Optimize Performance—Think Like a Consultant


“How are you?” I asked. “Good. Busy as always, of course. It’s good to be busy.” Certainly, I knew my colleague meant that he is thankful his business was thriving, but I noticed a trend. Any time I reached out for a check-in, his response was the same: “I’m good. Busy, busy, busy.” And I responded automatically by saying, “That’s great! I’m glad things are going well for you.” A few hours later, I would reflect on the conversation, and I always felt a little unsettled. Were things actually going well, or had I been distracted by the excitement of busyness?

We wear busyness like a badge of honor these days. We reward the people who work the longest/latest, and express admiration for those who announce the many hours they work on a project. Being busy has somehow become aligned with being important, necessary, and hard-working. It’s almost a status symbol for some. However, we rarely stop and ask what has contributed to the workload. Along with projecting an image of busyness, there is often a dark truth beneath the surface. Busy doesn’t actually translate into productive or effective behaviors. In the era of remote working, the only thing we can tell from someone who says they’re busy, is that they want you to know they’re working.

If we look beneath the surface at what is driving our long work hours, chances are we’ve wasted time on unnecessary activities. We may fail to delegate, spend too long overthinking a problem, or fail to reach out to knowledgeable colleagues. In each case, we’ve successfully made ourselves busy all day long, but not used our time effectively.

To reframe your mind and work more effectively, it may be helpful to think like a Consultant. Consultants are hired to do high-impact work for a short period of time and typically bill their customers for each hour they spend on a project. For that reason, each hour they spend addressing a problem, they need to ensure they make significant progress and can show a return on the company’s investment.

First, before beginning any activity, ask yourself if this is the most impactful thing you could be doing with your time. When faced with a long to-do list, instead of checking the easy ones off first, someone who thinks like a consultant will identify the one action item with the largest impact. By thinking in terms of impact, rather than task length, we ensure our best energy is spent on the most important needs.

Next, ask yourself if anyone else could do the task more effectively. Consultants often have a team of support people behind them who take ownership of specific or administrative tasks. They delegate less high-impact parts of a project to individuals whose hourly consulting rate is lower than theirs. For example, if you need to find an alternative vendor for a solution, someone who thinks like a consultant would ask a more junior team member to gather initial research on possible alternatives. Then, once the field has been narrowed, and information has been gathered, the senior consultant would begin information to make a final decision. The consultant mindset would save the senior person time, and allow the junior person to gain exposure to the decision-making process. As a leader, thinking like a consultant helps you identify opportunities to delegate more effectively by prioritizing your time more effectively.

Finally, question everything. When a leader has been in the same position for years, we often succumb to the “That’s the way we’ve always done things,” mindset. However, a consultant brings a fresh perspective to each opportunity. They ask tough questions, seek understanding, and approach problems with a blank slate mentality. Ask yourself, “If we started from scratch today, would we still do things the same way.”

Remember, when a Consultant walks through the door, their top responsibility is to make valuable, measurable improvements for each hour they work. As a leader, taking on a Consultant mentality will help you prioritize your time and ensure your efforts are targeting the highest impact opportunities each day.