixy says:

    I also list. I do not work on the Hill, rather, I work in an office near Pittsburgh; formerly in its call center but now its IT department. Listing the things I need to do definitely keeps me on task, both during lulls at work or sometimes at home.

    My apartment does not stay as tidy and organized as I'd like because I'm sometimes careless when I'm in a hurry (and also – I share it with my fiance and our two cats) so sometimes when I decide it is time to clean/overhaul the place I kind of feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to start (which leads me to deviate into guilty pleasures you listed – DrawSomething, Words with Friends, etc) so it definitely helps me define a starting point.


    April 12, 2012/Reply