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Moving Beyond Simple Thinking

Worker Productivity in the 21 Century

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Christine Springer
June 5, 2015

As public managers, we live in an interconnected world which is becoming more interdependent because of technology. The world we work in has become increasingly complex and full of change. But it is also brimming with new opportunities for those able to chart a new course.

Springer may 15

I recently surveyed and interviewed 120 government/nonprofit leaders. The leaders ranged in age from 42 to 60; 55 percent were women and 45 percent were men. I asked them to self-report on what is critical for public workers to do today to be truly productive. The most prevalent response was to pause, clarify and then decide on whether the action to be taken is important enough to act on. They generally agreed that such a perspective refers to the way people view or regard something and that it characterizes a person’s point of view.

With regard to public administration, the majority of those interviewed felt that a new perspective was necessary for public administrators to be fully functional in the future. The new perspective should address the extraordinary so that at the end of the day, individuals could feel as though they accomplished those things that add the most value to their work and their life.

First and foremost, never allow the clutter of the day to get in the way. One suggestion was to spend 30 minutes each week and 10 minutes each day to reduce the noise, get centered and plan to do what is most important. Also, it was suggested that at the end of every day, the individual look back on what was accomplished and identify a few “Must-Dos” to focus on next time.

Secondly, administrators should rule their technology. If not, they will be distracted by it and when that happens, they miss important things like building strong relationships, collaborating on important problems or doing some thoughtful and focused work. A first step is to organize all of the information based upon what can be acted upon and what can be used for future reference. Usually that means appointments (things to do at specific times), tasks (things to do that are not yet scheduled), contacts (information about people), and notes/documents (information that needs to be tracked and does not fall into one of the other categories).

In order to leverage technology systems, it is important to automate as many decisions so that personal energy is not used on the mundane or useless. This can be done by mastering the rules or filter functions of an email system so that they automatically go where they should go before they ever hit the inbox in accordance with organizational guidelines. Also, it is important to unclutter the inbox in a timely way by moving emails to their proper location in a timely way.

Finally, effective administrators like to locate so that they see the relevance of information as it comes in and proactively connect resources ahead of time rather than having to search for them later; by inserting the actual file, inserting an active hyperlink or creating a text-based link so at the end of the day, their mind is calm and undisturbed.

Thirdly, administrators need to fuel their fire and not burn out because productive individuals consistently recharge using five energy drivers:

  • Moving – It is not just about exercise, it is about getting up from their chair at least every 90 minutes to walk around, even if it is just to go to the beverage area or the restroom.
  • Eating – Fueling the brain with whole, natural foods in regular intervals throughout the day so that the body and brain are able to function best.
  • Sleeping – Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to extraordinary productivity because showing up sleep-deprived is like showing up to work drunk.
  • Relaxing – Learning to turn off stress responses in the brain and acting from a more centered, relaxed state can have a tremendous impact on worker performance and can be as simple as taking a 15-minute break to change surroundings.
  • Connecting – Spending time building and maintaining meaningful relationships nourishes the brain because the brain is not only wired for movement but it is also an inherently social organ. 

Worker productivity in the 21st century is all about being conscious in the moment and taking small steps each day to cultivate the habit of being extraordinary through an awareness of their surroundings, the people that they work with and the opportunities for high-value decisions about where they spend their time, attention and energy. By living that way, workers find themselves much more rewarded and fulfilled and know that they have been involved in things that matter and that they have done them well.


Author: Christine Gibbs Springer is the director of the Executive Masters Degree in Emergency and Crisis Management at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas. She is founder and CEO of a strategic management and communications firm, Red Tape Limited. To contact Springer, email [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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