ISSUE NUMBER 21   |   AUGUST 11, 2014 

Everything I Need to Know I Already Knew, but Forgot

My business coach, Alan Weiss, frequently writes, "I can't believe how stupid I was 2 weeks ago," meaning that he just learned something new and he can't believe he didn't realize it before. I get it. We all need to continuously learn new things and improve. But I am constantly surprised by what I used to know, then somehow completely forgot, then had to relearn all over again-only to remember that I used to know it.

This happens to me all the time.


For example: I'm sitting in my backyard writing a proposal for a new project that I am extremely excited about. It's about three weeks overdue. I'm asking myself why I've been so busy that I haven't had three solid hours in three weeks to write it. My mind flits around to the meetings, deadlines, events, reports, and sleepless nights of the past weeks, time spent chained to my computer and dedicated to my clients, at the expense of my children, husband, and future revenue.


And then I remember.  


A previous business coach once explained to me that if I want to be the CEO of my consulting practice (as opposed to the owner-operator), then my own time should represent no more than 10 percent of the total project engagement. That's maybe a handful of hours per week. My projects should be staffed and managed by the very excellent and talented consultants I regularly identify, cultivate, and train. I need the rest of the time for business development, writing, and being available to deal with any problems or crises.


I followed his advice and it worked! I worked less, I accomplished more, and my business grew. My clients continued to be delighted with the value we provided. But somehow I slid backwards. I mindlessly eased back into old habits. I forgot. Maybe it was the recession, when clients were harder to come by and I had more time of my own to dedicate to them. Maybe it was "baby brain" (I had twins, does that mean I lost twice as much brain power?). And, OK, my father and the mother of my subcontractor on this potential project both had extreme, unexpected health problems in the past two weeks (both are now recovering). But life happens. What worked for me in 2005 should certainly work for me now. And I should have retained this practice over the years, not forgotten about it.


So here is what I am going to do about it (this should be easy, since I've done this all before):

  1. Immediately identify current projects that could benefit from additional talent on the Putnam team. Identify and retain that talent. Dedicate my time to bringing them up to speed and positioning them for success.

  2. When talking with a prospective client, if I think it is at all likely that it will result in a new project, I will immediately begin to identify my staffing plan and other consultants I can bring onto our team (rather than waiting until the proposal is approved).

  3. "Audit" myself. Regularly review how I allocated my time at the beginning of a project and how my time was actually spent by the conclusion. Look for themes. What were the factors that led to success? What were the factors that caused me to delve in too deep? How can I improve?

  4. Write this up and put it on my office wall. I'm a visual learner. I have less chance of forgetting something important if it is written in large letters in a place I frequently look.


So I ask you: What did you know and do two years ago that you have completely forgotten about? This could be big (you decided to pursue a leadership position at a larger foundation, but you find yourself in the same old role today), modest (you started meeting regularly with your direct reports to help them troubleshoot problems, but everyone got busy-last summer-and you stopped doing it), or small but important (you committed to responding to grant-seeker inquiries within 48 hours and clearing out your inbox weekly, but you have 569 unread emails).


What are one to two things you can do differently right now? What are another one to two things you can do differently going forward? Do them. Trust me, three years from now you will be glad that you did.


©2014 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution. 

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Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is the president of Putnam Consulting Group, Inc. and author of the Philanthropy411 blog.

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