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A day in the life of a consultant

I remember a moment many years ago when I was in my dead end job, making a decision to do what it takes to get into management consulting and wondering what a day in the life of a consultant really was. I knew just one consultant. I could see bits and pieces of the management consulting lifestyle, but I wanted to see the whole story.

Now after many years in management consulting and leading teams, I know what I would say to my younger self to satisfy her wonder. A day in the life of a consultant has a lot of ups and downs, moments that really matter, at times physical pain of pushing myself to the limits for too long and sometimes tap dancing internally because I was exposed to things in life that I would never otherwise be exposed to at this point in my life.

I will never forget a day long meeting at the plush residence of one of the most powerful businessman in the UK, breaking bread together, watching his family videos where he was socializing and working with top world leaders. I was even invited to come over for dinner by his wife in my personal capacity, not as a consultant. Of course, I could not accept this invitation, as it is unprofessional, and I could not accept invitations from other amazing clients, but it was nice to be asked.

Another memorable experience was staying in a wonderful hotel in New York where the price per night for the room was what I was making per month in my dead end job just few months prior. It was marvelous to go downstairs for dinner and sit next to people in the restaurant who could actually afford to stay in this hotel. It brought me closer to one day being able to afford it myself. I know it sounds kind of sad, but when you have never in your life stayed in a hotel 1/10th as nice as the one I was staying in the experience is quite mind blowing.

I hope that few years down the road these type of experiences will not be as exciting because they will not be experiences that are otherwise out of reach for me on a daily basis. Even with my consulting salary today, staying at a 5-star hotel is a stretch. I hope I will be in a more secure financial position a few years from now. When you are just out of school and when you did not have much growing up, these types of experiences early in life open your eyes to the possibilities that life offers, if you want it and are willing to work for it.

A day in the life of a consultant of course differs. I don’t get to break bread with distinguished business leaders every day. Some days I work until my body hurts and my hands shake. And, of course, there is no average day. One of the upsides and downsides of consulting, depending on how you look at it, is the fact that things are always changing and you are always doing something different – working on different problems, with different people for a different client.

Below is my attempt to describe a day in the life of a consultant. A day in my life. I think it may be of interest to someone like me earlier in my career, who wants to go into consulting and wanders what it is really like. Of course, other consultants may have different experiences, but all I can share with you is my experience. I picked a day that is not the worst and not the best, to display as accurately as possible what an average day in the life of a consultant, one consultant, looks like.

Here it goes, a day in the life of a consultant, or yours truly:

5.25am: Wake up, check emails and reply to urgent requests. Having a quick breakfast and reading news. Next have a quick shower, drink vitamins, complete my hair, nails and makeup, and invest 10 minutes in doing yoga. What kind of morning will it be without sun salutations!

I wish I had more time so I could properly workout in the morning because I know I will have no energy left to do this in the evening, but cutting my sleep to work out just does not make sense. Sometimes, when I can get to the office at 8.30am I squeeze in a short workout in the morning. I love those days, but this is not one of them.

7.50am: Arrive at work. Check emails. Get coffee from the kitchen (Starbucks lattes at almost $6 for a Grande adds up so I stay away). Check news while drinking coffee. I tend to stick to New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Found important article and forwarded it to relevant people.

8.15am: Plan my day and prioritize which tasks I have to accomplish today and in which order. Trying to move everything that is not urgent and not important to “May Need To Do” section, a section I may get to at some point, but not today.

8.25am: Answer urgent emails. This is interrupted by a call from the New York office by a colleague that is working with us on the study. He asks some technical questions which I fortunately have an answer for. I still get nervous when people ask difficult questions, but I try not to show it.

8.30am: The team calls the client, who is out of the country on business, to give an update.

9am: Start on the next deliverable and constantly deal with interruptions. Most interactions come from one source – a junior consultant who just joined our team.

10am: Eat an apple. With all these sitting at the desk I try to eat as healthy as I can. Continue with going through to-do-list in a priority order. In a future post I will discuss my very strong focus on eating, living and thinking in a healthy way.

11am: Meeting with the client. Interviewing one of the departments to determine how things are done now, how they compare to competitors and what should be improved. Department representatives are on guard and give us as little information as possible. We are trying to establish a connection with them but they argue even with each other.

Surprisingly, various people within the same department have a very different perception of how things are done and what can be done better. They are emotionally battling with each other to determine who is right. We are writing off this interview as practically useless to our analysis, although it helped us identify the extent of the lack of understanding and agreement within one of the key areas of the business.

12noon: Jump on a call for an internal initiative on which I am working. Our mandate is to enhance practice’s skill level in the area of client relationships. I motivate everyone on the call to stay on point, as I need to get back to my work soonest. Feel a little stressed with all the demands and kind of hungry. Can’t wait to get lunch.

