How to be Smarter Faster Better at Work and Life

Genuine Productivity Hinges on Improving Your Decision-making Ability

Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg Best Business Books 2

When I first read the subtitle of Charles Duhigg’s new book, Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, I was pretty skeptical—do we really need another productivity book? Hasn’t everything about productivity already been said or written about a thousand times before? What new insights could this gifted storyteller possibly bring to the table?

Plenty, it turns out.

From startling neurological discoveries about what motivates us, to how the Marine Corps prepares its recruits for the uncertainty of war; from how Google and Saturday Night Live create effective teams, to the implications of the tragic demise of Air France Flight 447; there are productivity insights galore in Duhigg’s carefully woven tapestry of riveting stories.

The key to productivity, Duhigg argues, is not about imposing strict order and efficiency in our lives, nor is it merely about specific tactics or time-saving techniques. What Duhigg wants you to know about productivity is that the most prolific and productive people on the planet have a habit of engaging in higher order thinking and have developed an ability to make every day count by making smarter decisions.

You can too, by following 8 key insights which Duhigg lays out in his usual engaging and actionable way.

Duhigg’s discussion of mental models and probabilistic thinking are particularly fascinating and immediately useful (at least for me).

About the importance of mental models he writes:

“To become genuinely productive, we must take control of our attention; we must build mental models that put us firmly in charge. When you’re driving to work, force yourself to envision your day. While you’re sitting in a meeting or at lunch, describe to yourself what you’re seeing and what it means. Find people to hear your theories and challenge them. Get in the pattern of forcing yourself to anticipate what’s next.”

Probabilistic thinking takes your ability to anticipate what’s next even further and is presented as a great way to make better decisions. By developing the ability to anticipate multiple futures or outcomes, and placing a probability on each, you can make significantly better decisions, according to Duhigg.

About this, he writes:

…we must force ourselves to envision various futures—to hold contradictory scenarios in our minds simultaneously—and then expose ourselves to a wide spectrum of successes and failures to develop an intuition about which forecasts are more or less likely to come true.

What I admire most about Duhigg’s writing—aside from his story-telling prowess and ability to translate complex and confusing subject matter into simple and actionable ideas—is his transparency and down-to-earth reporting style. He is not a productivity God descending from the heavens to impart his vast wisdom to the clueless masses. He’s one of us. A person who struggles with juggling multiple responsibilities as a reporter, author, father, husband, son, and more.

The only difference is that he knows how to ask really good questions and he knows how to go out into the world to find the answers for us. How lucky are we?

Smarter Faster Better is a worthy follow-up to The Power of Habit and deserves your attention. That is, if you want to double, maybe even triple, your productivity—and the productivity of your teams and organizations.