Technology, mobile devices, and an ever-expanding suite of applications can enhance productivity, efficiency, and collaboration and ensure a more efficient allocation of our time and resources—in theory. In practice, most people feel stressed for time, overwhelmed by a constant stream of notifications and information from multiple channels, competing demands, impossible deadlines, and never-ending to-do lists that they can never seem to get done.
Indeed, advances in mobility have allowed lawyers to work on the go and meet the 24/7 expectations of the global market. Still, there’s a cost to all this convenience: more communications and information across multiple channels every day has resulted in more arduous challenges for every lawyer already struggling to meet billable requirements and get through a higher administrative load. It’s not surprising that most lawyers consistently feel that they do not have enough time for themselves or their loved ones and experience difficulty in striking a healthy work-life balance.
It’s not only the amount of time that lawyers spend working that matters: quality of time matters too. Producing high-quality work requires distraction-free time and optimal cognitive performance. But these are often compromised by multitasking, cognitive overload fatigue, and context-switching costs that result from having to contend with an overabundance of micro-decisions, administrative tasks, communication threads across multiple channels, and demands for immediate and real-time responsiveness at the cost of our focus, performance, and health.
Indeed, the mental stamina needed to constantly fend off, tend to and resolve endless interruptions and distractions, re-engage with work thereafter, as well as the seemingly endless administrative tasks associated with digital communications, are resulting in immeasurable and corrosive productivity loss, potential demoralization, increased employee retention and training costs, burnout and other mental health challenges stemming from chronic stress and elevated levels of cortisol. This directly compromises a firm’s bottom line because law firms depend on their associates to be efficient and in top form in order to stay profitable.
According to the Clio Legal Trends Report, lawyers spend 2.3 hours per day (or 29% of an 8-hour workday) on billable tasks and 48% of their time on administrative tasks. Neither of these statistics include the immeasurable and significant amount of time lost to distractions and spent regaining focus, or for leaked time not captured on timesheets at all due to the sheer impossibility of accurately tracking supersonic digital activity with old manual billing methods.
This means now more now than ever in an age when client demands for cheaper rates and greater transparency are pushing firms to provide deep discounts and alternative billing structures, spend more time preparing and reviewing timesheets. Law firms cannot afford to shoulder costs to productivity, profitability, morale, and employee retention posed by current challenges and practices. Law firms must dig deep to understand the operational challenges that are putting them at risk of losing productivity, revenue, and morale, reconfigure workflows that align with our daily practices and aspirations, and leverage historical data to price legal services in a new way. Time audits and redesigned practices that implement new technologies that automate and streamline workflows like ZERØ, reduce our to-do lists and allow us to get more done, increasing not only productivity but also the sense of accomplishment critical for morale. ZERØ’s software not only recoups time that would otherwise never make it to timesheets, but also reduces time and mental energy spent billing and generating narratives in a manner easily integrated into a lawyer’s optimal workflow, lightening their load, and leaving them with more mental energy to take on the day.
Although making to-do lists allows us to understand what we need to do by forcing us to prioritize amongst tasks in light of time constraints and other limitations, all too often, they are the source of anxiety and shame. It is time to ditch our misguided view that doing it all is only possible if we do it all simultaneously—that we can beat the system by working more when most of us are already overworked and exhausted. It is unrealistic and unsustainable. We cannot create more time or get everything done, but we can exercise better time management by redistributing our time more wisely and making sure that we’re spending our time on the things we want to spend it on and delegating out what we can. Our capacity to weather changes and grow depends on how we handle complexity. To chart a path forward to where we want to be, we must first know where we are. To do so, we must first acknowledge and accept how ever-so-quickly changing realities are impacting our day to day life—in the office and outside of it—so that we can tune in to what is working for us, and change what is not.
The time has come for us to reassess our relationship to technology and develop new and integrated practices that allow us to take back control over our most valuable resource: time—so that we can lead happier, healthier, more successful/productive lives.