The NCSL Blog


By Katie Ziegler

As this week draws to a close, NCSL extends our gratitude to the legislative staff across the country who are working to support the legislative process when each day brings new, unprecedented challenges.

staff week logoWe know you are juggling a lot and hope you will turn to NCSL if we can help make things just a bit easier. Check back with us often to stay up to date on the latest coronavirus policy developments.

If you’d like additional training, connect with one of our professional staff associations to hear more about opportunities to learn with your peers. And please let us know if there’s a topic you’d like NCSL to address in the future. 

Though many people’s physical workspaces have changed (perhaps you’ve shifted from a cubicle to a card table), the work continues and may have increased.

Layer that new workload with care for friends and family members, the need to collaborate remotely with your colleagues and the unceasing news cycle, and you have a recipe for feeling overwhelmed.

It is so important to continue your regular exercise, relaxation and self-care practices right now, to the extent possible, and to take breaks from work even when the work is with you 24/7. You can also consider the following tips to guard against decision fatigue from the experts at Trello.

Decision fatigue occurs when our brains become overtired from constantly reacting to information (by one count, we make more than 35,000 decisions every day). Especially now, when some decisions feel especially weighty, the more we make, the less able we are to continue exerting the willpower to evaluate evidence and make good decisions.

We are more likely to either act impulsively just to get it over with, or to become stuck and not act at all. Incorporating these practices can keep your mind exercised and more able to respond when it really counts:

  • Take brain breaks. Even if you don’t have an important decision looming, taking time to move, meditate or get creative will pay off in the long run as your brain strengthens its neural connections.
  • Consider routines. Your usual routine may have gone off the rails in the last couple of months but building patterns and repetition into your new/temporary life reduces the number of decisions you’re faced with each day.
  • Stay attuned to how you get your work done. Think the work routine that makes you most productive and stick with that system. Need ideas? NCSL’s recent webinar abut the ABCDE method has you covered.
  • Set deadlines. Give yourself a timeline for making the big decisions so that your brain can free space for other work in the meantime.
  • Keep the healthy snacks coming. Hunger reduces our impulse control, so be sure to remain aware of your needs and don’t go into meetings or big decisions without eating something.

If you are working away from the Capitol, continue to stay in touch with your colleagues. Anne Sappenfield, the director of Wisconsin’s Legislative Council, now holds the office’s regular weekly staff meetings over Skype. She reports that her team is meeting more frequently than before as issues arise and the informal, spontaneous conversations in an office are off the table for now.

Sappenfield works to stay attuned to the team’s needs, share resources and recognize that circumstances are challenging. “I’ve encouraged staff to talk about what’s hard about working from home and shared what I’ve found difficult,” she says.

Finally, tune in to NCSL’s webinar, Managing, Leading and Growing During Uncertain Times, at 1:30 p.m. EDT today for more resources from leadership development trainer Melissa Furman.

Katie Ziegler is a program director in NCSL’s Member Outreach Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.