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2nd May, 2016

Charles Duhigg's 'Smarter Faster Better'

As a reader of the, in my opinion, excellent book Habits, the news that writer Charles Duhigg released a new book did not escape me. This time the seemingly elusive concept of 'productivity' would be subject. As I, like everybody, often feel my productivity could be better, I was intrigued by the book and its subject.

In his book, Duhigg doesn't claim to deliver a simple recipe for productivity success, but has, through conducting and reading countless interviews, papers and books, distilled eight factors that together lead to true productivity. Safe for an addendum with real-life examples of Duhigg applying the eight factors in situations surrounding the writing of the book itself, the mental work of finding actionable insights and applying the principles to ones daily work is mostly left to the reader.

The book follows a familiar path to those who have read Habits: eight chapters, each centered around one of the factors, each containing multiple stories about people that, consciously or unconsciously, were thrown into a perilous situation and either did or did not apply the learning central to the chapter. Of course, those subjects that ended up ignoring the advice would quickly find their situation deteriorating even more, highlighting further the importance of said principle.

The format worked wonders in habits, alternating between somewhat dryer scientific evidence and dramatized recounts of actual events. It also works in Smarter, Better, Faster - but less so. About fifty pages in I started feeling the balance was a bit off: I couldn't shake the feeling that a lack of scientific evidence is being covered up with an abundance of loosely related stories. And while I understand that the book never claims to be a solution or guide, it does feel like a lot of the stories are more descriptive than instructive.

Don't get me wrong: there are a lot of nuggets of wisdom buried in the book. Duhigg is a great writer, and the stories themselves are engaging in their own right. For me, though, Habits was more actionable, and ultimately a better read.