Photo from Francis Frith
I would imagine a New Year's resolution to work less, or at least work more productively when you're sitting at your desk, and unchain yourself from the desk(top) now and again, is a popular one this year.
There's even a movement, with the clever title Wednesday Offternoon , led by psychologists and behaviour change experts, to encourage companies to give their staff an afternoon off mid-week. It's not the full four-day week, but a step in the direction of increasing productivity and happiness in the workplace, and decreasing stress.
An admirable idea, but the cynical part of me suggests that the "free" afternoon will be used catching up on all the dreary bureaucratic must-dos that overwhelm the 21st century workplace, with its obsession with form-filling, controls, assessments and so on.
But looking around at semi-rural Germany, where I live, in some ways the glorious "Wednesday early-closing" days that I remember from my early childhood have never really gone away. There are shops in our town who still have early closing on Wednesdays. Many have a lunch break - which can be up to two hours - and it's not so very long ago that almost every retail establishment closed its doors at 13:00 sharp on Saturdays. Schools still finish at lunchtime, and the majority of workers seem to knock off on Fridays at mid-day, judging by the state of the roads at this time.
Is this a quaint leftover from the past, a stubbornly analogue way of working that doesn't quite fit in the 24/7 always-on digital world?
Or have the Germans maybe known all along that efficiency only comes from giving it a rest now and again?