What would a German do? (aka how to work less and get more done)

(From my newsletter dated .. ummm .. early 2018?)

I have a bunch of virtual t-shirts. Have you ever seen the t-shirt saying “What would Jesus do?”  Well, I have a new virtual t-shirt saying “What would a German do?!”

Workaholism lurks at the water cooler!

As a recovering workaholic I am fully aware of the perils of workaholism – from mental and physical exhaustion and ill-health, to strained relationships and decreased productivity.

(If interested, you can read more about workaholism here: and while Shimazo et al.’s (2010) self-report measure of ‘work performance’ is a weak point of their study, they do a good job of explaining the compulsion some people feel to work and the article has good references for further reading. Many of the articles referenced can be located on Google Scholar)

Workaholism in Microsoft and Apple

Even Melinda Gates, wife of Bill, has spoken out against workaholism. In the early Microsoft and Apple days, everyone worked crazy hours and achieved incredible results. But a year later they were all gone. And, of course and tragically, Steve Jobs died young.

However it’s one thing for me to be conscious of these workaholic perils, and quite another to change the workaholic habits I’ve spent decades cultivating.

But such an opportunity to change my bad habits arose 13 days ago.

The work is infinite

Monday 23rd October is Labor day in New Zealand – a public holiday. Usually public holidays mean nothing to me. I view them as opportunities to catch up on outstanding work from the previous decade.

So while I’m getting much better at treating weekends like weekends, I was planning on working on Labor Monday. To ‘get ahead of the work.’ Ha!

But I changed my mind after listening to American Basecamp co-founder and CEO Jason Fried being interviewed on the Hurry Slowly podcast. (You can listen here – well worth it if you are curious about the topic of workaholism.)

Worklife balance: Americans Vs. Germans

Fried, as well as being the co-author of ‘ReWork‘, was both scathing of the American low-productivity workaholic culture and a fan of the high-productivity German balanced-work-life ethic.

Fried discourages workaholic tendencies in his staff – assuming anyone working long hours is likely working inefficiently and unsustainably.

‘Sicker’ but more productive

In contrast the Germans, with one of the most productive European economies, clock off at 5pm and have a life. They have generous annual, parental, and sick leave. To my surprise, they actually take more sick leave than the British, yet still have a more productive economy.

Go figure. I suspect that by actually taking sick leave, Germans likely recover quicker and don’t infect their colleagues with their bugs.

So I asked my t-shirt the question. What would a German do on a public holiday – would they work?


12 productive hours in bed

So I didn’t. I spent the day in bed reading a great novel. Finished it, and emerged for a double yoga class in the evening.

That night I slept like I’d taken some very good drugs (I imagine – but in a sense I had), and woke feeling like a million bucks.

So, if you want to be more productive, I suggest putting on a German t-shirt when you need to answer the question “Shall I keep working – or shall I knock off for the day?”

Procrastination driving you mad?
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More reading? 
If you want to feel your mental health is superior to mine, read this; I wanted to assault someone – preferably a criminal

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Be a hero the easy way. If you have found the contents of this email slightly useful, mildly entertaining, or just not too annoying, please consider forwarding it to your kindred spirits.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek” – sounds like a Yoda quote to me, but is ascribed to Joseph Campbell – who is well known for ‘the hero’s journey’ (any Mill’s and Boon contains a reductionist version of this plot) and was heavily influenced by Freud. You can read more of Joseph Cambell’s Yoda-esque quotes here. I bet he has a few things to say on workaholism.

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