Book Freak #29: How To Be More Productive
How To Be More Productive
Book Freak is a weekly newsletter with cognitive tools you can use to improve the quality of your life.
This week, I’m presenting advice from Charles Duhigg’s book, Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity. Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter for The New York Times.
Narrate your life as you live it
“If you want to make yourself more sensitive to the small details in your work, cultivate a habit of imagining, as specifically as possible, what you expect to see and do when you get to your desk. Then you’ll be prone to notice the tiny ways in which real life deviates from the narrative inside your head. If you want to become better at listening to your children, tell yourself stories about what they said to you at dinnertime last night. Narrate your life, as you are living it, and you’ll encode those experiences deeper in your brain. If you need to improve your focus and learn to avoid distractions, take a moment to visualize, with as much detail as possible, what you are about to do. It is easier to know what’s ahead when there’s a well-rounded script inside your head.”
Before starting anything new, ask yourself “why”
“When we start a new task, or confront an unpleasant chore, we should take a moment to ask ourselves “why.”
Build a habit of anticipating what’s next
“To become genuinely productive, we must take control of our attention; we must build mental models that put us firmly in charge. When you’re driving to work, force yourself to envision your day. While you’re sitting in a meeting or at lunch, describe to yourself what you’re seeing and what it means. Find other people to hear your theories and challenge them. Get in a pattern of forcing yourself to anticipate what’s next.”
Build mental models that put you in charge
“We may not recognize how situations within our own lives are similar to what happens within an airplane cockpit. But think, for a moment, about the pressures you face each day. If you are in a meeting and the CEO suddenly asks you for an opinion, your mind is likely to snap from passive listening to active involvement—and if you’re not careful, a cognitive tunnel might prompt you to say something you regret. If you are juggling multiple conversations and tasks at once and an important email arrives, reactive thinking can cause you to type a reply before you’ve really thought out what you want to say. So what’s the solution? If you want to do a better job of paying attention to what really matters, of not getting overwhelmed and distracted by the constant flow of emails and conversations and interruptions that are part of every day, of knowing where to focus and what to ignore, get into the habit of telling yourself stories. Narrate your life as it’s occurring, and then when your boss suddenly asks a question or an urgent note arrives and you have only minutes to reply, the spotlight inside your head will be ready to shine the right way. To become genuinely productive, we must take control of our attention; we must build mental models that put us firmly in charge. When you’re driving to work, force yourself to envision your day. While you’re sitting in a meeting or at lunch, describe to yourself what you’re seeing and what it means. Find other people to hear your theories and challenge them. Get in a pattern of forcing yourself to anticipate what’s next. If you are a parent, anticipate what your children will say at the dinner table. Then you’ll notice what goes unmentioned or if there’s a stray comment that you should see as a warning sign.”