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Work Ethics: what do you do when you hit the doldrums?

Despite the urban legend of the lazy government worker, most of us have pretty good work ethics. We care about our work and try hard to get the job done right. We care so much that we work extra hours, endure extra stress, and suffer burnout and frustration when we hit roadblocks.

So how do we deal with a rough patch? How do we reconcile are hardworking natures with emotional antipathy?

I started thinking about this specifically because I “had” to post something today. I scoured my brain for topics and found nothing. I’m not inspired to write. So, why worry, right? It’s just a blog. Well, I’d committed to writing weekly, so I feel pressured to stay true to that commitment. And it’s difficult to move past that ethic and accept that it’s ok to blog only when I feel like it.

I’ve also had this experience with something truly work-related: my role as chairperson for our Green Team. As happens with so many such groups, the driving force became just myself, my husband (he works here too), and one other coworker. And most of the energy, ideas, and whipcracking came from me. Add this to the fact that my current workload doesn’t really allow for that much energy to the Green Team and…..well, I was pretty conflicted. I committed to the Green Team, and I know that without me it will die (not because I’m so irreplaceable but because no one else is stepping up to the plate). Yet, in the grand scheme of priorities, it has to drop off the plate right now.

I feel bad, like I’m wimping out. Like I’m not keeping to my word. Some of this may be my own baggage, but I believe some of it stems from work ethic too. Those of us with a deep sense of commitment can’t help but be torn when we have to let things slide. It feels like — well I don’t want to say failure, but something on that side of the spectrum.

It’s difficult to step back and accept the realities of our situations. Sometimes, we just can’t do it all. And with shrinking budgets and increasing work, something has to fall off the list, at least temporarily. Learning to accept such moments without internalizing them is the only healthy way to go. Letting go of the Green Team isn’t about my being a slacker or giving up; it’s about my acceptance of current project load and the realization that if I continue with the Team I will become a stressed out crazy person.

Some people, of course, are better at letting go that others. But I suspect there are a lot of Type A people in government service — at least from my own observations. And many of us take the “service” aspect of the job seriously. So how do we survive the inevitable low points?

Everyone will have his/her own solutions. Me, I rake my zen garden (I made a big one for my desk, cuz those little desk-sized ones aren’t enough for me). I take a break to surf online news or shoe shop or whatever. I give myself permission to have a slacker day now and again — better to be minimally productive for a day than to push myself too hard and end up the aforementioned stressed out crazy person. I know I make up for these moments on those days when I’m on fire, skip lunch, and reach new heights of efficiency.

The next time the doldrums pay you a visit, don’t get too down about it. Don’t feel guilty that you can be Superman/woman. You’re human. You can’t do it all, all the time (I can hear you all now: “Yes I can!”). Give yourself permission to step back, to remove something from your to-do list.

Now, if I can just practice what I preach………

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A.J. Van Beest

We all get there sometimes, whether we’re on the “make it purty” or the “make it dance” side of things. It’s good to step back, take a breath, maybe do something else for a little bit. When I’m at my home office, I have a heavy bag downstairs; that’s a mind-cleaner for me. When I’m at work, sometimes I’ll go talk with one of my co-workers about the problem. I find that in verbalizing the problem, I often think about it from a different perspective and solutions sometimes pop out.

And FWIW, mabye take a little surf break.




Vindication at last!!!! Thanks for the link! Sadly, the USDA blocks Facebook and YouTube at work. But there’s a big internet out there…….

Allen Sheaprd

A.J. – thanks. Its not just a break but the right break that gets the mind going.
GeekChick – I know how you feel. Sometimes I just have to stop and go walk out side. Change where I am and then come back. We are not machines or cylons you know 😉

Here is something to perk up the day. Mineral oil cooled PC. http://www.pugetsystems.com/submerged.php Water cooling is so 19th century 😉 This really works. Quiet PC too!

