Smarter Faster Better, by Charles Duhigg

Smarter Faster Better cover

“Charles Duhigg believes it takes more than technology and to-do lists to be productive, as he explains in his new book, ‘Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.'”

– CBS News

I just finished reading Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. I love reading studies and anecdotes about why people do things, so I found Smarter Faster Better fascinating on that level, but the book also includes tips for improving our lives.

“Make a chore into a meaningful decision, and self-motivation will emerge.”

– Charles Duhigg

Want to simplify your life but need motivation to begin decluttering or creating new habits? Duhigg suggests we’ll be more likely to begin if we reframe tasks as choices and choose a first step that makes us feel in control. We should also remind ourselves how the task at hand affirms our values.

For instance, you might tell yourself, “I have to clean the garage out this weekend. It’s a disaster.” Not very motivating, is it?

But what if you instead think, “I want to spend more time with my children and less time looking for things on the garage shelving. On Saturday morning, I’ll spend three hours finding items to donate, then drop those off before lunch.”?

This not only reminds you why you want to clean out the garage, but provides a measure of control and a limited time frame, so the project seems less overwhelming.

“The reason why we need both stretch goals and SMART goals is that audaciousness, on its own, can be terrifying.”

– Charles Duhigg

We’ve all heard of SMART goals, but according to Duhigg, these alone tend not to work very well. Like me, many people enjoying ticking off what they’ve done, and researchers have found that people with SMART goals tend to “get into this mindset where crossing things off your to-do list becomes more important than asking yourself if you’re doing the right things.”

To keep ourselves on track, we need both SMART goals and stretch goals. Start with your stretch goal, an ambition that reflects your biggest aspirations. Maybe “[spouse] and I will both go from working full-time to working half-time.”

This will be your main goal, but then you’ll need to develop sub-goals, and that’s where the SMART process can help.

In my example, you’ll decide what you need to do to achieve your stretch goal. Perhaps one of your sub-goals will be to move to a smaller home where you have easy access to public transportation, to reduce housing costs and allow you to be carless. Here’s where you use your SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals.

For instance, you might say, “When our lease is up in October, move to one-bedroom apartment within 5 miles of each of our offices and within three blocks of a bus stop, with rent of no more than $800/month.” This sub-goal will require smaller to-dos of course, such as notifying your landlord you’re leaving, looking for a new apartment, packing, renting a moving truck, etc.

“We’ve been staring at the tools of productivity – the gadgets and apps and complicated filings systems for keeping track of various to-do lists – rather than the lessons those technologies are trying to teach us.”

– Charles Duhigg

If you’re looking for a traditional “self-help” book, Smarter Faster Better isn’t it. Duhigg is a journalist, and the book includes many fascinating anecdotes and descriptions of research, but doesn’t give a lot of detail about how we as individuals should change.

I enjoyed it, however, and found much of the information helpful. In addition to covering goals and motivation, Duhigg discusses the topics of teams, focus, managing others, decision-making, innovation and absorbing data. This is popular book, so it’s likely you’ll be able to find it at your local library.