Is There an Alternative to the 8-Hour Workday for Lawyers?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on June 13, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Lawyers are renown for being workaholics -- a moniker that most of us don't willingly earn. It's not that we want to work till we drop, but it seems that there's always work to be done with never enough time to do it.

That's largely thanks to the convention of the eight-hour workday, a "relic" of the industrial revolution, as Travis Bradberry at Forbes calls it. But if there is a better way, what is it and how can we get there?

Cycles of the Brain

Bradberry cites the work efficiency study conducted by the Draugiem Group, which tracked employee work habits and times of peak productivity. The study supported a notion that many workers (including lawyers) already knew in their gut: working longer and unbroken hours on a project does not necessarily lead to better quality work. In fact, the numbers seem to suggest that unbroken focus (if that's the right term) actually harms quality of work.

Are you hearing this, bar study people? If we are to believe the general takeaway of the study, your dedicated eight hours of actual head-between-the-pages study could actually be harming you.

Most people kind of had this feeling anyway. Who hasn't felt the dip in enthusiasm and concomitant dip in quality after three hours of doing the same thing? It's inevitable.

Remember These Numbers: 52 and 17

It turns out that the most efficient people didn't work (and by "work" we mean focus blindly on the same task) for eight hours a day. They worked on that task for 52 minutes on average and took 17 minute breaks. Odd numbers -- sure, but there's nothing written in stone that human being should operate at nice and even rates. The point is this: there is a better way -- one that takes into account the realities of the human brain.

Breaking at Hourly Intervals

So what can you do to up your quality? Take breaks. You'll simply be wasting enthusiasm and energy if all you do is stare at your task dumbly. You may as well take a break. At FindLaw, a good number of us like to walk outside and take in a breath of fresh air and sun. Sometimes groups of us go for 15 minute strolls.

If your job requires you to finish a particular plate of tasks in a day, you'll probably find that this focus-break will work well for you, especially if you're properly fueled up with the right amount of rest and complex-carbohydrates.

Taking Actual Rests

Correlation is not causation, but try and tell that to today's analytics obsessed society. It could just be that Draugiem Group's findings simply found the habits of people who are just naturally amazing at getting things done. But who is it going to hurt if you decide to give it a show anyway? Besides, you'll at least get to change up your eight-hour day into one that's more like six hours. And that alone should be worth it.

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