Increase Staff Productivity by Managing Overwhelm

Your law firm staff, especially the lawyers, is constantly busy. You know your employees are honest and hardworking. They get along with, and support each other. Clients love working with them. The law firm looks like it is a productive business. However, when you look at your numbers, why don’t they add up? Employees’ billing time is not what you would expect. And while you may have mastered being efficient with your own time, why is it not translating to them?

The disconnect between staff performance and firm productivity is not unique. Law firms are noticing that their staff’s ability to manage their time is the key to a profitable business. But, alas, time management is a skill is that is hard to grasp, especially in the fast-paced practice of law. It always feels like there is not enough time ever, so employees are constantly feeling behind. And then they desperately chase after the latest time hack to capture more billable hours.

However, there is a piece missing that only the cutting edge law firms are beginning to address – instead of managing time, we need to manage overwhelm. Let’s face it – lawyers are overwhelmed, all of the time. We can call this a professional requirement to be able to handle stress and multi-task in a fast-paced environment. But the environment just gets more fast-paced and the stress and overwhelm just increase. And time gets more scarce.

The models we are using for time management and billable hours are outdated. The formula is no longer to just work harder and bill more hours. In the world we currently live in, the paradigm needs to shift. As law firm leadership, you need to help your employees manage overwhelm instead of merely managing time. The word “overwhelm” means to overturn or upset – and as lawyers we treat this state as normal. That’s what we do as lawyers. We take on too much and are overcome by its weight. 

And since we don’t know any different we function under that weight in a limited state. We work with only part of our brains and capability. By working “under pressure” we are only offering a sliver of our optimal performance. Imagine if we could increase performance and productivity by simply easing the pressure? While pressure is a catalyst and could initiate quality work in the beginning, there is a diminishing return.

As you know, pressure and overwhelm, if not managed, lead to burnout and job dissatisfaction, which lead to attrition. And continuously bringing on and training new and overwhelmed employees is neither sustainable nor profitable. Here are 3 ways to increase your employees’ productivity by helping them manage overwhelm:

  1. Create a workplace culture of communicating and minimizing overwhelm and pressure. The traditional workplace model of grinding away and rewarding overworking and tolerance for stress is no longer useful. In fact, it is hurting your bottom line. Embrace an environment where pressure is limited and stable workflow is rewarded. Provide employees with benefits such as time off after intense work projects, wellness activities at the office, or simply giving more space for feedback of workload. Allow your employees to safely express when they are feeling so much pressure that it affects their performance.
  2. Address employee performance issues by assessing external pressure and overwhelm. In the traditional model, when an employee is struggling, we often lay on more pressure for him or her to perform. And ultimately, this does not work out so well. What if we could take a wider view on why one person was not meeting our expectations? By taking into consideration all the factors including specific case types, challenging clients, and available staff support, pressure and overwhelm could be managed to promote success for the employee and the firm.
  3. Prevent overwhelm before it harms your firm. Of course, the pressure and overwhelm are always there. There is no changing the nature of the work you do. And also – you have the capability to use what you know to prevent future problems. I know this sounds simple and a bit pollyannaish – but it works. When we are in pressure mode, we don’t have the ability to prevent it in the future. Overwhelm begets overwhelm. The opportunity in the overwhelm is to identify it and figure out how to prevent it in the future. 

In managing a law firm, employee productivity is the mainstay for a profitable business. In this climate of lawyer overwhelm and burnout, productivity is compromised continually. Therefore, in order to maximize the time of your employees, it is crucial to shift perfective from merely managing time, to managing overwhelm. 

Ritu Goswamy, Esq., is a lawyer and productivity consultant for lawyers. She is the best-selling author of The New Billable Hour and The Holistic Lawyer. Ritu is the creator of the New Billable Hour™ system, which helps lawyers increase their productivity by billing themselves first. She consults with lawyers and law firms and is an active speaker and trainer in the areas of lawyer productivity, competence, and mindfulness. For a free copy of her first book, visit: Ritu can be reached directly at

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