How Consultants Maximize Performance & Profitability (Without Burnout)

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As a solo consultant or consulting business owner, do you often feel like there are never enough hours in the day?

It’s common to feel overwhelmed by the amount of client work on your plate.

As a result, it’s often business development gets neglected. And this leads to significant peaks and troughs in the pipeline — which shows up in your revenue and cash flow.

All of this results in consultants working more hours despite starting their businesses so they could work fewer hours.

And when you’re too much time on the business, your health, lifestyle, and relationships can suffer.

Once this fatigue kicks in, it reduces your ability to think creatively and strategically about how to get better outcomes for your business — and for your clients as well.

Most consultants think better managing their time is the goal. But time is not the issue.

By the end of this article, you’ll understand the key importance of cognitive, (also called mental) energy for maximizing your performance and profitability all while avoiding burnout.

You’ll also learn key frameworks to help you to optimize cognitive energy and achieve the best results for you and your business.

Cognitive energy is the foundation for performance. Managing time isn’t the goal, optimizing cognitive energy is the goal.

What We Know About Burnout (& How It Impacts Performance & Profitability)

Burnout refers to a state of chronic mental and physical exhaustion.

If you are…

  • Feeling fatigued on a regular basis
  • Losing interest in things that previously brought you joy
  • Taking longer to do things than they should take
  • Procrastinating
  • Consistently more overwhelmed or irritable than usual

It’s possible that you’re on the path to burnout.

Burnout certainly doesn’t happen overnight. But, if these symptoms occur and they are left unchecked, your performance and profitability will suffer.

Just like athletes need a training plan that helps them to avoid injury and burnout, consultants need a work plan to help them to avoid mental fatigue and burnout.

Put simply, in the work environment, burnout is caused by overspending cognitive energy.

That’s it. Simple right?

Well, in terms of how consultants overspend their cognitive energy, there is a lot to unpack.

So let’s start by understanding cognitive energy.

Cognitive energy is the mental effort and resources you need to perform your tasks such as paying attention, learning, decision-making, analytical thinking, creative and strategic thinking, and problem-solving.

These are all the functions consultants need when serving clients, writing content and proposals, reaching out to prospects, streamlining systems and processes — and the millions of other things on their plate.

Cognitive energy is the foundation for performance. Managing time isn’t the goal, optimizing cognitive energy is the goal.

If you know how to optimize cognitive energy, you’ll create an extra effective 2-3 hours each day. Get this right, and you’ll move closer to your meaningful goals, in less time, with less effort and procrastination, and with less sickness and burnout.

Most people then ask, “How do I get more energy?”

The first step is to stop wasting your cognitive energy unnecessarily.

We help our clients to think of cognitive energy as “energy credits”.

Assuming all is well, you have 100 of these each day. Imagine that they are little nuggets of gold that you store in a container. You need to invest them wisely.

However, for most people, that container has a number of holes in the bottom. Their energy credits are leaking out (or pouring out in some cases). And they don’t know the leak exists.

We coach our clients to think of energy credits as their currency. The more energy you have, the more likely you are to achieve your goals.

If you’ve ever tried to work on something when you are really tired, you know that’s not effective. So the more we can conserve these precious energy credits and put them towards activities that really move you towards your goals, the more sustained and rewarding your performance will be.

So what are some of the common ways that consultants lose energy and don’t even realize it?

  1. They don’t charge enough.
  2. They don’t have clarity around their strategic goals, workflow, or activities that move them closer to their goals. The brain loves clarity and hates ambiguity, and goes into overdrive trying to make sense of it, which drains energy credits.
  3. They work on tasks they shouldn’t be working on.
  4. They don’t understand their natural focus time and how to work with it, instead of unknowingly against it.
  5. They work on the wrong tasks at the wrong time so they take longer and feel harder.
  6. They multitask.
  7. They haven’t aligned their beliefs with their goals and therefore their mindset is secretly sabotaging their ability to do the work that will increase their profitability.

We coach our clients to think of energy credits as their currency. The more energy you have, the more likely you are to achieve your goals.

How To Stop Energy Leaks

You can’t just self-care your way out of burnout. Self-care won’t dramatically turn the dial on your productivity and profitability.

Instead, you must systemically change the way you structure your work to become more profitable — in a sustainable way.

Here are 7 things to help you sustainably increase your effectiveness.

1. Increase your fees

I often hear consultants say they are too busy delivering client work to do anything else.

My first response to that is “Why aren’t your fees higher?”

Increasing your consulting fees is one of the best ways to manage your capacity. Your clients don’t want to pay for the exhausted version of you.

