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  • Writer's pictureWhitney Kippes

Seven common issues draining your efficiency

Especially this past year, work is both physically and emotionally draining. There's too much to do and not enough time to do it. Many days everything is just too much effort to get through.

Lack of energy isn't just a physical problem - emotional energy drains can leave you feeling just as exhausted after a marathon meeting as after a marathon workout.

“Just the way physical energy helps you push through physical barriers, emotional energy helps you push through emotional barriers,” says therapist Mira Kirshenbaum, author of The Emotional Energy Factor.

There are some aspects of the drain we can't really change. External deadlines exist. Personal commitments aren't going anywhere.

Being efficient at work means tackling what we can, where we can, how we can. For business development teams in international development, often the low hanging fruit is the STUFF of it. It's all of those things that we know, but struggle to act on.

That's why I pulled together these seven common drains on efficiently, alongside some practical strategies to finally get past these ideas into a more efficient and productive strategy.

Drain #1 You have a misguided win strategy

I'm going to call out and call in several of my clients from this past year on this one - your win strategy cannot just be that you are the incumbent. Or that you have experience and contacts on the ground. That's just not enough to win.

A true win strategy goes beyond expertise - it's about the whole picture of what your team delivers for the client that no other organization/company/consortium can.

We know that the way to align a win strategy is to define it from the start, but I would go one step further. Don't start your win strategy with "us" - start with "them." What is your competition going to propose? What do they think their strengths are? What weaknesses might they see in your approach? Reframing to place the emphasis on the competition puts your team in a different brainstorming mindset to think more creatively about how you can win, beyond your fifty years in country.

Drain #2 You pour energy into false starts

If there was one thing a bid/no-bid meeting could solve, it would be the false start. As a consultant, I wish I could just sit in with VPs and other key decision makers when you're making bid/no-bid choices. What would I do? Push for more.

The false start hits when you dive into a proposal without knowing what your approach is, what your strategy is, who the competition is. These false starts often dissolve, as someone in the organization realizes that a) this is a waste of time, b) you aren't competitive, c) there's no time to recruit, or d) all of the above.

Push for more up front. No one wants to waste their time and energy revving up for a false start. Instead, take the time to pause and define what your likelihood of success is going to be and determine whether the investment will be worth it.

Drain #3 You focus to much on "all about us"

Similar to the idea of misguided strategy, this "all about us" approach I see pan out more in writing about proposed solutions. It's great to be able to demonstrate contextual knowledge or display relevant expertise, but the client is not always interested in that.

They have defined a problem. They want to know what you're going to do to address the problem. And then they want to hear why you're the one to do it. Focusing writing on the problem can reframe your solutions in the client's language, framework, or mode of thinking, rather than leaving them wondering if you're speaking the same language at all.

Drain #4 You waste time with a re-work

I've been on both sides of this equation as a consultant. Both in the position of having to pull in specific support at the end to re-work my own writing (we always need more contextual nuance) and in the position of having to re-work someone else's work.

This is rarely about the skillset of the individual doing the writing. Usually, it's about the information not being available, not being prioritized, or not being delivered. Having a clear direction from the start, with clear assignments and needs outlined for everyone involved is essential to avoiding re-work later on.

This is also my moment to plug actually reviewing draft outlines, mock-ups, and other early proposal framing devices. Changing direction early on can save a lot of time later in the process.

Drain #5 You miss opportunities during reviews

Proposal reviews take a different shape at every organization - believe me, I've seen all kinds. There are a few things that I've really struggled to understand over the years, and one of those things is why we're doing reviews if we aren't going to use them effectively?

A review has the power to bring in a new perspective, validate assumptions, add clarity, or ensure that the proposal complies with certain standards. A review can also be an opportunity to identify what information is working really well and shouldn't be cut, or elevate confusing concepts that could be explained in graphics.

This starts with clearly communicating to your review team what their objective is and what would be most helpful, given where you are in the process. Creating standard processes and guidelines help your writers and proposal team members understand what to do with all the feedback they receive.

Drain #6 You don't have certainty on your solution

Don't we all wish that we had clarity from the outset? That may not be achievable, but the core components of holding off on some components for proposal development until certainty about the solution has been achieved is essential.

This means waiting to start writing the technical approach until after the team has finalized how that approach is going to work. That means waiting to do the budget narrative until after the budget is near completion.

Yes, this means moving up deadlines for final conceptual frameworks. And no, this doesn't mean you can't do anything while you're waiting for a clearly defined solution. But to avoid the inefficiencies in wasted time and energy, waiting to start will save resources.

Drain #7 You've just got too many cooks

I shared this sympathy with a fellow consultant who was struggling to incorporate feedback from over a dozen reviewers. Too many cooks - either as competing writers' voices or as reviewers' notes - cloud the discussion and make it difficult, if not impossible to move forward.

Clearing the clutter requires a clear decision making authority with the time and energy available to actively participate, monitor for challenges, and step in where disagreement exists. Too often I see folks who are fearful of making the wrong decision, but often any decision will help the whole team move forward with clarity.


If I could give you ONE common denominator, it would be planning. All of these drains on efficiency could be solved with a moment of pause, forethought, or simple planning before you get off and running.

As proposal professionals, we know this is true. We claim to own it as a key skill for proposal coordinators. Yet when the shit hits the fan, we panic or get overly enthusiastic and the pause moment for planning goes out the window.

How will you reintegrate the pause + plan?

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