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In the New York Times article “5-Hour Workdays? 4-Day Workweeks? Yes, Please“, Dr.Newport discusses attempts to change the way we work in the knowledge economy. He gives the example of a German entrepreneur, who put in place a 5 hour workday. Employees arrive at 8am and leave at 1pm. Employees do not work until returning the next day.  “Once you remove time-wasting distractions and constrain inefficient conversation about your work, five hours should be sufficient to accomplish most of the core activities…”

To accomplish the 5 hour workday, employees leave their phones in their bags and are blocked from social media on the company network. Almost all meetings are reduced to 15 minutes or less. Employees check their work email twice a day. By checking emails less, distractions and useless emails are reduced.

Dr. Newport applauds the 5 hour workday. He believes that we should be changing the way we work. Knowledge work is where automobile manufacturing was before Ford streamlined the assembly line. The way we work is convenient and simple but not efficient. Work flows along as an unstructured conversation through the electronic ether.

To believe, in other words, that our current approach to knowledge work — which is brand-new on any reasonable scale of business history — is the best way to create valuable information using the human mind is both arrogant and ahistoric. It’s the equivalent of striding into an early-20th-century automobile factory, where each car still required a half day’s worth of labor to produce, and boldly proclaiming, “I think we’ve figured this one out!”

Further to Dr. Newport’s comments, lawyers may be able to find places to reduce waste. “Lawyers in small firms spend over 40% of their day on non-billable work.” – Gimbal Canada Inc., Lean Practice Management Advisors

At the Ontario Bar Association TECHXpo, Karen Skinner from Gimbal Canada Inc. spoke about reducing waste. She pointed to 8 common sources of waste:

  • defects (missing a filing date, incomplete forms, bad drafting, data-entry errors)
  • extra processing (too much research, triple checking, over-staffing a file, too many drafts of a document)
  • motion (unnecessary travel for meetings, too many keystrokes to find a document, poor office layout)
  • inventory (unanswered emails, filing sitting on your desk, overflow of stationary)
  • transport (sending documents via courier rather than email, using cheques instead of direct deposit, too many approvals or hand-offs)
  • non-utilized talent (under using assistants, lawyers doing administrative work, doing work that could be outsourced  – even to the client)
  • waiting (for people, for information, for printers, interruptions that reduce concentration)
  • over-production (printing too many copies, cc’ing too many people, getting work done earlier than required)

Skinner argues that to reduce waste, we need to see where the waste is. We can see the waste, by mapping out our work processes. Once we see the waste, we can change it.

Skinner also recommends that we take our long To Do List that we have scribbled on a legal pad and turn it into something visual. She recommends  using a matter management board, as seen below:


(photo courtesy of Gimbal Canada Inc.)

You can use the TO DO, DOING, DONE model for an entire workload, one aspect of a single file, all aspects of an entire file, or work for your firm or group. The DOING section can be further broken down into the individual phases of a task.

There are digital boards that can also allow you to assign tasks, filter by team member, or filter by progress. To learn more go to

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)