Since August I’ve been teaching full time and working on my master’s degree at night, which has sometimes made me feel as if I have one too many things on my to-do list. I’ve been feeling less than productive for the last few weeks, so one night I started to listen to a podcast about being more productive. The podcast was basically an abbreviated version of the book Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg, so midway through the podcast I turned it off and downloaded the audio version of the book.
It turns out that I have a surprisingly complicated connection to this book. Last year, one of my professors recommended Duhigg’s other book, The Power of Habit. I downloaded the audio version of that book as well, but I never finished it. You might think that since Smarter Faster Better was written last, it is a sequel to The Power of Habit. I don’t think that’s the case though; I’m glad I read the second book first. I’m planning to go back now and finish The Power of Habit, since I think it will be a great follow-up to Smarter Faster Better.
In this book, Duhigg, a reporter by trade, writes about productivity–what it is and how to maintain it. He tells us about his interviews with hundreds of influential people who are incredibly productive. These people include airline pilots who have successfully avoided potentially catastrophic crashes, the team behind Disney’s blockbuster movie Frozen, and teachers from districts that were able to completely revitalize their education programs. He summarizes his findings into eight key components of productivity. I’ve listed them here. They’re a little out of order, but you get the idea!
- Goal Setting
- Decision Making
- Absorbing Data
- Managing Others
Within each of these overarching topics, Duhigg shares practical tips and real-life examples of putting these ideas into practice. Some of my favorites were learning to think probabilistically, and tips for creating decision-making systems like flowcharts and pro/con lists. I’m excited to try some of strategies in the book like making mental models of situations, setting stretch goals for myself, and working through problems step-by-step.
One of the most interesting ideas that can be found in different chapters of Duhigg’s book is the idea of disfluency. This is when we take information that we have learned and we make it slightly more difficult to digest. One example might be taking notes by hand instead of on a computer during class. The act of listening and writing by hand requires more focus and can lead to better test results simply because you’ve had to transcribe the material instead of just typing it out rapidly. Another example would be forcing yourself to take something you’ve read and write about it or put it into some other medium so that others can understand it. (I knew there was some subconscious reason I started a blog!)
The whole idea behind disfluency is that if you have to work harder to understand something, that concept will stick with you longer, and you’ll be more likely to put it into practice. The more you have to wrestle with information or data, the more likely you are to learn it and apply it. I’m glad to finally have a term for this–I’ve written before about why we should read difficult books, but now I have science that backs me up!! This is my biggest takeaway from the book, and it’s something I plan on using in my personal life and in my classroom.
Now that I’ve made it through this audiobook, I can’t wait to move on to The Power of Habit to try and put even more of these tips for productivity into practice!