D. Rizzo

Hi GC, I recently retired from law enforcement after 25 years & that was one career with a lot of mixed feelings & challenges to say the least. I always try to be as fair as possible & try to give my best effort. I had some good times & some bad times as a cop, but I usually slept well because I knew that I did my best to do the right thing. I said I usually slept well because I had a difficult civilian boss to work for when I was Lt. & sometimes I’d run out of rawhide bones to chew on after a frustrating workday. Her mantra was, “We’re just going to have to do more with less.” I often thought that we would soon be doing everything with nothing. You are correct in that a lot of people in Gov’t. service are smart, service oriented & they rise to the occasion by working harder, smarter & longer to get things done. BUT, at some point the pace & workload become too great and people start making mistakes, get careless, and quality suffers, which makes everyone unhappy. That’s a problem in an office & potential tragedy for cops. You and the others are right in that you have to get your priorities correct & make time for yourself away from the rat race. Get away from the office where there is a brain drain & go for a walk. If the weather is bad & you can’t get out of the office then maybe try surfing the web for something you like or something different (NO, Not porn!!!), I check out house floor plans for ideas or airplane flying lessons or something else & sometimes I would check out public safety websites (police, fire, medical) to find out whats going on elsewhere & to get ideas to help me. At home I also play computer games, go for walks, jog, read, work-out, ride my 2 motorcycles (NO, not at the same time! Not anymore.), I go on little trips, go out to eat/movies & I definitely try to maintain a good sense of humor about everything. Find jokes on the internet, watch comedies & remember that laughter is the best medicine. I mentioned computer games before & I had to laugh because for 15 years my wife didn’t play them, although I had & still do & so did our daughters. Anyway, my darling wife had to hear a physician say that researchers discovered that playing computer games (PC, XBOX, Playstation) helps to improve & maintain mental functions. Eh, yea, duh…. I said that for years. But what do I know? So here we are in 2009 & my beautiful, smart, project oriented, organizer wife comes home from Princeton Univ. & plays Tomb Raider after dinner. Or we watch ALIAS for an escape into the world of spies or something else….. Be safe out there everyone & my sincere thanks to all of you office folks. I know that I couldn’t do my job on the street very well if I didn’t have great support staff inside.

Best regards,

(John 8:32, De Oppresso LIber)

Allen Sheaprd

Thank you as we could not be safe if you where not out there. Cops never show up when things are going right so you always show up after things have gone downhill.

BTW – I do not think a video camera is a replacement for a sworn officer. Pictures and video of who beat up my kid is nice but not as good as some one there preventing the beating. Just my opinion.

As for the games – the mental health experts of the Red Cross brought games to Fargo ND so people got a break from the disaster. They did not fiddle while the place flooded but they did get a break. Then they came back somewhat refreshed. (hint hint for disaster planning)

Carol Clark


Great insight. I have been married to a Police Officer for almost 20 years and a Government employee for almost 20 years. The one thing you have in law enforcement is the brotherhood and camaraderie. Those officers know they have to have your back no matter what the instance is. Most offices do not have this type of closeness with employees and surfing the internet or taking a walk might get you in the bosses office. It is really sad that we could have each others back if we wanted. I think I will take your advise and play my son’s X-Box this evening. Don’t hurt to try!! Thanks for your service in Law Enforcement Don.

Tom Melancon

I find it useful to get out of the building for a few minutes, and I do this twice a day. Seattle weather can be gloomy in the winter, but I still feel it helps to get out of the building and interact with the world for a few minutes. I’ve started taking my mini digital camera (it fits in a coat pocket) on these brief walks, as I’ve often passed something worth taking a picture of. And, as you said, part of the process seems to be to accept that I’m not going to feel super productive every day. If I really feel like motivation is lagging, I look at my leave time and see if I can afford to take some credit hours or annual leave. Sometimes, taking an afternoon off is just what the doctor ordered.


On a camera note, I put fun outdoor pictures as my desktop wallpaper. They make me happy when I need a quick lift.


oh PS, I took a sick day last week…..I used to take regular “mental health” days, but not so much any more. I was honestly sick last week, but probably could have gone to work…..It was absolutely marvelous to sit in the sun in my jammies. Just what my spirits needed.

Jennifer Smith-Castro

Great topic! I feel much the same way. I definitely have those unproductive days form time to time, too. I try to save up some tasks that don’t require much thought for days like that, e.g. doing required paperwork, reading through the office mail, reading through the industry magazines that come in to the office, doing required on-line safety training, annual computer use training, etc. If I can hold off on filing things or doing some of the tasks that require substantially less brain-power for those days, I can usually muddle through. I surf for job related things like Don mentioned, too. It’s really helpful to get a different perspective sometimes. I also have some chatty co-workers whose company I really enjoy, so I take some time to talk and chalk it up to promoting good office morale and good working relationships (which may sound like I’m justifying my occassional slacker behavior, but I’ve been in very unpleasant offices before, so I really believe there’s some value to that). Glad to hear I’m not the only one who struggles with this:)