The Interrupters — Career Killers

The single biggest reason given for not doing the hard slogging of business development is lack of time. Doing quality client work must come first; even so, if you dedicate all your time to client work, ignoring longer term business development, sooner or later, your team will run out of work. The second most urgent use of your time is often the hot pursuit of a new opportunity. Many other distractions can be eliminated or managed. Every day we are interrupted by things around us that get in the way of our focusing on business development. It is imperative that each of us identify those interrupters that will slow down our advancement and deal with them. So what actually diverts us from this critical activity?

Here are a few common ones:

The Open Door. Your firm’s culture – or, perhaps your personal style – is to always be accessible to your colleagues. You are never too busy to spend a few minutes with anyone in the firm that wants to talk to you – either business or personal. Maybe you can be helpful; perhaps your colleague is seeking you out because he wants you on the engagement with him. More billable time!

Suggested solution: do not eliminate your availability, but control and direct it. Put on your calendar time each week that you will spend developing new business – phone calls, emails, meetings, or whatever. During that period, shut your door. You then are not available any more than if you were at a client meeting.

Tell your colleagues what you are doing. Maybe it will catch on in your firm and that would be a good thing.

Smartphone Alerts. Do you have all the bells and whistles turned on on your smartphone so that every time you get an email there is a sound, every time there’s an instant message a bell sounds, every phone call rings at you? Turn them off! They are all Career-Killing Interrupters. If a single call is absolutely critical, some smartphones allow you to turn off all incoming calls except that one; look into it.Each time one sounds, you are interrupted from either client work or business development. That call you received surely could be answered in an hour or so. What’s so urgent about every email?

Administrative Committees. We so often hear professionals in our client firms talk of the many internal administrative committees on which they sit. Our advice is short and simple: if you find you do not have enough time for your client work and business development, you need to unwind yourself from some of the administrative tasks you have, maybe one less administrative committee. Be sensitive to your colleagues and unwind yourself gracefully, but, remember, your highest priorities have got to be client work and business development.

Trolling LinkedIn. We have worked with far too many professionals – attorneys, consultants, executive recruiters, and the like who have to sell what they do – who spend hours in LinkedIn trolling for opportunities. Admittedly, LinkedIn is addictive; it’s very easy to enter looking for the background on a prospect to only discover an hour or so later you have been trolling the site aimlessly.LinkedIn is an important resource in business development, but you should use it with clear purpose and not dwell there. Another interrupter to your business life you need to manage.

Email. How often do you hear colleagues or clients declare, “Gosh, I bet I get 100 or 150 emails a day.” As soon as you open your email you surrender your own priorities for the day. Email is a major Interrupter. Is it possible that there could be so many emails that are that important? Do not be tempted; an hour or two in your email system is an hour or two away from client work and business development opportunities.Focus on addressing your emails a certain time of the day. Stick to that and don’t allow them to infiltrate you throughout the day. Prioritize your emails into those that must be address today, those that must be address this week and those which do not require any attention. Only respond to the first group today.

Delegate. You’ll recognize it: things we could/should delegate, delay or ignore.

Your career will progress through at least three tiers of success and pressure:

  1. Early. You’re working long hours, burning the midnight oil on client work.
  2. Mid. If you’ve done well at the first level, you get promoted. Now you have some others helping you with the client work, but your stress level has gone up because now you need to rely on quality work of others. The way to do this is to develop a team whose work you trust. Here’s where you find that your leaders are also expecting you to add “business development” to your already incredibly busy schedule.
  3. Advanced. Now you have a trustworthy team or practice to support. You have the pressure of relying on others, delegating. If work is not coming in, you won’t be able to keep your staff busy. You have to keep the team busy on billable work or you will lose it. So, at this stage the pressure builds to sell work. The way to reduce this pressure is to have meetings, make calls and, send emails to prospective clients and referrals so that you can build up sources that will feed you leads over a career in good times and in bad.

All along that continuum, you must become a master at “getting rid of stuff”: delegating, trusting others, eliminating increasing numbers of Interrupters.

Of course, there are things that we must let interrupt us, but the smart professional will carefully distinguish between the musts and the interrupters. All of us know all the above interrupters. All these career-killing interrupters are logical problems that professionals need to deal with. There are logical solutions to each. A few have been suggested, but you must head right into addressing each. If you don’t, you won’t have a great future with your firm.

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