September is looming large, with the August recess eventually coming to an end. But these several weeks aren’t wasted time. On the contrary, August recess actually improves a congressional office’s effectiveness, says Brad Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former Hill staffer.
Fitch and CMF spend their time helping congressional offices be more efficient, productive and responsive. He took some time to talk to Hill Navigator and explain the August productivity uptick, and ways offices can use the time to prepare for the busy months ahead.
A lightly edited Q&A follows: 1) August tends to be the longest recess block of the year. Does the length of the recess effect how effective it is for congressional offices? The long August recess “improves” congressional office’s effectiveness in an unusual way: It allows them to recharge their batteries. It also allows staff to catch up on other work. Psychologically, a staffer feels a bit more like they’re on top of their work if they’re not looking at a huge pile of constituent mail on their desk.
2) In your experience, what are some of the most productive ways an office can use the congressional recess? Answering constituent mail, reading long-format articles or reports related to their work, answering constituent mail, networking and — answering constituent mail. Actually, the networking part is probably the most productive use of time. Staff should identify four or five key contacts they’ve been hoping to get to know better. They could be committee staff, other staffers in the delegation, even (heaven forbid) staff from the other party! Just one long lunch can cement a relationship which could prove most valuable in the future.
3) What are some of the more common mistakes or less effective ways that offices use their congressional recess? Recess is a gift. Recess where the boss goes on a CODEL without access to email is an amazing gift! Some staffers squander it by spending too much time on Facebook, or just catching up on filing. Staff should identify something productive, something that would improve their capabilities (such as CRS training), because this time only comes once a year.
4) If you had to give one line of advice to a staffer hoping to maximize their time this August, what would you say? In addition to the other advice offered above, one more thing: unplug. Go for a two-week vacation, or even a one-week “staycation” without email. Let the office know they can call you if it’s an emergency. The Congress will still be here when you get back.
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