probably the most useful book I read during this project

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

The Power of Habit by the same author was amazing and this is the same – well-written, useful and has great stories.

The book is about being productive and each chapter has a different focus.

This is probably the most useful book I read during this project.


Motivation is a skill. We can learn to be more motivated.

To motivate our ourselves, we must feel like we have control over our actions and surroundings. Application: e.g. when you are procrastinating over a reply to a meeting invite as you do not want to go, write that you have only 20 minutes for the meeting and will have to leave after that. Application: when you are facilitating a workshop or meeting, give people choices to make them feel good, it could even be choices for drinks or snacks. Think of giving people choices or making them feel empowered when working with them.

Make chores meaningful. The Marines always ask each other why they are doing what they are doing. Despite the fact they have very low salaries, their career satisfaction rates are one of the highest. Affirming people of their values and goals is a great source of motivation. Application: when tasked with something difficult, remind yourself why you are doing it. Do it by writing it down, for example, on your child’s photograph, why you need to start saving money.


Google wanted to know what makes teams efficient. They conducted a study called Project Aristotle and this is what they found: HOW teams work is more important than who is on them. The most important thing for teams to work well is psychological safety. It means team members feel safe to speak up and that they have a voice. And team members are sensitive to how one another feels. Application: team leaders are crucial to modelling psychological safety – don’t interrupt; admit that they don’t know; encourage every member to speak up; encourage team members to respond in nonjudgmental ways and resolve conflicts through open discussion.


People who know what to focus on and what to ignore are very good at creating pictures in their minds on what they expect to see. i.e. they create robust mental models. “These people tell themselves stories about what’s going on as it occurs. They narrate their own experiences within their heads. They are more likely to answer questions with anecdotes rather than simple responses. They say when they daydream, they’re often imagining future conversations. They visualize their days with more specificity than the rest of us do.”

A study on top performers in a firm found that: “They loved to generate theories—lots and lots of theories, about all kinds of topics, such as why certain accounts were succeeding or failing, or why some clients were happy or disgruntled, or how different management styles influenced various employees. They were somewhat obsessive, in fact, about trying to explain the world to themselves and their colleagues as they went about their days.”

Application: tell yourself stories and paint vivid pictures in your head so that your mind knows the important things to focus on. When you go see a client, imagine the conversations that will take place, the difficult questions that you have to answer and the answers that you need to give.

Goal setting

I think many people know about SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timeline) goals. They are very useful but they do not address how correct or ambitious the goals are. In order words, people can be obsessed about the wrong goals even though they may be SMART.

This is where Stretch goals come in the picture. Stretch goals are ambitious and audacious goals that promote new ways of thinking. A huge Stretch goal can be broken down into proximal goals which can be tackled using the SMART methodology.

Application: don’t just have SMART goals, have a Stretch goal to make sure you are focused on the right thing.

Managing others

A 15 year study on 200 Silicon Valley technology firms found that firms that had a commitment culture were the most successful – none of them failed, were the fastest to go public, had the highest profitability rates. These firms were more hesitant in layoffs, spent more on HR, spent more resources on getting culture right and had values that prioritise slow and steady growth.

The Toyota Production System inspired the Agile methodology and both demonstrate the importance of pushing decision making to the person closest to the problem. People managed and organised themselves. They knew mistakes wouldn’t be held against them and they trusted one another.

Application: if I build a company, I must build a culture of trust.

Decision making

“training in how to think probabilistically—significantly increased people’s abilities to forecast the future.” We must envision various futures.

We can make good predictions even with very little information but we must start with the right assumptions.

We pay too much attention to success, not enough to failures.



Application: I need to study probability.


New ideas and products are often built on combining existing ones in unusual combinations. “Historians have noted that most of Thomas Edison’s inventions were the result of importing ideas from one area of science into another. Edison and his colleagues “used their knowledge of electromagnetic power from the telegraph industry, where they first worked, to transfer old ideas [to the industries of] lighting, telephone, phonograph, railway and mining.”

“Creativity is just connecting things,” Apple cofounder Steve Jobs said in 1996. “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

If you want to be more creative, “be sensitive to your own experiences. Pay attention to how things make you think and feel. That’s how we distinguish clichés from true insights. As Steve Jobs put it, the best designers are those who “have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

Application: pay attention to my feelings by writing them down to generate insights.

Absorbing data

Our brain craves easy answers. To prevent that from happening, use a formal decision-making system “such as a flowchart, a prescribed series of questions, or the engineering design process”. This forces us to slow down and to consider alternatives.

“When we encounter new information and want to learn from it, we should force ourselves to do something with the data. It’s not enough for your bathroom scale to send daily updates to an app on your phone. If you want to lose weight, force yourself to plot those measurements on graph paper and you’ll be more likely to choose a salad over a hamburger at lunch. If you read a book filled with new ideas, force yourself to put it down and explain the concepts to someone sitting next to you and you’ll be more likely to apply them in your life. When you find a new piece of information, force yourself to engage with it, to use it in an experiment or describe it to a friend—and then you will start building the mental folders that are at the core of learning.”

Application: I need to force myself to do something with data – sharing it is probably the most useful.


I’m inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s annual projects and decided to have one of my own. Read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. Subscribe to my newsletter.

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