Why are Germans so efficient?


Remember that one kid that did it all better than you? You would cram overnight for exams while he enjoyed his sweet slumber and still beat you fair and square. He was probably taller than you, better looking than you, and better at (insert your high school sport) than you.

That’s kinda what I imagine Germany is to the rest of the world.

Good at life.

According to OECD statistics, Germans worked on average 1371 hours in 2014. Compare that to the US: 1789 hours, Japan: 1729 hours and India 2365. If you divide these hours by their GDP, Germany tops the list for the most productive country in the world. 

And if that doesn’t make you a little upset, they also on average have 24 days of paid vacation a year.

Germans work less and produce more.

And here are the reasons:

Focused Mindset & Condensed Working Hours

While the rest of us struggle on an overtime schedule, Germans cut through work piles with gleaming samurai blades, and peace out by 6pm.

All the time you spend making small talk and trying to balance your pen on the back of your hand, a German uses to get more done than you. They function at optimal condition and actually stop to leave before dinner, showing impressive levels of self respect.

The concept is simple:

Working long hours = unhappiness = reduced productivity

So Germans work less hours –> become happy –> become more productive

The caveat is to be laser focused. ‘Dienst ist Dienst und Schnaps ist Schnaps’ (Duty is duty and liquor is liquor) No facebook, no multitasking, and definitely no getting caught up with emotions.

From personal experience, the shorter time I have to finish something, the more likely my cells get in Spartan mode and finish on time. But if I have a whole month to finish something, you bet I will take up every single second of that month. The same amount of tasks will somehow grow to fill in the cracks.

So if a German expects to finish by 6 and refuses to accept otherwise, it’s much easier for him to avoid any waste of time. Maybe it’s not about genes, but about expectations.

Besides, it is proven by science that distractions and multitasking make us stupid.

Highly Educated/Skilled workers

It helps to know what you are doing to be efficient. Germany is so sincere about accessible education that they made it free for everyone to go to college.

It hardly seems fair considering the $1.3 trillion in student tuition debt happening in the US.

Reasons Germans manage to educate far more people with far less money:

  • German schools don’t have a big fat administration overhead to support.

It’s not as structured, you gotta plan your own education, which may or may not be a good thing. Are we still surprised that Germans seem like great planners?

  • Not all Germans go to uni, many attend vocational schools.   

In fact, only about 27% of youngsters (compare 48% in UK) attend university.

Which brings us to talk about the dual education system, an important contributor of their low unemployment rate. With this system, young Germans attend vocational school while doing apprenticeships at companies. That’s more time to learn work habits and get used to real world challenges. It’s also better assurance that workers know what they are doing when they are building cars that can kill people.

Straight, Clear and Concise Communication

I had a german manager who ticked all the boxes of what one would imagine an efficient German worker to be like. She wrote work messages like:

“Send it to me by 2pm.”

Probably because every one word less typed saves an average of 0.3 seconds, I don’t know.

I’m exaggerating. And exaggerations can be confusing for Germans, who tend to take what you say at face value. That makes sense to me, honesty and preciseness reduce time wasted on figuring out social nuances and unwanted yucky feelings associated with miscommunication.  

German Laws make life easier

Take 2 people with the same level of skill and intelligence. You ask these 2 people to build a pyramid of cards and you poke one of them in the belly every 10 seconds. Who is going to build the pyramid faster?

The guy you left alone to build his pyramid.

This terrible example is to show you that Germans have more time and energy to focus on doing their jobs well and living their life when they don’t have to worry as much about basic needs and security.

Here are some neat things you can get with a German passport:

  • Accessible healthcare insurance coverage for virtually everybody, co-pay is about 10 Euro’s for a visit to the doctor.
  • Again, deliciously free public university education.
  • Saint-like child care benefits, read this.

Bureaucracy and planning

German bureaucracy is so frustrating that some Syrian refugees actually created an app called Bureaucrazy to help people navigate it.


But I guess with all these restrictions in place, it forces Germans to plan better. It also ensures that the rest of the system run smoother, leading to more efficiency on a greater scale. Sure cutting in line speeds it up for you, but it makes it slower for everyone else. I also find when I disregard processes in favor of speed, I usually end up with triple the work.

But I guess that’ doesn’t make having laws stating the true definition of margarines or garden gnomes any less weird.

Example gnome that has quite glaringly breached German garden gnome laws.

The Simple Life

All in all, I think Germans are just minimalists who love beer and time for things that truly matter. So if you want to be more efficient, maybe you can try cutting out clutter to make life easier for yourself. Be mindful and focus on one thing at time, and plan stuff better so you avoid more stuff down the line.

While the concept of a chaotic hot mess is sexy, we could all trim down and use a little more happiness from dealing with less crazy.  

I shall end here with a related quote you’ve probably seen on somebody’s facebook cover photo by German Bauhaus school founder Walter Gropius:

Make the greatest possible effect with the least possible means.


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