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So Busy! So What?

Ask someone on Capitol Hill how things are going, you’re likely to get a variation of this response:

“Great, super busy though.”
“Busy. But good.”
“Really busy. Looking forward to recess.”

So busy! Everyone on Capitol Hill is busy. Everyone in D.C. is busy. More people need the word “busy” etched on their forehead. Better yet, permanently attach a red blinking light that shows they are IN DEMAND.

Capitol Hill, with its long hours, unpredictable vote schedule and mandatory receptions, can make any well-intentioned staffer feel overwhelmed. And busy. Some of us thrive on being busy — we open Outlook and want to see a full calendar and hundreds of unread emails. But for those who would like a little more calm in their lives, or at least some space to do something not work related, here are a few ways to clear out the clutter and breathe a little easier.

1. Cut the fat. Look over your schedule and see which of your commitments have a low return on investment. That all-day panel session in Penn Quarter — do you really need to learn about new policies in renewable energy, or would it be wiser for you to catch up on the constituent mail backlog? That cocktail reception at the Reagan building — do you intend to network effectively? If you’re just nursing a G&T in the corner by yourself, you’d be better off going home to unwind.

An easy fat to cut: conference calls. “That was a really good conference call,” said no one ever. Get rid of conference calls. They’re ineffective, they run too long and they are often dominated by whoever talks the longest and/or loudest. Try scheduling a meeting or collaborating over email if you can. If you must do the conference call, make an agenda, start the call on time and keep it under 30 minutes.

2. Double down on what works best. Fill your schedule with the sorts of items that provide the greatest return, including one-on-one meetings, events and networking opportunities where you have a clear purpose, and anything that meets your boss’s needs and goals.

A quick add to your schedule: an equipment check. Take the extra time to pack your laptop charger and make sure your BlackBerry has enough battery life to get through the day.

3. Take breaks. Often. That walk around Mountains and Clouds in the Hart Senate Office Building might be what you need to clear your head and refocus. Or go get coffee. Do anything that requires you to leave your workspace and think about something else before returning to your work.

4. Set boundaries. Set a word count, a page number or an end time. Whatever the request, pick a limit and aim not to exceed. It’s easy to research everything, add another page, or unearth another talking point. But that kind of thinking can run you ragged and leave you with work that lacks focus. And when you need to, say “no.” Be a team player, sure, but know what items you should not sign up for. Perhaps you don’t need to stop by every single state society reception (except maybe the pie one). Create your limits and then use the extra time to critique and proofread your work. And then go get that coffee.

5. Spend some time being you. Not “staffer” you. Real you. Work is important, but you’ll feel less gripped by the business craze if you can carve out part of your day to do something not work related. Read a novel. Go for a run. Call your parents. You may be an important and busy Hill staffer, but once upon a time you were something else. Don’t lose sight of that person.

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