There’s no getting around it: Starting and running your own law firm is going to take hard work. A lot of it. Especially at the beginning, a standard “work day” for you may not look anything like the typical 9-to-5. That said, I would caution you that there’s a difference between focused hard work and working long hours. In fact, by working intensely for shorter periods of time, you’ll actually accomplish more than by working 80 hours a week. It’s the simple mantra of quality over quantity.
To illustrate my point, consider this: The average employee is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes during an 8-hour workday, according to research. Even at their best, employees can only work efficiently for 4-5 hours at a time. Conversely, when Sweden began experimenting with a 6-hour work day, they found workers to be much more productive during work hours, sometimes as much as 64 percent more productive.
Here in America, we’re programmed to work long hours, but we’re wired to work best when we’re more focused. We simply can’t focus for 8-10 hours a day. That’s why working longer hours doesn’t make us more productive. The same holds true for lawyers running a small law firm as for a factory worker on second shift.
In short, you’ll get more done by putting in shorter spurts of focused work than by setting up a cot in the office and averaging 3 hours of sleep a night. Make sense?
Tips for Being More Focused (and Productive)
Despite the science about shorter days and focused work, the typical office culture tends to get in the way of efficiency—so you’ll have to start by making some purposeful changes. The following tips will help both you and your staff get more done in less time—and with less fatigue:
- Remove distractions. In the office, we get distracted an average of once every three minutes—and it takes the average worker 23 minutes to get back on track once they’ve been interrupted! (Now you know why you’re only getting 3 hours of work out of an 8-hour work day.) When you’re working, put away your cell phone, avoid social media and resist the urge to check emails. If necessary, hang a “do not disturb” sign on your office door.
- Take plenty of breaks. Planned “interruptions” are fine, even helpful. The Pomodoro technique can be useful here—25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break—but at any rate, you’ll increase your productivity by taking a 15-20 minute break every 50 minutes.
- Prioritize your time. “Busy” work isn’t always the most productive work, so focus your efforts first on the things that will make your office most profitable. The ONE Thing by Gary Keller offers some extremely useful advice on how to prioritize and block time.
- Allow for actual “down time.” Try to avoid taking work home. When you’re done for the day, or on days off, find recreational activities to help clear your mind. Get plenty of sleep.
I can’t promise you success by limiting yourself to regular work hours, especially at the beginning of starting your law firm. What I can say is that by working intensely rather than longer, you’ll find yourself accomplishing more in less time than you could have imagined—and you’ll still have a bit of time for yourself and your family.