Remember the ’90s, when saying you worked eighty hours a week was something you were proud of? Now you’re still working your tushola off, but telling folks about it is an admission that you don’t have your act together.
Don’t worry, I won’t blab your dark secret, because I know that if you’re a solo consultant or in a small practice you’re constantly wrestling with Father Time. (Who is Father Time’s child? Just wonderin’.) You somehow have to balance project work with client work with all the administrivia that won’t magically disappear.
You’re in a serious time crunch.
This blog is a no-bullshit zone. So, I’m not going to tell you that if you just chunk your day into time blocks, suddenly you’ll be delivering projects and knocking down new business before you hit the golf course at noon.
Not that time-blocking your calendar is a bad practice, but if you’re like most people you’ll just end up with a day packed full of chunks, half of which you don’t finish on time and the other half you never started.
Nor am I going to tell you to drop your boulders in your glass before the little rocks and the sand? You’ve already heard that one, and are you any less time-starved? Nope. Starting with boulders just got you a room full of rocks, and you still can’t manage everything on your plate. Want to know why?
Because most of your time issues aren’t time issues. If you’re finding it tough to work on new business while you deliver projects, your problem isn’t the limited number of hours from one sunrise to the next. Most time issues are actually problems with priorities, energy, desire, discipline or a sufficiency-approach to your work.
Below are three steps that actually will help you get more done in less time.
Step 1: Be Honest with Yourself.
Why aren’t your important tasks getting done? If you’re not connecting with prospects or becoming more visible as a thought leader in your field, ask yourself why. It’s not because you don’t have enough time. For instance, are you procrastinating? Probably you’re not tackling some critical tasks because you’re avoiding them. They could strike you as overwhelming, unpleasant or scary. If, in your book, making calls to prospects ranks well below getting a root canal without anesthesia, then you’re probably not picking up the phone too often.
Or perhaps you are pretending low-priority items are high-priority. If some task or initiative languishes on your to-do list for three weeks in a row and never get it done, take it off the list. It’s not a priority; you’re just pretending it is. When it’s truly a priority you’ll get it done.
They key here is understanding why you’re deceiving yourself with false priorities and procrastination, then dealing with the root issue. You already know how to do that – you’re a consultant, after all.
Step 2: Manage your Energy.
We all run out of energy long before we run out of time. Even hardcore participants in the Consulting X2 Games (if there is such a thing) sleep a few hours a day. Most of us are truly productive for only brief bursts of time on a typical day. Build your work schedule around your natural energy surges and maximize your energy sources.
What are your high-energy times? Do you wake up bright-eyed and bushy tailed? Do you shift into high-gear when the stars come out? Are you on fire right after lunch (while the rest of us are lethargically surfing the net)? Plan your work—especially the most challenging tasks—to coincide with your energy peaks and schedule the easy, brainless tasks for the lulls.
The other piece of the puzzle is knowing what creates energy and momentum for you. Does a walk through the woods re-energize you? Maybe you wake up from a twenty-minute power nap raring to go. Consciously add octane to your daily fuel and you’ll find yourself more productive (and happier too).
Step 3: Employ a Necessity-Based Approach.
Most consultants approach their client work with a sufficiency mindset. In other words, “What can I do that will be sufficient to make my client happy?” I see this all the time as consultants research just a bit more, analyze just a few more processes, add just a few more ideas to the presentation, and so forth. When you decide that maybe another couple of days of interviews would help you create a better deliverable, you’re using a sufficiency mentality.
The problem is, there’s no cut-off and so you work your tail off then proudly “over-deliver.” Over-delivering is nothing to be proud of when other aspects of your business are left untended. It’s like wearing a $2,000 suit jacket and no pants. You (and your pride) will be better off with lesser attention on the top end and more coverage for your nether regions.
Sorry, but if you’re claiming that your clients love you because you give so much value, go back to Step 1 (being honest). Other consultants’ clients love them too and they’re not over-delivering. Fortunately, there’s a way out of this trap.
As Steven Covey so eloquently taught, begin with the end in mind. (Wait a minute, wasn’t he the same guy that told us to put big rocks in the glass first?) In this case, begin with your final delivery or outcome in mind and ask yourself, “What is absolutely necessary to meet my client’s expectations?”* After you’ve made your list of necessary components, go back and stress test each one: “Is this really necessary? Is it possible my client could be delighted if I don’t deliver this?” Finally, do just the work required to meet the necessities. That’s all. Don’t do more even though you want to. There are two benefits to this approach.
The first benefit is pretty obvious: you won’t work so darn hard. If you are doing only what’s necessary, not what’s sufficient, you’ll find that you can crank through your projects in a fraction of the time, leaving plenty of room for building your business. The second benefit is you’ll have happier clients.
That’s right. Seems counterintuitive, right? You were thinking that if you follow my advice your clients would feel shortchanged. Quite the opposite is true. Simplicity and focus are highly valued. Clients want you to solve their problem quickly and elegantly. Basically, they’re delighted if you get over yourself, which is what happens when you deliver a 10-page, elegantly simple report in one month rather than 100 pages of nice-to-know information in four months.
Honesty, energy-management and a necessity approach can relieve the vice grip of your time crunch. Notice that not one of those three actually has to do with time management. Time isn’t your problem, but if you use the three steps above, maybe you can proudly announce that you’re working only twenty hours a week. Beats the heck out of the ’90s.
*For those of you in the operations community: Yes, I know this is based on the theory of constraints approaches pioneered by Eli Goldratt.
Text and images are © 2019 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.