I was having a catch up with one of my managees the other week. She’s a new(ish) consultant and something she said reminded me of a big shift in perspective I experienced a couple of years back. What she said prompted me to write this blog post.
‘I’m not stressed, so it feels like I’m not working hard enough.’
Being in her first year as a consultant, my colleague is all too familiar with the intense workload and pressure that comes when you start to run client accounts. I can totally relate: in my first year as SEO consultant, most days I felt overwhelmed, anxious and burnt out.
One day however, as if by magic, that stress dissipated.
I stopped feeling that every day was an uphill battle and a neverending mirage of deadlines and firefighting. In fact, not only was I not stressed, but things started to actually feel easy.
Yet rather than feel relief, I felt very uneasy. It was totally alien to me to not have my foot flat on the gas pedal at all times. I felt like I was slacking and that someone on the team would catch me out. Surely if I didn’t feel like I was working my ass off, I wasn’t working hard enough?
I turned to my manager on this. ‘Dom, I feel guilty because I don’t feel like I’m working as hard as I was before. I’m not constantly stressed and feeling like I’m pushing myself to the limit. Am I being lazy?’
Dom laughed at me and said ‘Sally, absolutely not. All this means is that you’ve got really good at your job. And that is absolutely something to celebrate, not to feel bad about.’
To be really honest, at the time I barely believed him. His words were a comfort, however it would be several months before I would really get it. Yet as I look back now, it seems insane that I used to hold that world view.
When you start a new job, or a new role, of course things are hard. There is so much to learn and to get to grips with. Every day it feels as if you’re learning so much new information – it’s pretty exhausting and you’re constantly tired.
As your technical skills become stronger you begin to speed up. Whereas a technical SEO audit may have taken you 30 hours as an analyst, by the time you’re an experienced consultant you can smash it out in just 10.
This produces obvious time-saving benefits, which in and of itself is a big help to reduce your workload (and stress levels). However, we mustn’t forget that aside from technical skills, being a good consultant also means that you successfully:
- Assert boundaries with clients and feel comfortable saying ‘no’
- Set realistic client expectations
- Manage your time well
- Delegate work effectively
This is all stuff that you struggle with as a newbie, yet as you develop into a better consultant, these things become second nature. It’s no wonder that a side effect of all this is that you are calmer, less stressed and altogether more collected.
You’re no longer promising clients insane turnarounds and saying yes to 8am meetings. Instead it’s you calling the shots, setting the deadlines that suit you and meeting times that are most convenient. This allows you to do your best work because you’re not constantly overwhelmed with no time to spare.
If you’re sat there half-convinced, still sure that if you’re not pushing yourself to the limit then you’re not providing value, let me ask you this:
Which doctor would you trust more, the one who’s stressed out, drained and clearly has no time for you? Or the doctor who is calm, collected and seems totally in control?
I think I know who I would bet on to do a good job. And it’s the same when it comes to your clients.
They’re not paying you for the amount of blood, sweat and tears you put into your work. They’re paying you to provide value.
The better you get at your job, the less effort it takes for you to provide the same output. This is basic logic. Don’t feel that just because you’re job is getting easier for you that you’re somehow slacking. You’re not: you’re just a lot better at it now.
Image credit: Ian Dooley at Unsplash