Elements of Productivity: Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg


Defined as “the average measure of the efficiency of production, productivity is clearly something we all want to increase. Hopefully this review sheds some light on how to do so on a day-to-day basis.

Productivity: Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

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The book I’m reviewing this week is Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being More Productive in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. The author is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the New York Times and author of the New York Time’s Best Seller, The Power of Habit, which spent over 60 weeks on the heralded list. In his new book, Duhigg sets forth a variety of elements that can increase productivity in your life and profession. Evoking an anecdotal-model, Duhigg looks at numerous accounts throughout history—ranging from a narrative about the Yom Kippur War in Israel to the factual background behind the Disney hit “Frozen”—to illustrate eight separate principles that can help boost productivity tremendously. Since finishing the book, I have incorporated several of these principles in my work and habits, and can personally attest to the validity of the concepts explicated in this book.

Here are the eight areas which provide the context for Duhigg’s principles: (1) Motivation; (2) Teams; (3) Focus; (4) Goal Setting; (5) Managing Other; (6) Decision Making; (7) Innovation; and (8) Absorbing Data.

I think it’s worth mentioning that the readability of this book is extremely high. The anecdotes providing the background for the principles are engaging, easy-to-follow, and relevant, so that the pages keep turning. But the book also contains a scientific-empirical aspect with stimulating concepts. For instance, the inclusion of Bayes’ Theorem[1] and the applicability of that statistical law to every-day decision-making is exemplary of advanced concepts Duhigg evokes to illustrate his principles of productivity.

But such theoretical concepts don’t obscure the absorbable nature of the underlying principles Duhigg advocates. For an example illustrating the nature of Duhigg’s pedagogy, let’s look at the first chapter on Motivation. First, Duhigg cogently states the key principle: The first step in creating motivation is to give individual the opportunity to make choices that provide them with a sense of autonomy and self-determination. Then, he suggests how one might implement this principle into their work more easily, which would be to learn to see our choices not merely as expressions of our control but also affirmations of our values and goals. This latter portion has the effect endowing our actions with larger meaning and providing fuel for our desire to take action; hence, employing this mind-set helps spur motivation. I can’t do the principle complete justice, as the book is undoubtedly more persuasive—by using research and other examples—in explaining why you should think about increasing motivation this way, but hopefully you get the picture.

The other chapters explain the essential principles in a similar fashion and Duhigg is exceedingly persuasive throughout. The combination of entertaining stories—i.e., how the comedians of Saturday Night Live and its creator Lorne Michaels are an archetype of a successful Business Team— and thoroughness of research involved in writing this book is indeed laudable. Duhigg explored many relevant scientific studies and condenses the findings into a readable form. I think this is a reflection of the duel-threat skills Duhigg embodies as a successful novel writer (The Power of Habit) and world-class reporter.

At bottom, Smarter, Faster, Better delivers in doing exactly what the title suggests, all while providing entertaining stories to illustrate the vital principles. The strength of this book is not only in the concise statements of principles that will make you more Productive, but also the easy-follow methodology of how incorporate those principles in your professional or personal life. Whether you need help focusing, making better decisions, or stimulating creativity, Duhigg’s book will provide the immediate value you need.

I also am providing an outline I created setting forth the most salient points within each chapter. While I’ve identified the key concepts in the outline and that in it of itself may be sufficient to understand important aspects of the book, the real strength lies in the anecdotal method Duhigg employs—i.e., the utilization of various real-life stories to set the stage for the fundamental principles of the book. My brief overview is a good starting point, but should not be an end in itself.


For more information on the book: Smarter, Faster, Better

[1] Bayes’ theorem describes the probability of an event, depending on the happening of conditions related to the event. The core principle is this: Even if we don’t have much data on making a decision, we still have the ability to estimate the future by making assumptions and then skewing them depending on our observations of the world.