Question: Recently the company I work for hired a consultant to "fix" some problems it was having at the operations level. The consultant delivered a thick report, and an even bigger bill, yet the problems still exist. Any thoughts?

Answer: Read the report! Hopefully the consultant's report identified the problems and set forth specific plans to solve them.

In many ways, a consultant is like a counselor. Both will help you identify problems and help you create possible solutions, but typically neither will actually change the situation for you.

Enacting these solutions is often the most difficult part. Some consultants do help with implementation of specific plans, but many will just leave you with suggestions on how to solve the problem. Note, however, that there are many different types of business consultants. Some are hired to identify and analyze problems, some are hired to fix problems, some are hired to make sure problems don't happen, and others are hired simply to make good situations great.

In the future, I suggest you clearly establish in writing with your consultant what you hope to achieve, and then you will know if the consultant's engagement was really useful. Hopefully, doing this will ensure that the company is getting what it expects, and the consultant is doing the job it was hired to do. For now, read the report and if it makes sense, try implementing the suggestions.

Q: I seem to be wasting a lot of time at work. I am leaving the office later and later and still accomplishing the same amount of work. Any suggestions?

A: Keep a journal for a week and write down everything you do in a day. Be meticulous and honest. Writing in a journal will help you identify the "bottlenecks," or time-wasting activities, in your day. This will, in turn, allow you to effectively eliminate nonessential, time-wasting activities.

My second suggestion would be to "tame" your technology. Recently, I found that I was facing the same issue. I noticed that I was spending more time in the office and yet accomplishing the same amount. A friend of mine recommended that I keep a journal, and I found that I had let my so-called "time-saving technology" (such as Internet access and e-mail) actually run my day. The following are some of the changes I made that have really helped me to get back on track:

1) While at work, avoid accessing the Internet unless absolutely necessary. The Internet is a useful tool, but it can also be an addicting time waster. You may find that you are simply wasting time "surfing the Net" with no particular purpose in mind.

2) When possible, read and respond to e-mail only once or twice during the day. Set a specific time during each day when you can sit down and read and respond to important e-mail. Give yourself a time limit and then try to beat it. Also, make sure you are not wasting time reading "junk mail." This does not mean you should stop corresponding with friends and family, but you may want to stop reading every joke that flies across your screen. Also, respond to your friends and ask them to take you off of their "joke" distribution lists.

3) When possible, respond to the phone calls that are not urgent at specific set times during the day. I found that I am able to respond to more telephone calls in less time by systematically going down my telephone list all at one time. Also, people will begin to realize that you typically return calls during a certain time frame and will make themselves available if your call is important to them.

4) If you have regular mail distribution in your office every few hours, review all of your mail at one time, unless of course you are waiting for a time-sensitive document.

Q: My boss has a substance-abuse problem, and it is beginning to affect my work environment. What should I do?

A: Your situation is a complicated one. Without knowing how large or small your company is and whether or not your boss is "the boss," it is difficult to make a recommendation. Some courses of action that I have witnessed in the past are provided below, but each has its own particular problems.

First, you can always leave and find a new job. But this may be too drastic, or it may not be a viable option if you would take a pay cut, lose seniority or lose valuable stock options, for example.

Your second option would be to follow your company's policies, if any. Many companies have written policies on how to deal with this particular issue. This may be your safest option, because a company would have an extremely difficult time trying to punish one of its employees for utilizing policies and procedures the company itself has designed. But the reality is that some employees have followed these procedures only to find either that no action was taken or that the wrong action was taken or even worse, that the policy required the employee to report to his or her boss.

Alternatively, you may be working for a company that does not have written policies or procedures, in which case your company's culture, stories, legends, and artifacts may guide you to your answer.

Depending upon your relationship with your boss, a risky option would be to confront him or her and explain the problem. This method presents its own difficulties, however, because your boss may not want to confront the problem and in fact may feel it is not a problem at all. In addition, the potential repercussions of choosing this course of action could be devastating.

Another possible solution would be to discuss this matter with your boss' supervisor, if one exists. If your boss is not "the boss," you may be able to discuss this issue with someone who has seniority and who will then have an obligation to address the problem on behalf of the company.

You could also use the wait-and-see approach. If other people are noticing this problem too, it may be revealed by someone other than you.

Finally, you may want to talk with some of your co-workers. Perhaps they are feeling the same way you are, and would want to make a collective effort to work through this issue.

Lorraine Spurge is a personal finance advisor, author and business news commentator. She can be reached at (818) 705-3740 or by e-mail at lspurge@spurgeink.com

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