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5 Distractions Derailing Your Consulting Firm’s Productivity

Clutter. It’s not just lurking in your basement amidst your vinyl records, wrapping paper scraps and mystery electronics cables. Clutter might also be slowly (or not so slowly) sabotaging your consulting firm.

Quite a few years ago, the brainy duo of a neuroscientist and a Princeton professor released this eye-opening article, “Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex.

No doubt you keep that scholarly paper at arm’s reach. But just in case it’s buried under a pile of analyses and deliverables, here’s a reminder of the article’s critical message for your consulting practice:

Visual clutter reduces your ability to focus and it diminishes your mental sharpness.

Let’s apply this important concept to your consulting firm. Where could clutter be throwing sand in the gears of your practice, resulting in reduced effectiveness, slower work, more frustration and, perhaps, even lower sales?

5 Distractions Derailing Your Consulting Firm’s Productivity

Workspace Mayhem or Mastery?

Survey your physical surroundings. Is your workspace more zen garden or tornado aftermath? Are trinkets, sticky notes and paperwork consuming visual bandwidth and stealing brainwaves from productive tasks?

Action Steps:

Take control of your workspace. Clean up your desk, and the area of your office that’s in view while you’re working.

With the increase in virtual offices and hybrid workforce arrangements, you may have less insight into your team’s physical work environment than you did a few years ago. So, encourage your team to assume mastery of their workspaces and reduce their visual clutter too.

Desktop Wilderness or Wonderland?

Your computer is more than just a machine. It’s your long-term memory, your portal to information and conversations, and your instant access to myriad recaps of last night’s playoff hockey game.

But is the screen in front of you a sleek, efficient command center or a digital dumpster fire?

Stacks of windows and, especially, visible browser windows with moving images are the enemy. Worst of all, though, are pop-up notifications. (I see you, Slack!)

Action Steps:

Declutter your desktop.

Mute all notifications.

Develop an alert system for your team that allows only warranted interruptions to steal your attention; i.e., your own, internal, “Bat-phone.”

Two figures with no features walking, image illustrating how consulting firms grow

Information Muddle or Method?

If finding a specific document in your consulting firm’s filing system is akin to searching in a haystack for a hay-colored needle, then you’re confronting information clutter.

Historical client files, remnants of old projects and outdated presentation versions distract you and your team from what you’re actually searching for, and dilute your mental clarity.

Action Steps:

Develop a consistent, methodical, ruthless archiving protocol for old files that’s used firm-wide. Client is no longer active? Archive them! Brownie recipe has been updated? Archive the old version.

Your goal is for your document searches to return the right document or a handful of options, not 50 irrelevant, old, distracting possibilities. (And reassure the information hoarders on your team that everything is still available in the archives.)

Communication Cacophony or Clarity?

Not all your clutter is internal to your consulting firm. In fact, consider this: Your clients also lose focus when confronted with a hodgepodge of visual cues.

Bombarding your clients with visual overload reduces their ability to grasp your consulting firm’s genius.

Action Steps:

Declutter your presentations and other visual communication pieces. Headlines, bullet points and simple graphics are all you need to communicate your story.

Simplify your presentation templates and standards. Teach your team a squeaky clean, linear presentation style that emphasizes one idea and/or one visual cue at a time.

Value Proposition Tangle or Tightrope?

Of course, visual clutter isn’t the only source of slowdowns for your consulting firm. Where visual clutter may pump the brakes on your firm’s progress, message clutter could be a brick wall in your path.

Are you crystal clear in communicating your narrow target, the precise problem you solve, and your compelling, straightforward solution?

Every additional industry or problem you mention when you talk to a prospect is clutter that reduces your prospect’s likelihood to view your consulting firm as a valuable partner.

Action Steps:

Tighten your Fishing Line and Core Offerings to ensure they are lean and hard-hitting.

Train your team to communicate your firm’s value proposition concisely and consistently.

When you see clutter, think “mental slowdown,” then consider what that means for a business built on quick thinking. Every piece of clutter you eliminate is a step toward a sharper, more successful consulting firm.

How do you declutter your consulting practice?

  1. Matt Ahlers
    May 15, 2024 at 8:26 am Reply

    I nearly spit out my coffee reading the Desktop Wilderness section and I noticed I had 15 tabs open on my browser…ouch! Guilty as charged.

    Excellent way to step me slowly down to the core point of why it’s critical to have clear messaging on value proposition.

    • Tim Kist
      May 20, 2024 at 1:51 pm Reply

      Matt, I found that you can create groups for your tabs. Works if you want a lot open but not in view. Right click in the bar at top of browser and you will options. Only looks like you have a couple of tabs open and you can focus on specific ones as needed.

      • David A. Fields
        June 18, 2024 at 8:56 am Reply

        That’s certainly an effective strategy for reducing the number of tabs in front of you. Of course, it’s also a bit like adding closets to your house so that you can store more stuff without it appearing that you’re collecting more and more and more. Whatever smooths the way for your brain to be in high gear is a good strategy.

        Thank you for adding to the discussion, Tim and for responding to Matt!

    • David A. Fields
      June 18, 2024 at 8:53 am Reply

      Sorry about the coffee incident, Matt! Some people would tell you, “You’re down to only 15 tabs open? That must be your sixth browser window… I have 50+ open all the time.”

      Thank you for highlighting the importance of clear messaging, Matt–when you have the right message and people understand it, this business becomes much easier!

  2. Molly Alexander
    May 15, 2024 at 10:44 am Reply

    Thank you – I needed to read this today. I spent part of the morning decluttering my desk. This action always makes me feel lighter and brighter. It’s now time for a little chocolate in my coffee.

    • David A. Fields
      June 18, 2024 at 8:54 am Reply

      Boom, action taken! Good for you, Molly. I hope your desk has stayed clear the past few weeks and that you’re still experiencing bright, light days.

      Thank you for sharing your reaction–very much appreciated.

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