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Work, Your Way: Focus

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Lisa Hufford
May 6, 2021

When’s the last time you got into flow while working? You know the feeling: everything around you fades away, time somehow warps, and you’re singularly focused on the task at hand. Do you have the ability to focus and dig deep on a project or area of expertise? If so, does it energize you? Ignite your best work self? And if not, how does reflecting on that void make you feel?

As I said in my earlier post on flexibility, there’s no right or wrong answer. But if your need for focus is unmet, I want you to know that you have options. In the new world of work, you can work differently—you can work your way.

In my upcoming book, Work, Your Way: Reinvent Yourself, Create the Life You Want, and Thrive as a Consultant, I spoke with a number of successful, long-term consultants. Their stories aligned with the many consultants I’ve worked with since starting Simplicity Consulting in 2006.

There are three primary reasons why people choose and stick with consulting: flexibility, freedom, and focus. Here we’ll explore focus.

Work, not politics

Kate is a writer. She quit her corporate job to raise her two young children and write the book that had been swirling in her head during her daily commute. Now, as a consultant, she lights up when talking about her communications projects and geeks out on the ability to lose herself in the topic du jour.

“I just want to do the work,” Kate told me when I interviewed her for the book. “I don’t want to have to worry about all that other stuff.”

That “other stuff” differs from company to company, but it includes things like performance reviews, office politics, administrivia, and endless meetings.
So many consultants that I’ve talked to share Kate’s perspective. They all just want to focus on doing the work they love and doing it well. It’s one of the reasons I chose consulting, too.

Kate not only likes doing the work, she likes the opportunity to get into flow. She recently spent eight weeks wading through accessibility materials—and she was thrilled about it. Her client hired her to refresh the company’s accessibility storytelling, an important project that her client didn’t have bandwidth to take on.

“I was able to completely focus and own it end-to-end,” she raved. That focus paid off. Within the first five minutes of her client’s annual summit, the company’s chief accessibility officer used Kate’s content on stage. “Thousands of people saw that,” Kate said. “It was great.”

Focus breeds success

Like Kate, I remember realizing the power of focus after my first consulting project. I had handed off my deliverables, and my client was showering the work with praise. While I was proud of my work, I couldn’t help thinking, I was successful because I could focus. It was my whole job to do that one thing really well.

Employees don’t have that luxury. Employees are pulled in a million different directions responding to incessant emails and requests. They manage multiple workstreams and competing priorities. Endless meetings. Company trainings. Management responsibilities and annual reviews. As a consultant, you are freed up to focus on meaningful work with impact and only that, without those other distractions.

Plate-spinning fatigue

Deanna is another longtime Simplicity consultant who started her career in corporate.
“I got tired of spinning plates,” she told me. “I was in meetings all day and ‘spinning plates’—moving things forward and not actually doing the work. I missed that part of it: being strategic and having a work product.”

Sound familiar? As professionals, our days are often packed with (virtual) meetings! It’s all too common to spend more time sitting in meetings than actually working—in fact, that’s why some clients want a consultant in the first place. While the consultant lifestyle isn’t entirely meeting free, it does have considerably less. When consultants do have meetings, they’re often relevant to the task at hand, freeing them up to focus on the outcome.

As a consultant, Deanna is empowered to call the shots in her life and work. “I’m the CEO of my own career,” she says … for better or for worse. It’s a non-traditional career choice filled with flexibility, variety, endless learning, and focus that she’s proud of.

Consulting has also enabled Deanna to focus on new and different areas. “I just really enjoy doing different projects and being exposed to new pieces of the organization,” she told me. “My last role was change management--I’ve never done it before and got really excited about that and learning about it.” As a full-time employee, Deanna wouldn’t have had the same ability to explore, dig in, and focus on a new area of the business.

In the third and final post in this series, we’ll explore why freedom is one of the top three reasons professionals choose consulting.

Focus, your way

To hear more stories from successful consultants like these and actionable tips for how you, too, can work flexibly, preorder my latest book, Work, Your Way: Reinvent Yourself, Create the Life You Want, and Thrive as a Consultant, publishing August 2021 from Harper Collins Leadership.

Special offer! Receive a FREE download of the Work, Your Way Playbook when you preorder a copy of the book!  

In the third and final post in this series, we’ll explore why freedom is one of the top three reasons professionals choose consulting.

Check out the previous post in this series: Why flexibility is the number one reason professionals choose—and stick with—consulting.