12.35pm: Eat lunch at my desk and continue to work on the deliverable and knocking off items from my prioritized to do list. Got an email from one of the partners asking for help. Replied offering few hours on weekends over the next few weeks. Can’t commit to anything more.

Explained all commitments I currently have. Partner graciously insisted that I should not take on any additional work, given current demands I already have, and that he will find someone else. Feel relieved, as I don’t have to give up my last few hours of free time, as I am not certain what kind of consequences it could have on my health and well being.

1.40pm: Meet with my team to discuss upcoming analyses and how best to approach it. Fortunately I had time to prepare and do some research, so able to contribute and make this meeting more productive.

2.30pm: Read through work of my colleague and track suggested changes. Actually enjoying the task as it is almost a vacation for my brain. I am known for having good attention to detail, when I am paying attention that is, so people like to ask me to edit their work. I don’t know if it is good or bad for my career. I seem to spend too much time editing other people’s work, helping people look good in front of their (and my) superiors as they give me their work to check before they submit it to higher ups.

If you think about it, I am basically assisting my competition. Maybe I should limit my effort to 30 minutes per document? After all, I care about the project but I also need to do work that is visible and for which I will get credit, not the work for which someone else will get credit. Make a mental note to limit my efforts in this area.

3.35pm: Going for a meeting with a client. Another interview. The client was up all night dealing with work related emergency and, during the meeting, he is drinking coffee as if it is an elixir that will save his life. He is probably desperately trying to stay awake. I was looking forward to this meeting. This guy is very knowledgeable, he spent decades with the client company, and can help us move our analysis forward.

Meeting went well. He shared a lot of valuable information. He wants to meet with us again, so I guess he thinks we are adding value, which is important.

5pm: Back at my desk. Eating a banana and feeling tired. Another day in the life of a consultant! It was a long day, even longer week and overall tiring couple of weeks. I was working 3 weekends in a row so every day feels like Friday. Bad part of it that is, the part where you feel tired, not a good part where you are looking forward to the weekend.

5.15pm: Returning to my deliverable to wrap it up for the day, so I can jump to work on another project. How do I get so much work on my plate? I need to learn to push back. Mental note, do work only if you get a return on your investment and leave sufficient time to recharge.

5.30pm: People are starting to get tired. Giving guidance to junior consultant on how to approach her work. Partner is leaving for the weekend.

6.30pm: Client asked for drastic changes to the power point presentation and she needs it tonight. There goes my Friday night.

7.30pm: Once I am the most senior person remaining in the room, I send everyone else home. They can’t help me anyway. The power point is so important and detailed, I will end up redoing anything they will do to ensure content is right. It is easier to do it myself.

People are almost falling over trying to get out. Everyone packing fast and people are sharing weekend plans. I wish they would stop talking since I need to concentrate. Given the deadline, I find it inconsiderate that they make so much noise on their way out. I would never do something like that. However, I don’t say anything and just wish them to have a lovely weekend.

9.30pm: Sent power point presentation to the client for review. Time to go home! We don’t need to do work over the weekend for this project so everyone was leaving in a good mood. I am feeling a little blue, as I have to work on another project and the work has to be done by Sunday night. However, it just does not worth it to worry about it. At the end of the day, it is just a job. My health has to come first.

9.45pm: Walking home and listening to an audio book since I don’t have time to read like normal people do. Admiring the street and lights. Life is so beautiful! I wish I had more time to enjoy it. But at the same time I am grateful. I have very interesting work, I earn a very healthy salary and the path forward is exciting. I just need to toughen up and get through the next few years.

10.15pm: Stop at the grocery store and buy some healthy items for the weekend: milk, apples, cheese and water. I do have a bottle of white wine at home, so feel confident that I have everything I need for a tiny self-indulgence.

10.30pm: Finally home. Too tired to work on the other project. And, for God’s sakes, it is Friday night! Have a glass of wine and watching a comedy. Tomorrow is another day and, unfortunately or fortunately, weekends are not off limits for me work wise. I am on 24/7. May be that is why I am a step ahead of my contemporaries.

Is this a typical day in the life of a consultant? No, not in the life of every consultant.

Is it worth it?

I think it does, for me. Not for everyone. It is worth it for me now because I have no security net and my family needs money, and because I know I was born to do something big, I just don’t know what it is yet but I do know that I will need money to get started.

I think money and knowledge I get from working as a management consultant will get me closer to discovering what it is I should focus on to realize my potential and will allow me to have the resources to do it. Just becoming a partner won’t cut it. Not after the effort that was exerted.

This is one of our most successful readers when it comes to balancing work, eating and healthy living. If you would like to learn more about the actual things she does to manage the demands of management consulting: sleep schedule, meals, exercise, meal plans, calorie counts, yoga routines, wine consumption and supplements, please comment below.

Image is from Adam Smok under cc.

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