This week I met with a highly educated, very dedicated group of attorneys. Several times throughout our meeting I heard one or another comment on their overwhelming quantity of work. Harvard Business Review has just published a blog by David Rock that states that so many people are overwhelmed that the problem has reached the danger level (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/06/this_week_the_us_government.html)
Rock recommends a brain diet, similar to the revamped US government's food pyramid, now "choose my plate". Rock's "healthy mind platter" has us balancing focus time with play time and connecting time and so forth, much in the way Steven Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People recommends we plan for all aspects of our lives, not just our work life.
All great advice, but what will help the group of overworked attorneys? Unless we reduce the work quantity, how can they allocate time to other aspects of their lives/brains? While I agree they would be more productive with, and less stressed about, their excessive work load if they took a walk at mid-day, regularly scheduled 10-minute calls with loved ones once a day, and got a good 7-8 hours of sleep each night, ultimately I believe that they'll have to set limits on work quantity.
They'll have to learn to say "yes, and", as in "yes, I can complete the first step in that process by Friday and meet your full request by two weeks from today." Or, "yes, I'd be happy to help you with that research. And if you'd review my other priorities with me, we can find which item could be delayed."
How do you accept work requests?
Interestingly, I know of many employees who are under-worked! When a team mate is producing less than others, the overworked folks not only feel overworked but also angry. Burnout is not due to excessive workload, it's due to negative feelings about the workload. Managers must coach all employees, and communicate about workload openly and honestly, to prevent burnout.