Being effective at work is about quality, not quantity. In this Q&A, Dr. Greg Wells, the 2020 Public Sector Conference keynote speaker, shares practical leadership advice about how you can achieve more sustainable strategic outcomes.

This year has brought new and often unexpected challenges to the demands of work and professional life during a pandemic. Our public sector in particular has seen many civil servants go above and beyond to deliver critical financial benefits to families, share updated information that supports businesses and even release a voluntary COVID-19 contact tracing app available to all Canadians.

But, it can all be quite overwhelming as a leader: from competing priorities and scope creep to process issues, budget constraints and even straightforward bandwidth for strategy and execution.

Dr. Greg Wells, keynote speaker at the Public Sector Conference this fall, has some advice to help you out – whether you’re looking to get back on track and avoid burnout or interested in ways to optimize your current approach to work and become even more effective. He draws on extensive experience working with elite athletes to help executives build skills for high performance under stress. 

Read on below for tips from Greg to get started, feel better and keep making a difference.

In your work as a performance expert, you often speak about the concept of “slowing down to speed up.” How do you think CPAs can embrace this in a public sector context and what is the primary value in doing so?

In today’s world, the typical way we work is to hustle as much as possible and be busy all the time. I think we mistakenly believe that good work is a high volume of work, even though that results in fatigue, burn out, anxiety and high levels of stress. I think there’s a better way.

By slowing down, pausing and taking time to reflect, by thinking strategically, being creative and contemplating a better approach, I believe that we can be more efficient and effective – whether you’re in academics, music, sports, business or the public sector. I believe this is a human truth. In order to be more creative we need to relax. To think more strategically, we need to slow down. And to reflect and learn, we need to pause.

This can be as simple as taking a few breaths, or allocating 30 minutes a day to read, a meditation break, or even allocating one day a month to review your progress and your overall work strategies. When you deliberately and intentionally incorporate the principle of slowing down to speed up, you will see exponential positive effects.

What are the key opportunities for individuals and organizations to practice that concept consistently right now, given the realities of a pandemic?

The COVID-19 crisis has unexpectedly given us a unique opportunity to slow down. Many of us no longer have to commute to and from work, giving us extra time every day. We’ve been asked to shelter in place at home, which is giving us more time with our families. Much of the corporate world has been asked to pivot to digital work that is not location dependent. It’s time to rethink the way that we work and make strides to incorporate more health improving strategies.

Ultimately, I think that it’s a chance for us to reimagine our futures rather than simply striving to return to what was normal before. Our previous normal included sleeplessness, physical inactivity, burnout, anxiety and a number of other society-level challenges. I would love for us to consider how we can build a life where we’re effective at work but also healthy mentally, physically and emotionally.

With the public sector largely being in reaction mode during COVID-19, prioritization and operating at over capacity have been a struggle. How can public sector leaders manage shifting realities to balance peak performance and optimal health? 

Many of us are so busy that we end up just trying to react to the constant flow of demands that are coming at us every day. I believe that there is a way forward for us that is different and ultimately much better for our performance and our health. Quite often, we simply tell ourselves, “I’m just too busy to do that.”
But are we really too busy to pause and take a few breaths every once in a while to reset our minds? Are we really too busy to go for a short walk at the beginning and the end of our days to supercharge our brains and to decompress? Are we really too busy to make ourselves a healthy lunch so that our brains function at a high-level, while improving our well-being at the same time?

There is a better way for us, but it does require an intentional change to our daily routines and habits. We need to be very careful about the stories that we tell ourselves because quite often those stories limit us – and we need to tell ourselves new stories about what’s possible. We can tell ourselves stories about how much energy we have, how great our family life is and how much healthier we are now that we’re exercising every day.

Language defines our reality. When we understand the science of how the brain works at the highest possible level, we can make small decisions throughout the day to get better. This ultimately will allow us to tell ourselves a new story about how we are improving our health, one day at a time, despite the fact that we’re faced with a tremendous global crisis.

We’re excited to have you join us at the Public Sector Conference in October! This year will be the first time hosting the conference entirely virtual. What can attendees look forward to in your keynote session?

I’m so excited for this presentation. What I’ve discovered in previous talks is that although the ideas of sleeping soundly, eating smarter, moving more, and thinking clearly were powerful, many people struggled to incorporate them into daily life.
That’s why in this keynote I’m going to be focusing on how to take realistic action and be consistent. Your full potential is within reach. I’ll be sharing the core principles of neuroscience and optimal brain function so that CPAs, public finance professionals and other leaders in government can really implement the practice of slowing down to speed up.