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5 Success-Stealing Distractions at Your Consulting Firm

Clutter is the enemy, and not just in your clothes closet. Throughout your consulting practice, clutter and distractions are dampening your consulting firm’s success.

A few years ago, a neuroscientist and a professor at Princeton University jointly released an article with a title cleverly designed to discourage you from reading their work:

Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex

The net of their scholarly research was this:

People have limited ability to process visual stimuli. Distracting, visual cues reduce people’s ability to focus, process and understand what they’re seeing.

In other words:

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

Let’s apply their findings to your consulting firm. Where is clutter reducing the effectiveness of your consulting firm?

5 Success-Stealing Distractions at Your Consulting Firm

Since the professors were specifically studying visual stimuli, we’ll start there.

Your Physical Office

Is your workspace—or at least your desk—clean, uncluttered and conducive to productive consulting work days? Or, are various objects, papers and doodads in your field of view, where they can suck brain power away from your more important tasks?

[Author’s note to author’s wife: chocolates and chocolate wrappers do not count as visual distractions and should be considered invisible for the purposes of this exercise.]

Action Step: Clean up your desk, and the area of your office that’s in view while you’re working.

Your Computer Desktop

As a consulting firm leader, you’re practically married to your computer.

Is your computer desktop neat, clean and devoid of distracting files and icons?

Do you have visual alarms constantly popping up to inform you that someone has emailed you, or that someone on your team has sent a message? Those visual distractions are bad news.

Action Step: Clean up your computer desktop; turn off alarms and pop-ups.

Your Presentations

The downsides of distractions apply to your consulting firm’s clients too.

Do you clutter each page of your client/prospect presentations with too much information, making it difficult for clients to focus on your main point?

Does your consulting firm’s presentation template include distracting visuals?

Action Step: Simplify your presentations. Aim for squeaky clean, linear presentations, with one idea and visual cue presented at a time.

Your Information Management/Filing Systems

Do you and your consulting firm save and store everything? Do your files float around multiple systems like dandelion seeds scattered by a stiff breeze?

If your active folders are clogged with historical clients, remnants of marketing materials, and outdated presentation versions, then it’s hard to find what you’re looking for.

Worse, you lose mental focus while you’re searching for the file you need because you’re distracted by old, irrelevant information.

Action Step: Archive your files and materials mercilessly, and ensure your electronic filing systems highlight only the active, necessary files.

Your Offering

Shift your attention from visual clutter to distractions in other areas, and you’ll notice further improvement opportunities for your consulting firm.

Front and center is your offering. Who, precisely, is your target client and what narrowly-defined problem do you solve?

Every additional industry or problem you mention when you talk to a prospect is clutter that reduces his ability to process what you do.

Beyond that, when you throw everything including the kitchen sink, into your solution, you decrease it’s persuasive power.

Action Step: Tighten your Fishing Line and your offerings to make them more powerful and effective.

Where else can you reduce distracting clutter to run a more successful consulting practice?

  1. Cynthia Brown
    October 16, 2019 at 8:31 am Reply

    David, well said. I call clutter “visual white noise” – it’s constantly in the background. I’ve evolved from a proud “messy desk” person (*I* know where everything is!) to an organized desk person, and the results have been beneficial to my career and my sanity. The amount of time and effort previously expended just to *remember* what/where everything is, is now better used to move things forward.

    I like how you tied that to both creating and presenting your offering. Hate hate hate presentations with many lines of squinty text, which then is regurgitated verbally by the presenter. Send me the darn white paper and save my meeting time for interaction.

    Less is definitely more.

    • David A. Fields
      October 16, 2019 at 11:56 am Reply

      Congratulations on your evolution, Cynthia. You’re a great model and inspiration for many of us who would benefit from reducing the visual white noise.

      Recently I saw a speaker at a conference present slide after slide crammed with text, colors, icons, and clip-art. It took so much time for the audience to process the visual cues, that I could see many attendees struggling to pay attention.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation, Cynthia.

  2. Ellen Julian
    October 16, 2019 at 9:32 am Reply

    The small one-off clients distract me from my big, important ones.

    • David A. Fields
      October 16, 2019 at 11:58 am Reply

      Ooooh, good one. That’s absolutely right. A mix of clients and a de-risked client portfolio are important assets for any consulting practice; however, too many small clients absolutely pull your focus away from larger, more lucrative clients.

      Great addition, Ellen!

  3. Tom Borg
    October 16, 2019 at 12:06 pm Reply

    Great reminder. I just cleaned up my office space around my desktop. What a difference to see things more in focus. Simple but extremely effective in helping me to focusing my energy at the immediate task at hand. Thank you!

    • David A. Fields
      October 16, 2019 at 12:09 pm Reply

      Good on you, Tom. Sometimes I clear my desk space by moving everything to the floor. That works great… unless I look down!

      I’m glad you’re in action and you shared, Tom.

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