Increasing your fees can be mentally tricky. So, we often suggest that our clients start by increasing their fees by around 20-30%. If they only lose a few clients, then later, we recommend they increase them by another 20%. They get to the point of having the perfect amount of clients at around 40%+ higher fee level.

2. Define your superpowers and what brings you joy

It’s critical to get clear on your strategic goals. Then, you’re able to determine the activities that you need to do to acheive said goals.

Then, you’ll work out who exactly does what.

Doing what you are really good at and enjoy costs fewer energy credits. It’s these activities where you should focus your energy in order to optimize your energy and profitability. For example, some consultants love delivery, while others would rather hire other consultants to deliver the work so they can focus on building the business.

This can also be your guide for automating, templating, or outsourcing everything you don’t want to do. For example, a certain task may only take you 15 minutes. But what if that drains 30% of your energy credits for the day? You could be feeling exhausted by 10 am!

One of my clients was trying to do everything and was exhausted. I helped him to uncover his superpowers so that he could plan to get everything else done without him having to do it himself. He increased his energy from a 3 out of 10 to a 9 out of 10 — and, as a result, empowered him to increase revenue by 40%.

3. Work with your natural attention span

Neuroscience tells us that the average attention span is around 45 minutes. Some people’s attention span is longer, but for many, it’s even shorter.

For example, if your attention span is only 20 minutes and you try to focus for longer periods of time, you will use more energy credits and the task will take even longer.

So it’s important to work within your natural attention span instead of against it. If you need help, get in touch as we have a tool that can help you measure this.

4. Optimize your four hours of power each day

Neuroscience tells us that our cognitive energy varies throughout the day. We only have around four hours each day available for the most cognitively demanding tasks.

It’s critical to discover the four best hours for you each day. Then, you do complete your tasks according to your energy.

For example, if you find follow-up calls cost you the most energy credits, then do these calls while you have the most cognitive energy (or outsource the task so that it costs you none).

One of my clients was doing a heavy weekly task at a time that didn’t suit her energy. It took her 90 minutes, and by the end of it, she felt exhausted.

Just by changing the time of the day for doing that task, it ended up taking her 20 minutes instead of 90 minutes, saving her many valuable energy credits.

And that was just for one task. When fully implementing this principle in her schedule, she ended up with an extra 2-3 hours of effective time per day. All of this helped her increase her firm’s revenue by 50%.

5. Stop Continuous Partial Attention (CPA)

CPA is where your brain is trying to focus on more than one thing at a time. For example, you could be in a video meeting, trying to read emails, and keeping an eye on your phone notifications.

Neuroscience shows that this is using way more energy and time. It results in more errors than if you were to do the tasks separately and sequentially. It’s also changing the way we breathe in a way similar to sleep apnea!

Practice completing one task at a time. You’ll find you have much better energy levels throughout the day.

It’s critical to discover the four best hours for you each day. Then, you do complete your tasks according to your energy.

6. Align your mindset with your goals

Your brain is wired for survival. It naturally spends more energy on potential threats versus achieving your goals.

For example, I’ve worked with a number of consultants who have the goal of increasing their fees from $10,000 per client to $40,000 per client. However, their consulting mindset is full of limiting beliefs like:

  • “Will my clients think I’m worth those fees?’’
  • “Will I be able to find more clients who can afford to pay those fees?”
  • “I love what I do, it’s hard to justify getting paid that much to do it.”

And the list goes on.

The scary thing is that they didn’t even know they had these beliefs until our coaching uncovered them.

Any energy given to the thoughts that support these limiting beliefs is energy that could be better spent making calls to prospective clients and providing excellent service to clients.

7. Become an “energy snob”

One of my clients said that he became a self-confessed “energy snob” as a result of working together. He is now mindful of every energy credit he is using both in his business and outside of work, and consistently assessing what’s really worthy of his energy credits.

Don’t be afraid to be an “energy snob.” Be ruthless about protecting your time and energy.

You’ll end up providing even greater value for your clients — and building a more profitable, enjoyable consulting business.


You don’t need to do all of the above at once.

As Michael Zipursky says, take imperfect action.

Pick one of the above ideas that feel easiest to you, and give it a go!

Consultant, remember this: your cognitive energy is your currency.

Optimizing your cognitive energy will allow you to increase your revenue and profitability by getting more of the right things done in less time with less effort.

By improving your mindset, you’ll create the success that you and your clients deserve.

Vanessa Bennet is a Clarity Coaching client and the CEO and Co-Founder of Next Evolution Performance. Based in Sydney and servicing clients in all parts of the globe, Vanessa has over 20 years of experience in the financial services, and health and fitness professions, and more than 10 years specifically as a Performance Mastery Coach.

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