Polish professionals are among the most productive in the world, according to a survey from DeskTime. It surprised me that their productivity was far superior to Germans, a fact that would amaze even Poles themselves. But when you observe how the Poles carry their duties and some Polish habits, it is easy to understand.
What is Productivity?
First, it is important to make clear what I mean by productivity. Let’s adopt the simplest definition: it is the output divided by time (or resources used). Productivity is, in this sense, analogous to the rate of production. A way to measure it is by GDP produced by every worked hour.
Productivity depends on factors like training, incentives, and experience on the job. It can also be boosted (or curbed) by few cultural aspects.
I remember when I was working as a stockbroker in Brazil, and every Wednesday my colleagues went to eat Feijoada at a nearby restaurant during our lunch break. This is a traditional Brazilian dish that is very heavy to digest. It even makes me sleepy, so I avoided eating it during workdays. Some of the other guys in the operations room were at a slow pace during their post-feijoada hours*. A slow stockbroker is a inferior stockbroker.
What you eat — or when and how long you take to eat — is not the only factor to impact productivity. Trivial habits have an enormous influence on a person’s output. I realized that after adopting a few practices from the Poles. Things that made my productivity boost.
Reading at the Public Transport
I start this by saying that this habit in São Paulo or most western megacities can be complicatedunless you commute to work in unusual times, with little passenger influx. If the transport is cramped, your priority is to breathe, stay on your feet and avoid pickpocketers.
In Poland, it is not like that. Here it is common to have enough personal space to open a book in its trams, metros, or buses. I used to live around 50 minutes far from my work. I adopted the Polish habit of reading, so I took an ebook reader with me. This minor change, alone, helped me to read over 40 books in a single year, including some excellent books for entrepreneurs that were on my must-read during years.
I often see people complaining that they do not have time to read. When I ask what they do while they are sitting on the bus, they answer that they check Instagram or Facebook, gigantic time-wastes. Sure, Donna, every day you have a 1-hour commute to work and you tell me you have no time to read?
On a side note, I know it is tempting to reach for your phone and start scrolling on Facebook. Sometimes we even do it unconsciously. The solution I found is to put the phone in the backpack instead of my pocket.
Random things at Nature
Poland is one of the European countries with the largest proportion of its territory under environmental protection. They preserve 33% of their land in 2043 parks and natural reserves.
The abundance of natural areas serves well to the Polish habit of spending time in nature. Sometimes they do weird stuff, like a woman that almost died because she wanted to hike half-naked during winter. But on other occasions, they spend time in nature doing healthy activities. One of the funniest (and tastiest) polish idiosyncrasies is the habit of picking forest mushrooms.
Yes, you can buy them at the supermarket and they are not expensive. But this is not only about the mushrooms. It is about quality time spent with family and friends, breathing fresh air scented by pine trees, listening to birds, and watching squirrels and hedgehogs play around.
One still may argue: yes, to spend time in the forest is cool, but what is the relation of that with productivity?
The answer is that spending time in nature lowers your cortisol, improves cognitive function, and reduces blood pressure, increasing your overall productivity.
Reading in the metro or hiking in forests are not exclusivities of Poland. But the habit of eating kanapki is something that I found nowhere else.
Most foreigners in Poland will discover it accidentally when they order a sandwich at a street stand and the attendant delivers something.. different. Because it is common that Poles understand kanapki and sandwiches as the same thing.
But they are not.
They are more similar to a giant version of the French canapé (the word kanapki derives from it) or the Spanish tapa. That is what every day, millions of Poles eat in their breakfasts or work breaks.
How the kanapki helps you to be more productive? They are easy to prepare and practical to eat, and they have fewer carbs than an ordinary sandwich, because they have 50% less bread. Carbs kill your productivity for a myriad of reasons, from messing with your insulin levels to flooding your brain with sleep hormones like serotonin and tryptophan.
No Lunch — at least at work.
During one of my first meetings with my wife — back then, my girlfriend, we had an extensive discussion about the polish word obiad. She translates it as “dinner”, while I call it “lunch”.
The truth is that obiad is neither.
It is later than what we call almoço in Portuguese or almuerzo in Spanish. In both Iberian cultures, this is the largest meal, happening around 13:00, and usually taking one hour or more. Some people even take a nap after it.
Obiad, on the other side, is around 16:00, and, depending on how quickly a person returns home after work, you have it with family.
Therefore, in Poland, lunch virtually does not exist — my wife still disagrees with me, she keeps insisting that obiad is lunch.
This is not a surprise only for Latin-Americans or Iberians, but even Brits are surprised that during lunchtime Poles stay working at their desks. The absence of a longer lunch break is common in other cultures, like in Germany, but rare, and even illegal, in most romance cultures.
There are few habits that I learned in Poland that raised my productivity and helped me to get more from my time.
- Read on public transport, using my commuting time to learn useful things for my entrepreneurial journey.
- Spend more time in nature, to reduce my cortisol and stress levels.
- Eat Kanapki, and cut carbs.
- Cut long lunch hours to interrupt my mental flow when performing cognitively demanding tasks, also called deep work.
The above-average Polish productivity is not new. We are talking about a nation that, after the II World War destruction, rebuilt its capital in only five years. There are many other things one can learn with the Polish habits, although I still find it disgusting to eat pizza with garlic sauce.
PS: After learning these interesting Polish Habits, if you want to know some interesting findings of productivity and multitasking (they will surprise you), watch the video below.