Consulting Guidelines For High Energy and Burnout Prevention
As a consultant you constantly run a high risk of burnout. Regardless of the billing model – hourly rate, fixed fee, or retainer – the time is your core currency and it runs against you. Collecting requirements, researching on available technologies, developing proof of concept, fixing technical problems, implementing – that’s technical part that takes lots of energy. Influencing without authority, resolving conflicts, learning to understand folksonomy for each new gig, performing required mundane work, defending your approach and adapting to others’, reporting to high ranks folks is another soft skills aspect of work that requires even more energy. Spending so much energy is a surefire path for energy drainage and as a result – the burnout. When you hit this point of burnout your results won’t be as impactful at best. In the end the burnout would lead to disengagement from your gigs and contract termination. You need a plan for how to preserve your energy resources and how to avoid burnout so you could deliver high impact results in sustainable manner. Here is the plan – let your passion drive, reuse at scale, prioritize catalyst work over drainage work, manage time.
Let Your Passion Drive
Let your passion drive you. It is not about being random and doing whatever you like rather figuring out what you like to do the most and then making sure you spend most time and energy on those things. For example, my passion is about solving problems quickly. It is figuring out how stuff works and how it breaks and then clarifying and providing prescriptive guidance to my customers in simple manner. I like playing with software and make it work and break, I take notes of the step-by-step procedures which I turn into reports, guides, and how-to’s. It is rewarding to see my guidance in action when it works with customers in real world scenarios. When my guidance does not work I look for the opportunities to improve it so it will work at the end.
What’s your passion? Let it drive you.
Batch and Reuse
Found your passion? Good, now let’s take care of the other side of the story – the mundane work that kills your artistic juices and drains your energy. It is writing documents, searching and finding same piece of information, responding to emails with the same asks or questions, reporting hours to the billing system, and whatever else you hate the most. You cannot completely avoid it but you can definitely reduce amount of such work. Further you can reduce the timespan spent on such work that reduces your exposure to it. The shorter you are exposed to mundane work the less energy you spend on it. For example, you can reduce your mundane work to 5 items such as write report X, write report Y, answer emails, submit expense, report hours. It can be done over 3 hours or over 30 minutes in total. See the difference and how the timespan can be shorter for the same amount of work?
To achieve this you batch your work and then reuse your half-baked or almost ready to use materials you prepared for such cases. For example, to reduce the timespan you can schedule all your mundane work for the end of day when your artistic juices already used and all you can do is mechanic work such as reporting. If you don’t batch it you will spend time on warm up and cool down for each mundane task making the timespan larger and exposing yourself to drainage longer. For reports make sure you have boilerplate templates that you fill with variable data specific for each case. When responding to emails make sure you pull your answers from your personal knowledge base (KB) you update daily in proactive manner. Batch and reuse – that’s how you reduce the energy drainage exposure timespan.
Batch and Reuse are tactical practices. Step back and make a strategic move toward defending your energy – deprioritize all work that does not add value to the gig or drains you. Let it drop of your plate. Let it just drop. To defend such approach with key stakeholders and yourself you can contrast such low value drainage work with the high priority work you are doing and that’s you are passionate about. If you are pressed to prioritize the mundane work over the value add work multiple times – you are in the wrong gig. Wrap it up, learn lessons, and move on.
Meetings require special attention. The only meetings that really require your attendance are the kick off ones, the wrap up ones, and those that require brainstorming or making key decisions. Most of meetings during the gig are just status reports at best or just recurring ones someone decided they must be on the calendar. Do not attend those meetings. Send you part via email with crisp and extremely brief bulleted status report, then decline it in your calendar. Then there are on-demand meeting request of “let’s meet and talk.” Decline those on the spot asking for agenda. Usually it ends there. If agenda provided, a rare case, you can usually easily respond with email addressing each agenda item precisely. The default response to a meeting other that key ones should be “Decline”.
Instead of reacting to assaults on your time – the main consultant’s currency – adapt defensive approach and block your time proactively week ahead in your calendar. That way you make sure you budget you value add work you passionate about adequately. It also sets up a good defenses against ad-hoc and on-demand meetings. If you do so, expect to receive emails similar to this:
“Hey I was trying to schedule a meeting with you but you are blocked all week long. When can we meet to discuss blah?”
Respond with “Try scheduling next week. Afternoons work best for me.” By that time you will see that the meeting’s agenda becomes irrelevant and the organizer removes it from the calendar altogether. If not, ping the guy a day before asking simple question “is it still on?” Chances it is not and the meeting will be called off.
- Let your passion drive you when getting assigned to gigs.
- Batch and Reuse to reduce amount of energy draining work and to reduce the timespan spent on it.
- Deprioritize drainage work in-first place.
- Defend your time by blocking your time for your catalyst work proactively.