It’s fair to say everyone gets asked the question, “What do you do?” regularly. To answer this question, or to understand its answer, isn’t easy. The barriers to communication could be out of your hands, as with short attention spans or booming bass…or it could be self-inflicted, as when speaking consultant-ese.
A few things are for certain though – consulting is this: exhilarating, hyper-intense, and rewarding. Here’s a play by play of a day in the life, to allay some of the mystery:
5:00am – Twilight Self-care
Time to roll out of bed and hit the hotel gym. Although you’ve enjoyed your fair share of crisp morning air, perhaps you have never been much a morning person. Still, the benefits are real and this life will pack on the pounds unless you do something about it. Feeling amped up on the way to the office is just the right kind of addictive, too.
6:30am – Warmup
A quick breakfast in the lounge and you’re on the way to your client’s office. On the days you manage to get in early, this relative alone time is great for getting some tasks crossed off your list – or at least started. I would say this is a good time to respond to the glut of emails in your inbox, but you’re a noob, which means you’ve got plenty of reading to do and a lesser number of responses to send. Don’t worry, it won’t last forever.
9:00am – Project Stand-up
The entire project team gathers for a weekly address by the project lead. Think general, team captain, or even Hogwarts headmaster. High-level updates and accolades are tossed together to motivate, but more than anything else this is where figurative bombs can be dropped. Chop-chop!
9:30am – Catch-up and Learn
A chat with your manager. Once you’re past the social niceties, you run through a list of your deliverables and the progress you’ve made on them. Now is the time to ask questions and ask for help with any roadblocks you’re facing. It is also, occasionally, the time to defend your progress…or lack thereof. It’s an exercise in refining your approach and where a ton of learning takes place. Some of the most important lessons are about one another.
Near the end of my first year as a consultant, the project team and individual teams within it conducted workshops focussing on lessons learned throughout the year. These lessons were for both the group and subgroups, but also for individuals. Mine was learning to say “no”.
Now almost a year later I realize that the lesson wasn’t learning how and when you say no, but rather to communicate in a way that pre-empted the need to say no. Managing expectations reduced anxiety both in others and in myself, and resultantly caused an improvement in my ability to deliver and take on more. This one on one time has been invaluable in improving my ability to communicate (I think!).
10:00am – Heads Down
It’s time to focus, so put on your headphones and peruse your collection. Find the right playlist, the right set, and you’re plugged in to get things done. Some common tasks include reviewing and gleaning information from functional and business process documentation. This review leads to questions, which require answers…because your job is to prepare your client for the change that lies ahead. This could be through developing training material and then delivering that training. It could mean measuring and tracking the impact of change, and as abstract as that may sound, know that it is just that. Most of all though it means engaging the people involved and making sure they aren’t just ready, but that they feel ready.
Yes…there’s a whole lot of Excel, Word, and PowerPoint in all of the above.
12:00pm – Lunch
At your desk. The end. Lol.
12:15pm – SMEs
Meet with one of the subject matter experts (SMEs) on your project. SMEs could be client employees or consultants from other firms – either way, they are key resources for information you need.
These meetings are where you discuss to get the answers you need to know to understand how your client works, what business needs are, and how it all comes together. This could be an extended, convoluted process, so expect to plant seeds…keep digging, and plant again. You’re not here to provide the answers, but rather to ask the kind of questions that lead to the best possible solutions.
1:30pm – Free-for-all
Afternoons are what they let themselves be. You could have back to back SME meetings, system walkthroughs, impromptu discussions and tasks to follow up on, or there could be time to sit down and work on your deliverables. This time can demonstrate how truly collaborative team members try to get work done individually, and yet continuously set things aside to help one another. Finding balance is critical but when it’s really needed, the quiet hum of silent efficiency will set in…so you don’t mind the chit-chats, the din-doodles, and especially all the times pulling from the same rope.
5:00pm – The Long Hours
Bring out the coffee and settle into that “end of day” meeting – recapping, re-planning, re-thinking. Just like anywhere else, the minutes start to slow down, so if you’re planning on pushing on and focussing after the meeting it might be time to order in. In crunch time, this is the way to go to keep you going. Got-to-love UberEATS!
7:00pm – Respite and Decisions
You’ve hit the wall, and things aren’t mission critical on the project just yet. There are a few options when on road and all of them are equally good as long as you choose what you need, or what really is needed. Head back to the hotel, freshen up, and make your call:
Dinner with the team – a chance to get to know a different side of your colleagues
Explore the city you’re in – time will and does slip away
Hit the gym round-two (or one)
It is crunch time HA! Get back to work!
Dinner in solitude and well-earned relaxation
You do what your mind, body, and heart need. Odds are there will be plenty of times you will be checking your email and work a bit longer. It takes a significant amount of energy and willpower and isn’t for everyone. The rewards, however, are the real deal. Working with and learning from bright and dedicated people. Travel all over the country and the continent, or even the world. Tops for me though is the rush of flying home each week – trust me, in some strange contradictory way, it’s very tough to beat.