German efficiency demystified

Efficiency makes stupid. That's why I am sometimes puzzled what to respond when people praise "German efficiency" and even ask me for advice. Yes, I happen to be German, and I do get a lot of things done. But this is not because of a magic spell or culture, but mainly because I don't waste time. I have seen some statistics that people waste on average 4 hours a day. So if you want to improve your efficiency, it's a no-brainer just to stop that. Typical time-wasting activities are social media, commuting, socializing with meaningless people ("networking"), business dinners ... and the like. If you feel, you have to do some of it for social conformity, then here comes another time waster: caring what other people think. 

The next thing to eliminate is everything counterproductive. For example, I remember when staying in the City (of London), there was a pub just outside the apartment. From Friday afternoon white color workers started to drink excessively and far beyond enjoyment to get over the work week with far too long hours. They felt that they deserve it, and continued until a hangover took them down usually on Sunday mornings. Like this, they ruined weekend after weekend and made their work week even more miserable. The only adventure they could talk about on Mondays was how bad it was on Sunday. It is not clear to me, why many people "reward" themselves with activities which make things worse, or actively engage in other counterproductive activities. Again a no-brainer: making things worse does neither make you more efficient nor happier.

Just with these two measures, there are already 5 x 4 hours plus the 32 hour weekend (excluding sleep time), equals 52 hours saved. That's more than a full headcount in operational terms. And this is without applying technology, doing coaching, listening to a guru, or getting a self-help book. Just putting two no-brainers together is more than enough.

Now, let's take the next step and eliminate all the bullshit (going to useless meetings, nonsense communication, information overload, business travel): easily 2 hours a day saved, without even doing any process change or blaming your own inefficiency on the organization you work in. If you think the organization makes you inefficient, often it is not the organization itself. It is a few inefficient people. Those who are late, or don't even turn up, don't deliver to specs, and just waste other people's time. All you can do here is: dump them. Some of them may really have a problem and need support. Then have a second look and be forgiving. But dump the Divas, assholes, and psychopaths. And finally, when technology comes into play used effectively for administrative tasks, we should get down to a 4 hour "work day" without dropping anything relevant.

This was very much the budget view. But further, we have to think about the "work day" as a concept altogether and whether time is the right dimension to relate to. I believe ideas like "work-life-balance" are confusing a lot of people because they imply that there is a difference between work and life. That might be correct when you work on an assembly line or in a coal mine. And even there it does not have to be. I have absolutely no idea how much time I spend on what and I only count hours sometimes for billing purposes. I also don't care about KPIs (Key Performance Indicators, for those of you who are not into the jargon). Everything which makes the difference between doing something good or bad is beyond KPIs anyway. And doing a good job is very important. Producing bad quality is not just betraying others, but also a big waste of time for yourself. It will catch up with you. It's like the often misunderstood 80/20 rule. The 20 % will kill you later if you stop there. The rule I like is 101/-1. Do things today, which save you time and resources tomorrow. 

So, now that we have all this time saved, what do we do with it? We don't want to become stupid, right? Perhaps, here comes what "German efficiency" really is about: go home, spend time with your real friends, seek inspiration, train your skills, participate in cultural life, read books, invent new things. And then make the best machines in the world. Make the best cars. Do outstanding research. Create knowledge and IP (Intellectual Property). Not because, you want to be "competitive", but because you like it. Or be a poet or philosopher. Just because you like rhyming and thinking. Make music. Paint. I think, the real trick is to devote your life to something you love doing. And then do it.