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Hildy Gottlieb

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The Demons of Distraction and Other Summer Consulting Movies

A s mall part of our consulting practice - a part we don’t advertise or talk about much - is consulting to other consultants. And it’s been interesting to watch over the years how that work changes in the summer.

Summer is the time we all seem to lose focus. There are lots of reasons, but when summer rolls around, consultants are sometimes worse to have around than teenagers! And just as we sometimes give our teenagers ten bucks and urge them out of the house towards the land of summer blockbusters (just so we can have 3 hours free from hearing the word "bored"), here is our review of the summer blockbuster hits for consultants.

The Demons of Distraction
Summer provides every excuse in the world to not do what we know we should do. We have vacation to prepare for. Or we just got back and still haven’t unpacked or done laundry.

It’s too hot. But wait, the air conditioning is too cold - and look, it’s blowing right at my desk! I’d better re-arrange that vent....

There are really two kinds of distraction. The first is the summer kind - the kind that creeps up every once in a while and says, "You haven’t taken a break in a while, and you really need one." This type of inability to focus isn’t a constant in your life, but suddenly lands at your doorstep for a few days.

The solution here is a simple one - just take a break.

If you haven’t had a vacation in a while, take a few days off and head to the hills. If that’s not an option, take an hour and head to a park. And if all you have is 15 minutes, try this: Sit in your back yard and focus all your attention on your senses. What do you see? What do you hear? Smell? When you start to think about work, come back to what you see, hear, feel on your skin. In 15 minutes you’ll be much better able to focus.

The object here is to find a quiet spot and let yourself breathe for a moment, with no demands, no laundry, no bills to pay, no dog to keep out of the flower bed. Just breathe and focus back on what’s important. When you return, work will be much easier.

The other kind of distraction is more chronic. You’ll find that your business plan hasn’t been touched, or that you just can’t seem to focus on that big project you really wanted to do.

That’s no ordinary distraction. That could very well be...

FEAR - The Movie
Have you spent a lot of time figuring out how to be successful this year, but have not gotten to any of it? Have you found a project that will give you personal satisfaction, that is everything you’ve wanted from life, but still are not doing it? Is procrastination becoming a way of life?

That’s frequently fear talking. Fear that your dreams are really just dreams, and that you’ll never attain them. Fear of failure. Fear of succeeding (it’s more common than you think!).

We all have fears. They are usually old tapes that play in our minds, over and over since childhood. And generally, when we are just not moving forward, not aiming where we have consciously decided we want to go, fear is at the root of it.

One person we’ve worked with has just come to realize that his fear is not of failing or of succeeding or of being broke. His is a fear of commitment. “I know this is what I want. I know it is the culmination of everything I’ve worked for in my life. But I’ve never committed to what I want to be when I grow up - and I’m 50 years old! I’m good at my profession, but I guess I’ve always been afraid that if I commit to one thing, I eliminate all those other options. What if I’m wrong?”

Fear doesn’t only stop us from moving forward towards our dreams. It is also at the root of why we have trouble raising our fees or changing to project-based fees. What if I’m wrong? What if it doesn’t work? That’s fear talking.

There is no quick cure for fear. I wish there were, because finding it would make me quite wealthy! The only cure for fear is to see it for what it is. Acknowledge it, recognize it, talk to it. It takes digging, constant probing to ask, “What am I afraid of?” But if something keeps stopping you, over and over, at every point in your life where you could really move forward, that “something” is likely fear.

When you feel yourself procrastinating AGAIN, putting off things that intellectually (and often emotionally) you know make sense to do AND have committed to do, it’s time to make a list. Title that list: What Am I Afraid Of? Think about that list every day. When you feel one of those fears coming up (or feel yourself procrastinating), ask yourself, “Is this something I should really run away from? Is it real? (As in “There are sharks in the water and it would be dumb to swim here.”) Or is it just my fear talking?”

And if it’s just the fear talking, here’s your new mantra: I’m afraid, and I’m doing it anyway.

And if that doesn’t get you to work, go back to the movies, where you will find the latest release,

The Day to Day Blues
You’ve been good about working your business plan, but it isn’t rewarding. You have no energy for any of the work you are doing. You are burned out and going through the motions.

This one is easy to diagnose and prescribe for, but not as easy to implement.

It’s time to look back at your business plan. Is it merely a way that your business can be successful and make more money this year? Or is it a way for YOU to be successful and get what YOU want out of life? When we are independent consultants, we sometimes forget that our business and our personal lives are all wrapped up in one. We are one whole person, and that person isn’t a business - it’s YOU!

Is there a project that has been calling to you for a long time, but you’ve thought you don’t have the time to pursue? It could be related to your work, or could be completely unrelated. A desire to become a professional photographer? The desire to write the history of your small town? To interview your 97 year old grandmother and create a video about her life?

I’m not suggesting that you quit your consulting career and head to Hollywood. What I am suggesting is that we all need to get outside the day to day every once in a while. If something has been calling to you for a long time, do it! You only get one life - give it a try!

I said this is an easy one to diagnose and prescribe, but not so easy to implement. The secret is to commit to yourself that you will do it, and to then commit to a small bit of time each week where you will work on it. NOT daily, weekly. If you ask any consultant, “Can you give an hour a day to this project?” they will snap, “I don’t have time in my day to do grocery shopping! How can I take time and write my novel?”

But an hour a week is a different story. Make an appointment with yourself, and start to work on that project.

Here are a couple of tricks to get you to keep that appointment:

1) Make the appointment with someone else. They don’t have to go to the stained glass studio with you, but maybe they’ll meet you for lunch before. Or you can make an appointment to call the studio once a week and have them encourage you to come on in! In that way, it’s not really an appointment to do the work - it’s just a phone call. If you have to trick yourself and it works, then do it!

2) Make it impossible to get out of your “obligation” to do the work. The only way my next book is getting written is that dear friends have lent me a spare office in their suite. I make an appointment with them, tell them I’ll be there, and head off, laptop in hand, to write. No distractions, no phone, no email - just me and the computer. The key here is that now it’s not just me - if I don’t show up, don’t write that day, I will lose face with my friends who have been kind enough to lend me the space to begin with! And the lack of distraction is an amazing perk.

Summer is really a great time for reflecting and getting back to what’s important. Those of us who have been consultants for a long time know that consulting isn’t just something you do between "real" jobs. Consulting is a calling. It is something you do because you have no other choice - you are driven to help people get better at what they do, or to help organizations succeed.

If we take the time to apply that same focus to our own goals and dreams, we’ll be spending a lot less of our summer at the movies!

Fare well, and farewell for this week ...


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