Angela Merkel: Redefining Your Problem

30.01.2019 |

Episode #7 of the course Productivity hacks: Lessons from top leaders and billionaires by John Robin


Welcome to Day 7!

You might be familiar with Angela Merkel. She’s been the Chancellor of Germany for 13 years and is considered by many the de facto leader of the European Union.

What’s more amazing is that before she stepped onto the world stage to become arguably one of the most powerful women in the world, she was an academic. In 1986, her sights were set on her career as a researching quantum chemist.

Then, in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and political revolution swept through Germany.

Merkel’s professional life was deeply impacted at this point by the political climate, making it incredibly difficult for her to leverage her way into a long-term professorship without having to lead a double life. She was even asked to spy on a colleague, due to the political corruption infiltrating the university where she began.

This leads us to Merkel’s secret, one quality that allowed her to rise far above her problems of the time to become what she is now.


Beginning with the End Objective: Problem Solving at Its Core

Sometimes, we are stuck inside a problem. Often, the only way to escape is to step outside the problem and solve that larger problem. In doing so, you realize that the smaller problem you were trying to solve was meaningless.

Angela Merkel wanted to be a professor with a long-term career. But deeper down, she wanted to have a satisfying life. Looking back at the core traits that have driven her, Merkel has identified her urge “to advance and solve problems, even if it is only a few centimeters.”

In considering how to improve her job, she looked at that problem from the highest point. This led her to participate in political reform after the fall of the Berlin Wall, where her skills soon won her recognition and advancements in leadership that eventually led to her election as German Chancellor in 2005.

She’s not a quantum chemist anymore, but solving the bigger problem has led her to be something much more important.

The science behind how she works is simple: It’s the science of how to solve a problem.

You might recall this from high school in the problem-solving unit. The first step to solving a problem is always to start at the end. Let’s use an example.

Yesterday, we talked about how to waste less time and get your work day done faster. For everyone, myself included, this is a very hard problem to solve.

The immediate instinct is to act without thinking and hope the answer presents itself.

When trying to structure your time, you might find the following common problems:

• keep getting interrupted

• can’t stay focused

• not getting enough work done

You can keep struggling with this, or you can approach the end objective like Angela Merkel:

• What changes (however big) will make this work?


• Write down all your meetings on a calendar, then circle the ones that aren’t necessary. Eliminate them.

• Set boundaries when you work so you don’t get interrupted.

• Adjust how you measure your SMART goals so they fit within the bounds of what you can get done in 30 hours/week.

Sometimes the answer requires big change. I know people who have quit their jobs or radically refocused their businesses to solve this kind of problem.

The key point is, when making such a choice, it’s based not only on science but also on the success models of those who have made it to be billionaires or world leaders.



No matter where you are in your life and your career, you have the power to make big choices that can radically redefine you and get you closer to the results that will have the most meaning for your life.

Use your 30-hour work week challenge from yesterday. Assess what went wrong. Think about what big things would have to change to make it work. You can apply this to everything we’ve learned so far:

• how you can spend more time on your top five priorities

• how you can sleep over eight hours/night

• how you can connect your work to inner meaning

And on the topic of big changes that yield big results, tomorrow, we’ll explore reading: the habit that many neglect and why it is the one habit that can make all the difference.


Recommended book

First Things First by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill


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