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Taxpayer-Funded Email

According to research cited in The Washington Post last year, office workers spend an average of 4.1 hours checking email every day. That's half the workday!

Citing a different study, the article states that the average employee absorbed no less than 90 incoming emails per day in 2016.

In my book, email is a productivity-killer, particularly in the federal workplace, for a few reasons:
  • You're expected to respond to incoming inquiries right away. The capacity to take time out to reflect is blocked, and strategic thinking is frequently interrupted. 
  • It wastes time as there are frequently too many people on the To: and Cc: lines.
  • Due to the impossibility of reading body language, minor misunderstandings are magnified by our imaginations.
  • The time it takes to resolve a matter balloons as inquiries sit on someone's desk rather than being discussed, researched and resolved. 

If we stopped relying so much on email, we could re-allocate our time and money:
  • We could spend more time brainstorming and piloting innovative ways to better serve our customers.
  • We could hire more people to fill short-staffed positions.
  • We could spend more time developing our skills and abilities to align with best-in-class public and private sector organizations.
  • We could spend more time actually talking to our colleagues, and building the informal social glue that keeps an organization running smoothly. 
  • We could reduce the soul-crushing misery of dealing with the consequences of unintended miscommunication.
Do you agree with me that email is often a huge waste of taxpayer money?

By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This post is public domain.

What The Rebbe Taught Me

I was five years old and we lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. The year was 1976.

My father wouldn’t stand up for the photo of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z”l. It was a practice the local Chabad community had adopted. My father said it was idol worship; he was right.

But I was a disciple of the Rebbe.

Not in the way that the true Chabadniks were, okay? I didn’t go to one of their schools. and I wasn’t fully religious, even back then. Always I held a part of me in reserve. I’ve always felt, “What I do with religion is my choice; I will not be a robot.”

We lived in a townhouse apartment and my best friend lived across the way, in an identical brown brick structure that was nauseatingly bland.

I remember this friend with great joy. Her family was lovely. My mother was friends with her mother and my dad was friends with her dad. They were true disciples.

The thing about Chabad is they’re relentlessly positive. They keep Judaism authentically. They don’t push you to do what you don’t want to do. And they have a mystical explanation for everything.

Anyway. I still remember the gorgeous fliers from the Chabad youth organization, “Tzivos Hashem.” It’s hard to explain the meaning of this term without it sounding a lot like Jihad. But in fact it means “those commanded by God,” but which I take to mean something like “the army of God,” united in promoting observance of the Mitzvot.

The Rebbe taught me that serving God is, first and foremost, a war. As the truly observant Muslims say, this is not a war of weapons. But rather it is a spiritual war. Satan presents you with a vast array of temptations, from the subtle to the obscene. You are on this Earth to recognize what is happening and fight back.

Your sense of the spiritual reality of this world makes you more than a fighter with yourself. You must see the truth that lies beneath material things, and fight the devil there as well. Remembering that the devil is not apart from God, but is a servant of him as well, and has been empowered specifically to make learning hard for you.

If it isn’t a difficult lesson, you will not retain it.

The Rebbe taught me to smile. I remember going to Brooklyn on a Sunday, to Chabad Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, where he received so many people patiently.

The Rebbe gave out dollar bills. Can you imagine such a thing? In a world where charities take your money, he was giving you some.

The Rebbe handed me a dollar and he looked into my eyes, this piercing look, this look that makes me tremble even today and my eyes begin to water and tear.

For I remember how deeply sad I was, how despondent and aimless and cynical. The world seemed like a terrible and lonely place, even then, and I could not figure what to do with myself.

The Rebbe said, in Hebrew, “BeSever Panim Yafot,” which means, literally, “Have a Pleasant Facial Expression.”

Reading that it looks like a Chinese fortune cookie, sort of, but I understood what he meant.

You’ll get a lot further in life, fighting your spiritual war, if you present yourself in a way that is pleasing to other people.

It’s hard to believe this was almost thirty years ago, that I met the Rebbe. It feels like just yesterday.

Today is July 20, 2017. The ills of this world concern me again, very deeply, more so I think than ever.

It is tempting to fall into despair, depression, a constant worry — a sad face.

But every day I think of what the Rebbe said, and I feel his blessing upon me.

We must fight this earthly war, this spiritually based war, with confidence and positivity.

Not anger.

Not sadness.

And definitely not hate — hate is not at all spiritual.

I do believe we can win this thing, together, as a single force of humanity. Not believers in my-religion-beats-yours. But simply the ones who see Him behind all things on this earth.

The Rebbe taught me to believe that all things are possible.

With fear of God, and positive action and prayer, we only need unite.


By Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author’s own. This post is hereby released to the public domain.

The Most Hated Job In Government

In an uncharacteristically direct comment, my friend asked, somewhat rhetorically:

"The government does not need PR people at all, do they?"

"What do you mean by that?" I replied.

"Just give out the information," said my friend. "Don't pay people to lie."

It's common to hear (I hear it all the time) that civil servants are lazy, overpaid and incompetent.

And when it comes to government public affairs specialists, there is an accompanying stereotype. All of us, the lot of us, are not only lazy, overpaid and incompetent, but also a gang of bought-and-paid for, lying propagandists.

Since PR has such a sleazy reputation, it's inevitable that people don't like PR people very much, and the anger is magnified on social media:
  • "Shill" is the derogatory term used to describe an individual, paid or sponsored (e.g. an intelligence agent) who solely represents one side of the story. 
  • "Astroturfing" is the derogatory term used to describe someone who markets a product or service by generating fake buzz.
  • "Trolling" is when you get paid to aggravate somebody else expressing their opinion.
Let us be clear: The government should not be paying shills, astroturfers or trolls.

It is, in fact, illegal for the government to spend appropriated dollars (i.e. tax money) to propagandize its citizens.

But public relations, properly done, is not about lying.

You heard me right: It's not.

The job of a public relations (what we call in the USA "public affairs") specialist is to translate official activity such that the public can understand it.

The difference between providing information and providing translation is that you are explaining what's going on in terms that the public can understand.

Unfortunately, over the course of many decades, government public relations specialists have been used, abused, and kicked around.

As a result, the integrity of government communicators is constantly questioned. When they're only transmitting what has already been approved by others in the agency.

The U.S. government is fortunate to have many laws, policies and standards that apply to official communication.

But that framework is only as good as its enforcement.

If you're hating on government public relations specialists, your anger is in my view misdirected.

Always look at the system.

Never at a single person.


Posted on July 16, 2017 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The author hereby releases this post into the public domain. Public domain photo by whitfieldink via Pixabay.