"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." – Maya Angelou

Working Harder Doesn't Guarantee Success in Life and Business

We have to learn to work smarter, faster and better, according to

Charles Duhigg


It’s one of the biggest buzz words of the 21st century: how to get more things done. It is intimately linked to finding more time. For many, working full-time is a constant battle to find a satisfactory work-life balance. Often we believe the solution to our inability to find more time and be more productive, is by working harder.

Perhaps it’s not the answer.

In Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winner, gives provocative answers to our modern day dilemma: how to become more productive, but less busy. This is a brief summary of his book.

Duhigg paints an entirely different picture of our day-to-day lives, governed by to-do-lists. He helps us understand, being more productive, depends to a large extent on the choices we make daily, without realizing it. It is possible to get more stuff done, and find more time, by learning to do things a little smarter, faster and better. There are secrets we can learn.

In order for us to distinguish between being merely busy with being truly productive, requires that we learn what influences the choices we make every day. Duhigg identified eight aspects that can benefit us in our quest to become more productive in life and in business.

1 | Motivation:

Motivation and self-motivation are skills, similar to reading and writing, that can be learned. However, a prerequisite for this to happen is the belief that we have a degree of autonomy. We have to believe that we have authority over our actions and surroundings, that we have some “control.” When people not only believe, but also get feedback that they indeed are in control, they work harder and push themselves more.

This is called the “internal locus of control”—the belief we could influence our destiny, the outcome, through choices we make. Once trainees understand the importance of choices they make, they can be “biased toward action.” They can learn the thrill of taking control of situations, of their actions. They learn not to simply obey orders but to think for themselves and figure things out. They learn to ask, “why?” and figure out the answers.

2 | Teams:

When trying to understand workplace happiness and productivity, the inherent function and coherence of teams, are crucial. It turns out, in happier workplaces, the “how” of teams, (how effective they work together), is more important than the “who,” (the personality types and skills of the individuals.)

For strong teams to develop, (more productive and happier workplaces), team members feel “safe.” They experience what is called, psychological safety. They experience a culture, free of punitive measures for sharing their ideas. Initiatives are encouraged. Among these strong (and well-functioning) teams, there is mutual respect, trust, members can be open and honest and they feel safe. Leaders encourage members to speak up.

Effective and productive workplaces, with strong and healthy teams, also make use of “collective intelligence.” This happens when teams come up with ways to take advantage of the strengths and skills of each team member. Each team member has a voice, has value, it’s a collective input—the team is not limited by the vision of only one, the leader or manager.

3 | Focus:

One way of being more productive every day is to envision your whole day, ahead of time. But, being overly focused on a single task, on what is directly in front of one, can also lead to “cognitive channeling.” This can happen when our brains are suddenly forced, during a period of relaxed automation, into panicked attention. It is when we lose critical perspective, gets critically stuck, and remain unable to rectify it.

This is what can happen in aviation, when pilots, flying on auto-pilot, are suddenly faced with a crisis—if they resort to cognitive channeling, it can lead to disaster. One way to prevent this from happening, is advanced situational awareness training and learning to build mental models—building mental pictures—envision the entire drill, and how to solve each occurrence.

Learn to visualize your next move. And your next. Develop the mindset of, “what if?” Then build a mental picture of the solution.

4 | Goals:

Many of us are familiar with the so-called SMART-goal system. These are objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and are linked to a timeline for completion. The SMART system enables one to break a goal into components and figuring out how to do it and then complete it. But it has its drawbacks. It can limit one to not “dreaming big,” when one remains fixed only on what is realistic and achievable.

What is needed in addition is “stretch goals.” This happens when we develop flexible mindsets. Indeed, the seemingly impossible can then be achieved when we learn to combine SMART goals with stretch goals. A big and seemingly impossible goal can be placed within reach by learning to discipline oneself in sticking to series of short-term SMART goals.

5 | Managing others:

For any company or workplace to be healthy, happy and productive, an atmosphere of trust needs to be created (and exist), between everybody on site (top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, and side-to-side.) Things eventually fall apart unless people trust one another. A workplace culture of trust and respect is paramount.

When workers are encouraged to take initiatives, to think for themselves, when they are respected, and experience psychological safety, they will work better together as teams, will work harder and the workplace and company will benefit. Collaboration is constantly encouraged.

“What is the point of hiring (appointing) smart people, if you don’t empower them to fix what’s broken, if you don’t evaluate each one’s input?” The culture must indeed be created in which anyone can, and indeed must, stop the “production line” or “care process,” when they feel something is not right. Take the Toyota assembly plant(s) as an example.

6 | Decisions:

Many of the decisions we make are attempts to forecast the future. Probabilistic thinking is teaching people to anticipate an outcome, not as what is going to happen, but rather a series of possibilities of what may happen. Like a poker player, one can learn to determine the odds of each outcome coming true. The future isn’t “one thing.” It is often a multitude of possibilities.

By learning to think probabilistically about the future, one will learn to think things through better, which brings more perspective. It is vital to learn from past failures—one should study them and chose to make improvements. The biggest failure is to not learn from past failures.

7 | Innovation:

Being creative stems from many sources. Creativity may be more in the foreground in the arts and entertainment industry, but it applies to all walks of life. Much of what is found in any new manuscript, has already been stated in one form or another, through the ages. The challenge then is to come forward with fresh and new ways of expressing the every day, the ordinary, but also the exceptional. In order to succeed at this, the author (the creator), has to go deeper to find real emotions, be willing to become vulnerable even.

Only then, when the reader (the audience) can root for the characters, will the piece succeed. Only by pushing people to dig deeper, called “creative desperation,” can true beauty be found, can it be created. One has to learn to shake things up. The essence of the creative process is to see old ideas in new ways.

8 | Absorbing Data:

We live in an era of information overload. On a daily basis are we bombarded with facts, with figures, with data—some crucial, some less so. Then at a certain point, our ability to take in any more information leads to “information blindness,” because it is too much.

One way of solving this dilemma is by learning to break the information into smaller, more digestible bits, similar to putting it in “folders.” By putting a system in place that reframes mega-information, and breaks it down into new, and less intimidating questions, can one slow the overload of information down. It will give one time to think, and process it more clearly.

We will then learn: any problem can be worked through—step-by-step.

I cannot do justice in this short article to Charles Duhigg’s book: Smarter Faster Better. Do yourself the favor and read the entire book. You can find it here. You will also enjoy his previous book: The Power of Habit. You can also connect with him on Twitter.

Being productive is more than being busy—it’s about finding more time, by realizing our day-to-day choices do shape our destiny. We have indeed much influence over what happens to us.

© 2016 All rights reserved.

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