The Productivity Problem: Working Smarter or Working Harder?


Productivity has become a hot topic in today’s ultra-connected world. The expectation is that we are never more than one touchscreen swipe away from any task at hand. While we may have unlimited resources when it comes to what is needed to work “smart,” now more than ever, we find the need to create order despite the chaos. Countless apps, notifications, and calendar invitations have become the norm. Is our “always on” mentality serving or detracting from our productivity? Businesses can attest to chasing moving targets, evolving to-do lists, and competing priorities. How can a modern workplace stay ahead of the game? In other words, how can we master the art of being proactive, and not reactive?

Debunking Misconceptions

• Accessibility Gone Wrong

Our relationship with e-mail has reached an addiction-like level. Many professionals feel obligated to check and/or respond to messages the instant they roll in. But, is that productivity? Arguably, the action provides a temporary sense of progress. While this practice may work for some, it is a pattern worth reconsidering. According to an article from ForbesFone, the habit “has been linked to diminish memory function and reduced performance… it can even increase anxiety and tendency for depression.”

• No Rest for The Weary

What’s more is that we struggle with pacing ourselves. Workloads seldom have a predictable ebb and flow, as busy periods and fluctuating business needs often dictate otherwise. The pressure leads some to neglect taking breaks throughout the day. Think you’ll get more done if you skip lunch just one more time? You’re not alone. We are cautioned, however, as “those who work more than eight hours per day tend to have lower productivity and higher burnout rates.”

• The Devil Is In The Details

Most of us have heard of the 80/20 rule, “which dictates that 20% of tasks will produce 80% of results.”  We are mired in ‘simple’ responsibilities that, while essential, are not necessarily urgent. They zap us of time and squander our energy in stealth fashion. ‘This will only take a minute,’ we say to ourselves, and before we know it, half of our workday has sailed on by. If we focus more on the 20%, we can inch closer to smashing the 80% of our goals.

The Role of Leadership

Managers play a big part in staff efficiency. The most productive teams achieve synergy due to shared values and behaviors. Bosses can positively influence staff through leading by example, and strategically offering up their own preferred working methods. When employees follow suit, it can result in a healthier, more productive environment. Our law firm believes in a few key tactics that help keep us on track:

• “Eat the Frog”

There is usually one task (the “frog”) on our list that we actively avoid. Do you find yourself constantly pushing something off until ‘tomorrow’? Some things just aren’t enjoyable, or don’t play to our strengths. We sometimes fear the sheer amount of time a given task may take to complete. If we can acknowledge and accept this reality, it sets us up for greater success. Self-awareness and discipline will retrain your inner dialogue – getting something done can become a sort of game, rather than a painstaking, fruitless effort. If you knock out the hard stuff first, you give yourself a ‘win’ and gain momentum.

• Time-Blocking

Want to really take control of your day? Try scheduling your tasks down to the hour or thirty-minute increments. Instead of just relying on a list that keeps on growing, use a calendar to mark off what specific times will be used to accomplish each item. According to a FastCompany article, time-blocking offers “psychological benefits,” such as the “Zeigarnik effect, which basically states that we remember what we haven’t done better than what we have done, and uncompleted tasks weigh on us.” That is to say, things we’ve completed leave our brains and make room for the things we still need to do once we’ve committed to starting them at a given time. Don’t forget to consider whether you’re an early bird or night owl! Knowing yourself is key to making time-blocks work for you.

• Transparency and Collaboration

Time-blocking won’t work without communication. Recently, our team wrote down and shared our chosen time-blocks with each other. Learning more about our personal work preferences has been helpful. While still a work-in-progress, respecting each other’s time in a positive and upfront manner has had a great impact on productivity.

Feeling Stuck?

Clear your desk! In the flurry of a workday, the process of getting and staying organized can seem insurmountable; but administrative ‘busywork’ can sometimes bring just the right amount of calm needed to weather the storm. The idea is that it offers “a feeling of accomplishment without the corresponding stress which comes along with more challenging tasks,” according to a Forbes Entrepreneurs piece. Overwhelmed and need to get back in the ‘zone’? The cure might just be sorting your pens by color or alphabetizing your filing cabinet!


The Culture Counts blog is a discussion of law firm culture and legal innovation, including topics such as effective leadership, employee engagement, workplace culture, ideal work environment, company core values, and workplace productivity.  

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About the Firm:

Klemchuk LLP is a litigation, intellectual property, transactional, and international business law firm dedicated to protecting innovation. The firm provides tailored legal solutions to industries including software, technology, retail, real estate, consumer goods, ecommerce, telecommunications, restaurant, energy, media, and professional services. The firm focuses on serving mid-market companies seeking long-term, value-added relationships with a law firm. Learn more about experiencing law practiced differently and our local counsel practice.

The firm publishes Intellectual Property Trends (latest developments in IP law), Conversations with Innovators (interviews with thought leaders), Leaders in Law (insights from law leaders), Culture Counts (thoughts on law firm culture and business), and Legal Insights (in-depth analysis of IP, litigation, and transactional law).