Recess is Coming, Get Psyched

There are few phrases more beloved on Capitol Hill than “August Recess.” That four-to-five-week stretch of time when the Capitol empties out, vacation days are cashed in, and the general frenetic activity and acrimony of Congress are mellowed in favor of shorter work hours and longer happy hours. Bipartisan cheers all around.

But August recess still means you’ve got some hours to spend at your desk. Even the long lunches won’t take up an entire day. So what to do with your time? Hill Navigator has some advice on how to make the best use of your August recess. A sprinkling of productivity makes the day go by much faster.

Q. I really appreciate your honest advice; you have a good view of things. Now that August is fast approaching, many staffers will take extended vacations. For those stuck in the office, do you have any suggestions on how best to use this time? Thank you.

1. Go to the district. No August recess is complete without a few days (or even a week) back home in the district/state office. Those lucky enough to work for your home state member can turn these trips into some quality family visiting time, but for those who work elsewhere, those district trips are still valuable. Here’s why: Capitol Hill is its own, isolated microcosm of a community. The politics and policies fiercely debated here have a way of translating much differently outside the Beltway. Even if you aren’t one to mull over the legislative accomplishment (or lack thereof) of Congress, going to the state/district will serve as a reminder of whom you represent. Hearing from people—whether in a town hall meeting or at the pancake house—will be the best dose of reality you’ll get all summer.

2. Catch up with everyone. I don’t just mean your softball buddies. Use the August recess to grab coffee with people you’ve worked with over the year—from the legislative assistant whose bill you co-signed to the staff assistant you met at your alumni reception. Success on Capitol Hill depends in part on connections, and good connections require some maintenance. August is the perfect time to do that.

3. Get smarter. Skip the New York Times crossword puzzle and use the August recess to brandish some of your legislative credentials. Our friends at the Congressional Research Service make this easy. CRS offers a full range of programs for congressional staff—free of charge--including policy and legal seminars, legislative research and orientation programs. Go to and click on "events" to see their full offerings for Hill staff. (Unfortunately for non-Hill staff, this website is not accessible outside of Congress). Or if you have questions, give CRS a call at (202) 707-5700.

And if all else fails, grab a bottle of all-purpose cleaner and give your desk a good once-over. Maybe you’ll unearth an old memo or to-do list to jump-start your recess with some fresh ideas.