How to manage life as a consultant – stress

Let’s admit it, a consultant’s life is not exactly stress-free. Yes, there are no routine office pressures, no back biting to manage, no office politics to deal with and no boss to breath down your neck. That makes life much better for a consultant than for regular employees. But, there is always the uncertainty of work, low work periods, delays in payments and sometimes too much work coming your way. All these can cause grief, stress and in extreme cases, breakdown. Learn to recognize the reasons for your stress build up and deal with it before it gets the better of you.

One of the biggest causes of stress for a consultant is the increase in work responsibility compounded by the fact that a consultant does not have a “colleagues” network for support. In addition, anxiety can multiply itself when a consultant is unsure of how her/ his work is being critiqued.

Stress has other sources as well:
major life changes
difficulties in relationships
financial pressure
slippages in delivery
inability to manage uncertainty
unrealistic expectations from employer
an over emphasis on detail

We are not about to suggest ways of managing the stress; that’s a task for a medically qualified professional. Instead here are five clear ways to prevent stress build up for a consultant:

8 Hour Work Day: Don’t take on more than 8 hours of work a day. If your financial needs demand more, work at increasing your value so that your billing for the same 8 hours can improve. Don’t undertake anything you are not good at managing, delivering or creating. If you find you are going over the 8-hour barrier, be ruthless and pare down your activities. Getting over worked and overwhelmed is the key reason for stress.

Analyse Your Day: Before you begin an assignment, analyse the needs of your clients, figure out the time it will take to deliver and then create your hour-by-hour work schedule. Don’t over commit. Slippages in delivery are the next big reason for stress build-up as they have a long-term effect on your reputation.

Prioritize Your Work: Don’t necessarily do what comes easy to you first; do what produces the highest value for your clients first.

Focus on Your Work: If you work at home, be especially careful to start early (after all, you have an advantage over others who have to commute to work) and not take too many breaks. Create a schedule that includes when to take a break, when to read mail and when to call people. Discipline is important for a consultant.

Communicate Quickly and Often: When you work in isolation, it is difficult for others to remember you are doing something. It’s true: out of sight, out of mind. So communicate with your employer as often as you can; speak to the team you work with frequently; get a feel of what is happening with those who own your assignment and monitor it; periodically provide insights to your work to those who depend on it. Information flow is important – it provides context for what you do.

Here is an exercise for you to do to figure out if you are under stress: sit still without a thought in your head for 10 minutes. If you can’t do this, you need to go back to the five points above and see what will help you slow down/ relax and chill out.

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Comment by Jason Monastra on September 1, 2009 at 12:13pm
Good overall strategy. I think that a lot of people only think of the positive aspects of being a consultant, not forseeing the other aspects of the business that can drag down the high views of the independant life. One needs to realize that working hard and more than others is the simple fact of the 1 person shop. Without that understanding, stress will overtake them.

A simple slogan I use - "I rather work like a slave and be paid like a king" than work for someone else where you normally are worked like a slave and paid even worse.

Thanks for the tips.


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