Work/Life Balance

Why Lawyers Should Work No More than 40 Hours a Week

Lawyers, doctors and others in the service industry can be more productive and creative if they stop working so much and put away their BlackBerrys, according to a media executive and “serial CEO.”

Manufacturers already focus on “asset integrity”—preserving plants and machinery from damage due to wear and tear, Margaret Heffernan, CEO of five businesses, writes for The professional service industry should do the same by preserving their greatest assets: the minds of their workers, she argues.

“For the last 100 years, every productivity study in every industry has come to the same conclusion: After about 40 hours in a week, the quality of your work starts to degrade,” she writes. “You make mistakes. That’s why working 60 hours may not save you time or money: You’ll spend too much of that time fixing the mistakes you shouldn’t have made in the meantime. That’s why software companies that limit work to 35 hours a week need to employ fewer QA engineers: There isn’t as much mess to clean up.”

Heffernan also argues that multitasking causes distraction, and BlackBerry addicts lose focus and concentration. Businesses that want to improve their employees’ cognition should encourage exercise, one thing shown to help.

Writes Heffernan, “Leaders need to take seriously a century’s evidence that 1) overwork doesn’t make us productive, it makes us stupid, 2) looking away from a problem is often the best way to solve it, and 3) burnout is what happens when people are asked to work in ways that obliterate all other parts of their lives.”

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