NEWSLETTERS › Workday Habits

If you made a New Year’s resolution, there’s a good chance it involved the concept of time.  Perhaps you promised to spend more time sleeping, exercising, or with family and friends.  Maybe you even decided to adopt Mark Wahlberg’s much-publicized daily schedule and start the first of your two daily workouts at 3:40am.  Probably not.

Lawyers spend a lot of time thinking about time, all year round.  At big firms, they talk a lot about maximizing “billable time,” under the assumption that working more hours is better for everyone.

But do longer hours always result in better work?  In fact, the opposite may be true.

Studies in different fields suggest that taking breaks, taking naps, and simply working fewer hours actually increases productivity.  In one study, a group of companies based in Latvia installed software to track their employees.  What they discovered was that, when it comes to productivity, the employees who ranked in the top ten percent actually took more breaks than their other employees.  On average, this top echelon of productive workers worked for 52 minutes and then took a 17-minute-long break.

While many employees spend 8 or more hours in the office each day, at least one study has shown that workers are typically productive for only 3 hours a day.  Based on an analysis of highly accomplished individuals throughout history, some researchers have argued that a four-hour work day would be ideal.  An industry study analyzing 225 million hours of user-logged time showed that the most productive hour of the week is… Wednesday at 3pm.  And while Elon Musk may claim that he needs to work 80, 90, or over 100 hours a week to change the world, another study showed that senior executives actually get more sleep than other employees.

Recently, a number of companies and municipalities around the world have asked whether employees would be just as productive – or more productive – if the working week were shorter.  The Swedish city of Gothenburg tried mandating six-hour work days, a New Zealand firm found surprising success changing to a four-day work week, and various US Companies including a paddle board company, a web application company, and even Amazon have experimented with offering reduced hours to some or all of their work-force for part or all of the year.  The idea of a four-day work week is even gaining traction in the U.K. as a potential political issue.

So what’s the answer?  To be at the top of our game, should we all plan to sleep on the factory floor (or office carpet) like Elon Musk?  Should we try to work the longest days we can?  Or should we try to sleep more, work fewer hours, and hope for a breakthrough on Wednesday afternoon?

As with most things, the answer is probably that “it depends.”  For some types of work, there’s simply no substitute for grinding away at time-intensive projects.  But there’s also reason to think that doing so all the time can kill creativity.  Looking at the daily routines of some of history’s most famous creative individuals, it’s clear that there is no “one-size-fits-all” equation for productivity.

At Mandel Bhandari LLP, we appreciate that excelling in the practice of law requires both time-intensive, detail-oriented work, and creative insights.  Unlike large firms, we view productivity not by the number of hours we bill, but by the quality of work we create.  In fact, we do not even look at the number of hours our attorneys bill.  Instead, we have two rooms designed for daytime naps.  There’s no doubt that winning arguments and strategies take effort, but they also take inspiration, intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to think outside the box.

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