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"Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business" by Charles Duhigg

Explore key productivity insights from "Smarter Faster Better" by Charles Duhigg and learn how to work smarter.
"Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business" by Charles Duhigg

"Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business" by Charles Duhigg is a compelling exploration of the science behind productivity. The book delves into various real-world scenarios and stories to illustrate how individuals and companies can achieve more by focusing on how to think differently rather than what to think. Duhigg emphasizes the importance of making smarter decisions, motivating oneself, and managing how one thinks to significantly enhance productivity.


The Role of Autonomy in Motivation

Duhigg begins by exploring the concept of motivation, specifically how autonomy—or the feeling of control over our actions—can significantly increase both personal and professional productivity. This idea is supported by research showing that when individuals choose their tasks, set their own schedules, or have a say in how work is done, their motivation to complete tasks increases. This has profound implications for management: empowering employees rather than micromanaging can lead to a more motivated, and thereby more productive, workforce.

The Power of Team Dynamics

One of the most compelling parts of Duhigg's narrative is his examination of team dynamics. He uses Google's Project Aristotle as a case study to illustrate that the most successful teams are not those with the most top-tier members but those that exhibit high levels of psychological safety—a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. This segment underscores the importance of creating an environment where team members feel respected and valued, which in turn fosters creativity and innovation.

Cognitive Tunneling and the Focus Model

Duhigg discusses "cognitive tunneling" — a mental glitch that occurs when individuals become overly focused on the task at hand and lose sight of the bigger picture. To counteract this, he suggests maintaining situational awareness and building mental models to stay prepared for unexpected changes. This approach to focus and preparation not only enhances individual productivity but also helps in managing complex situations in high-pressure environments, such as air traffic control or emergency response.

The Dual Nature of Goal Setting

The dual process of setting stretch goals accompanied by SMART goals is highlighted as a powerful method for achieving high-level objectives. Stretch goals help push boundaries and inspire big thinking, while SMART goals help to operationalize these larger ambitions into manageable tasks. This dual nature helps maintain momentum and ensures continual progress towards significant achievements, making it a critical strategy for businesses and individuals alike.

SMART goals explained

In Charles Duhigg’s “Smarter Faster Better,” the concept of SMART goals plays a crucial role within the broader context of setting effective and achievable goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, each of which forms a fundamental aspect of goal-setting that enhances productivity and focus.

Specific: A goal should be clear and specific, which helps to focus efforts and clearly define what is to be achieved. For example, instead of setting a goal to "increase sales," a specific goal would be "increase sales by 10% in the next quarter."

Measurable: Goals should have criteria for measuring progress. By making a goal measurable, one can stay on track, reach target dates, and experience the excitement of achievement that motivates ongoing effort. Continuing from the example above, the 10% increase is a quantifiable target that allows for tracking of sales figures to assess progress.

Achievable: The goal should be realistically attainable given available resources and time. An achievable goal helps avoid setting oneself up for failure. Setting an impractical goal can be demotivating due to the impossibility of achieving it. For instance, aiming for a 10% increase is achievable with a solid marketing strategy and additional resources; in contrast, setting a goal for a 100% increase within the same period might not be realistic.

Relevant: This stipulates that the goal must matter to the person or organization setting it, align with other relevant goals, and ideally move you or the organization forward in a specific area. A relevant goal can answer yes to questions such as "Does this seem worthwhile?" or "Is this the right time?" In the case of increasing sales, it's relevant if the business’s survival or expansion depends on increased revenue.

Time-bound: Every goal should have a time frame, including a target date. A deadline can provide a sense of urgency and prompt a commitment to finishing the task. It prevents goals from being overtaken by the day-to-day crises that invariably arise in an organization. In our example, the next quarter acts as the time limit.

In his narrative, Duhigg emphasizes that by breaking down larger, more ambitious goals (often referred to as stretch goals) into smaller, SMART goals, individuals and organizations can create a step-by-step plan that outlines exactly what needs to be achieved along the way to reaching larger objectives. This methodology not only makes distant or difficult aims seem more attainable but also enhances motivation as smaller successes are celebrated along the path to larger achievements. Thus, SMART goals act as the actionable steps that individuals and teams can follow, ensuring that they are consistently making progress in a structured and predictable way.

Leveraging Data to Inform Decisions

Duhigg's emphasis on the role of data in decision-making is particularly relevant in the digital age. He demonstrates how data can be used not just for tracking metrics but for storytelling—helping to predict outcomes and explain complex scenarios. This approach to data enhances decision-making and strategic planning by providing a clearer understanding of what actions lead to which outcomes.

The Balance of Innovation and Absorbing Failure

Finally, Duhigg addresses how organizations and individuals can become better at innovation by learning to embrace and learn from failures. He posits that the most productive people and organizations are those that scrutinize their failures to find the lessons within, rather than simply moving past them. This iterative process of testing, failing, learning, and adapting is the cornerstone of a productive approach to both business and personal growth.


"Smarter Faster Better" doesn't just provide tools and techniques for improving productivity; it offers a philosophical shift towards understanding the underlying mechanisms that drive effective actions. Duhigg's exploration into the interplay between autonomy, team dynamics, focus, goal setting, data use, and the acceptance of failure provides a holistic view of what it means to be productive in the contemporary world. This analysis not only enriches the reader's understanding of productivity but also encourages a reevaluation of how to best achieve efficiency and effectiveness in all aspects of life.

Key Takeaways and Insights

🌟 Choice is Power: Encourage autonomy in decision-making to boost motivation.
🚀 The Importance of 'Why': Understanding the purpose behind actions can galvanize a team.
🧭 Maintain Perspective: Keep sight of overarching goals to guide focus.
🎯 Set SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals direct effective action.
Manage Attention: Avoid multitasking and prioritize tasks that require focused thinking.
🔄 Feedback Loops: Regular feedback can accelerate improvement and learning.
🔍 Data as a Storyteller: Use data to narrate what's happening and predict future outcomes.
🧠 Mental Models: Build internal narratives to prepare for potential scenarios.
👥 Team Dynamics Matter: Successful teams have psychological safety and diverse, engaged members.
Absorb Useful Failures: Learn from mistakes to prevent future ones and refine processes.


This book is particularly beneficial for business leaders, managers, and individuals seeking to enhance their personal productivity and organizational efficiency. It is also invaluable for anyone interested in behavioral science and its application in real-life scenarios.

Alternative Books

  1. "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World" by Cal Newport - focuses on the benefits of deep work versus shallow tasks.
  2. "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" also by Charles Duhigg - explores how habits are formed and changed.
  3. "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" by Greg McKeown - advocates for a systematic discipline to focus on what is essential.
  4. "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" by Daniel H. Pink - looks at the transformational power of intrinsic motivation.
  5. "Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones" by James Clear - provides strategies for habit formation.
About the author


Decoge is a tech enthusiast with a keen eye for the latest in technology and digital tools, writing reviews and tutorials that are not only informative but also accessible to a broad audience.

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