Productivity. Consultants love to use that word. But what does it really mean? The Merriam Webster nutshell definition is “yielding results, benefits, or profits.” For an equity partner, productivity more or less translates to a constant billable hour—where the firm earns maximum profits and the clients receive maximum results. This errant belief is what drives first-year associates to sleep in their offices, hide stashes of M&Ms and Red Bull at the bottom depths of each filing cabinet, and sulk in shame when caught updating their Facebook status instead of working assiduously on that filing deadline.
Late nights and lack of sleep is tradition for lawyers and investment bankers alike. So it might surprise your human resource department to know new studies now show that those people who respond to stress by say, taking a nap, actually do better with life conflict and have more energy than the Type-A multitaskers who traditionally roam law office halls. Additionally, taking periodic breaks from work to play computer Tetrus or send tweets, for example, actually promotes creative thinking and makes employees more productive than those associates exclusively dedicated to the billable hour.
“People are more successful if we force them to move away from a problem or distract them temporarily.”
The authors of Creativity and the Mind further stipulate that pressure to perform tends to confine people to a single mode of thinking. Taking time off work to play an online game, make a personal phone call, or browse facebook has the power to relax the mind and actually inspire a person to return to the problem at hand with fresh perspective and new solutions.
These studies may be new, but the idea certainly is not. Take a look a history and you’ll see that some of the most successful advancements in science and technology were not deliberate acts. The microwave, for example, was an idea borne from a leading WWII scientist, Percy Spencer. While working for Raytheon, standing in front of a magnetron—a tube that releases energy to power radar equipment—Spencer discovered the candy bar in his pocket melted. Newly inspired, Spencer developed the first microwave in 1945, but his legacy is lasting. Saccharin, Super-glue, Teflon, Penicillin among other everyday items can all credit their existence to accidental inventors. In the same way, the best legal arguments may come out of taking a break rather than working to find a breakthrough.
By encouraging associates to go home at reasonable hours and to take advantage of the office break-room, not only will the firm see a boost in productivity but clients will experience more successful management of their cases.
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