What’s your public service productivity style?

By Amelia Axelsen

February 25, 2021


As public servants try to solve complex policy problems, work can pile up. The expectation to be responsive to other departments and citizens is becoming more of a requirement for working in government. It also doesn’t help that we live in an age of distractions.

When Apolitical held an online workshop on productivity in 2019, an officer working at the UN wondered how he could limit distractions such as social media to achieve greater focus throughout the workday.

An Australian public servant asked how she could plan out her tasks better so she could achieve more – being organised was not her strong suit, she said.

A Scottish public servant struggled with managing a range of priorities, sometimes not knowing which tasks should take precedence over the other.

But perhaps most interestingly, it was clear that some public servants struggled with one aspect of productivity while prevailing in others. One public servant from Moldova, for example, said she was great at creating habits for staying focused, but didn’t know how to prioritise tasks under pressure. Weighing your strengths and weaknesses can go a long way to putting you on the path to better productivity.

Ultimately, everyone has different ways of working, and different styles of productivity.

Although your colleague may have stacks of paper thrown about their desk, notes scattered and coffee mugs piling up, it doesn’t mean they are poor planners – they may be able to find the exact document they need in all the mess.

Alternatively, environmental factors and our departments’ reliance on tech can throw unexpected challenges at us that we may not know how to navigate.

That’s why it’s important to know and embrace your productivity style. Carson Tate, a productivity consultant, describes in her book Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, four “productivity styles”: the prioritiser, the planner, the arranger and the visualiser.

The Prioritiser

Ever met someone who has their goals mapped out and skips out on coffee breaks to ensure they get everything done before the clock strikes five? This is a prioritiser. This style describes people who are very goal-oriented and competitive.

They are analytical and approach tasks with logic. Prioritisers are very good at setting the appropriate amount of time to deliver on their tasks. Often they avoid long-winded explanations and chats with colleagues, and do not write long email responses, but keep it to a few short sentences. They are great at executing a task, but often ignore the planning that it may require – although, they don’t stop until it’s done.

Playing into the prioritiser’s competitive nature by setting goals for each assignment will give them a productivity boost.

This can be done by trying to maximise efficiency by cutting down on the time it takes to do routine tasks such as responding to emails quicker by writing new templates. Their consistency is one advantage to their productivity style.

The Planner

It’s easy to spot a planner when you see one. They’ve colour-coded their notebooks, become best friends with their calendar and are on top of every deadline. People who fall into this productivity style are incredibly detail-oriented and organised.

Rather than looking at the big picture, planners look at the details of a project. They find making lists and setting out tasks before a project begins helpful for being productive. They are great at looking at the fine print, but can’t stand being spontaneous or not having an agenda.

Setting micro to-do lists that break down tasks into small chunks can help give planners a productivity boost. Their organisational skills help them to excel at meetings and managing projects that have a strict deadline.

The Arranger

Teamwork may not always be for everyone, but arrangers are the first people to take charge. Deemed great communicators and facilitators, partnering with colleagues is their speciality. People who fall into this category are instinctive and have a knack for knowing what needs to get done and working with people to achieve it.

They are emotional and expressive and don’t like spending too much time on facts. Forcing an arranger to sit alone without interaction could actually hinder their productivity. They understand how others feel, but may ask too many questions.

Although breaking up tasks with coffee breaks scattered in between may seem like a waste of time for the other productivity types, this can help arrangers thrive. They are great at getting people to deliver on a project and get everyone involved.

The Visualiser

If you’re a risk-taker who can juggle a variety of tasks but formulate them all into one cohesive whole, then you’re a visualiser. People who fall under this style thrive under pressure and like a challenge. They have a knack for formulating novel ideas.

Visualisers are great at seeing the bigger picture and how things fall into place. They may not always follow through on detailed plans, but manage to get things right before the deadline. Although they can sometimes create new ways of working, their lack of attention to detail can also lead to problems.

Allowing visualisers the opportunity to be creative in their problem solving will help them become more productive. Their ability to consider outcomes in the future makes them a valuable asset for projects that don’t have a clear end goal.

This article is curated from Apolitical.

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