Smarter, Faster, Better Notes

duhigg book coverDuhigg on Productivity

I found “The Power of Habit” was immensely useful. When Charles Duhigg therefore announced his next book, I was eager to find out what it was all about.

Smarter, Faster Better, in my opinion, is just as useful. Despite the completeness of these notes, a summary of this book will give you less than 10% the value of it’s unabridged version, for reasons you will see at the end of this post, in the summary review.

Duhigg presents eight components he draws from folks who have learned how to master productivity in the while taking advantage of modern technology. He point out that such advantages can’t be taken for granted, because the technology has actually made a negative impact on overall productivity for too many of us.


Develop a bias towards an internal locus of control, which is a learned skill. Take control of your choices, even if you can only do so in your own mind at first when faced with important tasks you are not motivated to carry out in the moment.

This can take the simple form of framing the task in the form of a question biased towards action-taking. The question most often recalls big reasons behind wanting to accomplish the task.

Another way of looking at this is to translate chores in your self-talk, into meaningful decisions. It presents self-motivating statements to the mind.


  • Build Commitment Cultures in teams and companies. Commitment cultures demonstrate the company’s willingness to invest in the long-term well-being of it’s employees, rather than immediate profit. eliminate disloyalty and flight of intellectual property. this is often overlooked in assessing business failure.
  • Highly productive teams do not depend on the caliber of their members. Team productivity is most often a function of the way the team operates. Culture is more important than personnel.  Google discovered that how teams work is more important than who is in those teams.
  • The most important feature of productive culture is psychological safety, best modeled by the team leader.
  • Psychological safety  encompasses getting others to speak, express emotions without fear of judgement, never interrupting, admitting it when something is unknown, an environment where emotional displays are encouraged, tracking inter-group conflicts and tackling them head-on with open discussion.


Maintain focus using mental models


Embrace both ambitious (stretch-goals) and small objectives (S-M-A-R-T)-goals), as these both have strengths ignored by the other.


  • Envision the future as multiple possibilities, sometimes diametrically opposite (not just wishful thinking or dreaming)
  • Evaluate future possibilities based on mathematical probability.
  • Develop a high tolerance (even get comfortable with) doubt or uncertainty, instead of trying to equate clarity with arriving at an outcome that is 100% certain.


Being consistently innovative is something anyone can improve upon.

  1. Practice awareness of your own emotions, your own reactions to things. Develop a habit of mentally archiving your experiences through this lens, then accessing that archive as fodder for employing creativity as an import-export business.
  2. Become an innovation-broker by combining concepts from different disciplines, groups or principles. Challenge creative complacency and make the familiar unique and bring old ideas into new settings
  3. To be creative in the moment, take the necessary time to draw on all these pieces. Put them together, but don’t commit too fully. Be willing to disrupt parts that don’t work, and synthesizing others that do.
  4. This is no step-by-step formula. It’s just creating conditions for natural creativity to flow. Embrace the pain, messiness and inherent fear of the process.

Absorbing Data

Via smart phones, websites, apps and digital databases, the information age gives us instant  access to all the information we need for better decision-making. At the same time, it has introduced the overwhelm problem. The human brain wasn’t designed to handle this kind of overload. Without a plan of attack the overwhelm problem triggers negative outcomes.

Duhigg introduces us to the broader concept of overwhelm,and offers a framework for approaching the best use of data for modern living. We must learn to interact more intimately with the data, take the time to decipher what it actually means, and tease out wise binary choices that the human brain is better of processing.

Summary Review

Duhigg’s anecdotes makes his books more suitable for binge-reading. I would have found it difficult to finish had I not listened to most of it during the holidays. If you tend to read, as many do, in small bites, you may find those anecdotes frustrating, because he takes his time developing them and making his points. Some would say too much time.

But don’t underestimate the impact of those stories. If you read productivity books for their practical application, this book stands tall among many others I’ve read because Duhigg promises to give us the principles that he’s found to be universal. His eight strategies are based on human psychological truths that have been researched scientifically. This was important to me because productivity tactics that apply to certain personality types are relatively useless for others. I’ve forgotten or dismissed more of THOSE than I care to admit.

But principles are necessarily understood from a high-level view, which makes them difficult to translate into every-day action unless you take the time to reflect on them. It’s at that point that the anecdotes become extremely powerful. Nothing sticks in the human psyche better than a story. Without the story, reflection lacks an important marker on which to hang the principle in our minds.

I would therefore caution you to put the book down if you find yourself getting impatient with the anecdotes, and pick it back up again when you can read in leisure.

Paired with his previous book on habit-formation, deep reflection of Duhigg’s eight insights should empower you, regardless of your personality, to come up with significant productivity gains.

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