Self-Organization Lessons You Can Learn from German Students

I have been living in Germany for five years and I have interacted with people from almost all walks of life. When I came here for a Masters program, my most extensive exposure has been with German students.

This interesting group of people who blow their nose loudly in the class and show their gratitude to the teacher by knocking on the desk when the lecture ends, also possess sharp self-organizing skills embedded in their personalities.

Coming from a ‘go-with-the-flow’ kind of culture, I was initially irked by their disciplined demeanor. But with the passage of time, I saw in them these little things that helped me get my life together, not just during studies but later in personal and professional life as well.

The following is a summary of my observations and experiences regarding self-organization that I learnt from my fellow German students.

Never mess with Mr. Uhr

Punctuality is actually one of the most important aspects of self-organization that vouches for a person’s credibility, trustworthiness and his level of commitment towards a task.

Although everything and everyone in Germany observe punctuality, German students follow Mr. Uhr (Mr. Clock) with almost religious fervor. You would not expect them to be late in reaching the class. Even for parties and dinner invitations, they would reach right on time.

never mess with Mr Uhr

Inspired by my German friends, I started taking punctuality quite seriously. Initially, it was hard, but with the passage of time I devised my own method to avoid being late.

For instance, for each appointment I make mini-timelines that don’t just include when to leave the house, but smaller milestones like when should I be dressed already, and by what time should I be finished with breakfast, etc.

This way I am seldom late in reaching somewhere and never have to mess with Mr. Uhr again.

Life has no meaning without a pocket planner

One thing you will find in every German student’s bag is a pocket planner. From classes and sports activities to family gathering and even dates, these small colorful diaries carry all sorts of appointments and upcoming engagements.

pocket planner
IMAGE: A Little Design Everyday

They even put in recurring tasks in their pocket planners so one appointment never converges another.

I personally adopted this habit a little differently. As my bag is already pretty stuffed, I don’t opt for a pocket planner but prefer to do all the scheduling through my phone’s calendar.

This small habit has saved me from embarrassment and panic of overlapping appointments so many times, and the blank spaces in the schedule remind me about all the free time I have for myself and my family.

The word ‘laser focus’ was invented for them

We read the word ‘laser focus’ a lot these days, in management articles and motivational speeches etc. But if you want to see an embodiment of this word, then German students are the right specimen. They have a strong tendency to fix their focus on one goal and seldom look sideways.

Today’s world is full of distractions and keeping a sharp focus can get pretty grueling. But through observation, I realized that with certain small practices can help you focus better.

  • Set realistic goals for your tasks. If your goals are realistic and achievable, you’ll be more focused towards completing them successfully.
  • Putting your mobile phone on silent mode can do wonders with your concentration.
  • Take short breaks during a task. You will always come back to work with a fresh mind and a focus reload.
  • A simple habit of list-making is a killer focus technique that not only eliminates stress and anxiety, but also gives a boost to your memory.

Coordination is the ‘Hauptsache’

During the student years we often had to do group work with our German counterparts. I didn’t mind it, but the thing that annoyed me to the core were group meetings.

No matter how trivial an assignment is, my German classmates always insisted on frequent group meetings, and after each meeting one of us was required to send ‘minutes of the meeting’ to the rest of the group.


Irritated, I once asked one of my German friends why they hold so many meetings, some of which last no more than five minutes. He replied, "Koordination ist die Hauptsache" (Coordination is the main thing).

His answer made total sense, that it’s not the meetings or emails, the purpose is to keep everyone in the group on the same page.

The lesson I took from it was that apart from group work, coordination also has a big role to play in a person’s self-organization. For instance, I found that when it comes to a task or assignment, staying in communication with your teacher produced better results.

Similarly in the professional life, keeping your boss or manager in the loop of communication on a certain project makes sure that you’re going in the right direction.

To sum up

Who doesn’t like a clutter-free organized life? The problem however comes when people actually try to get their life organized but don’t really know where to start.


I was once like that, lazy and demotivated. But when I started observing my German classmates around me, I realized as how much I was missing.

From this article I certainly don’t mean to suggest that German students are the perfect specimen of super human beings. In fact, some of their attributes are totally bizarre on so many levels.

However, if you see something good in someone, always make it a point to appreciate it and if possible, try to integrate it in your personality.

The things that I have mentioned above are seemingly minor activities, but if taken up seriously, they have the ability to turn the tables in your life. In today’s interesting world there are a hundred tools and tactics to keep yourself organized, however they all require you to first take control of your life.