Smarter Faster Better book review and summary







September 7, 2021

The Secrets of Being Productive

Author: Charles Duhigg
Genre: nonfiction; productivity, management
Rating: 2/5

In one sentence: does not do as advertised; more about management and team collaboration than about (personal) productivity.

This title requires some personal context before getting into the actual summary:

  • I loved Charles Duhigg’s previous book, The Power of Habit.
  • I’ve been extremely interested in (personal) productivity since 2007 and am currently involved in a startup that’s (partially) about productivity (Saent).

Because of these reasons, I was eagerly awaiting Smarter Faster Better; if Duhigg could do for productivity what he did for habits, this could only be awesome.

Perhaps he did. I’m no expert at habit formation, and didn’t give them too much thought until reading Duhigg’s previous book. It was a compelling and relatively easy read (certainly for a non-fiction title), and I learned a ton I didn’t yet know about habits. But maybe any expert on habits would feel similar reading that book as I did reading Smarter Faster Better

To begin with, the style and structure is exactly the same. For each chapter, take one or more compelling personal stories to make a certain point. Throw some research into the mix, then turn it all into a smooth narrative. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, and some would say “never change a winning team” (The Power of Habit is a New York Times best-seller). But personally I prefer some risk taking and change, not following exactly the same recipe.

Regardless of style, I found the content disappointing. The ideas presented are quite elementary for anyone who’s ever read up a bit on productivity or time-management (SMART goals, really?). In fact, I would say the content is rather “traditional.” There is lots of interesting research on how productivity works and what it means for knowledge workers in the 21st century, but none of this gets explored or emphasized. In addition, a lot of the main themes presented (teams, creativity, decision making, people management, data) relate more to general management issues than to what I would consider productivity.

This is where the real trouble for this book lies: there are better books on productivity, and there are better books on management and decision making. Smarter Faster Better is not bad, nor is it unpleasant to read. But if you’re really looking to become more productive, much better titles and sources await you elsewhere.

“Making yourself break a goal into its SMART components is the difference between hoping something comes true and figuring out how to do it.”

This quote sums up the book for me: if you’re not at all familiar with (personal) productivity and concepts like SMART goals, this title is worth a read. Otherwise, have a look at the below list and don’t bother.

> Smarter Faster Better

Goes well with… considering my conclusion on this title, I’d rather recommend better alternatives:

  • Deep Work — pragmatic and fresh perspective on productivity in the 21st century (in the form of focus).
  • Getting Things Done — while certain parts are slightly outdated, this is still the best way to get started with personal productivity in my opinion, especially if you’re new to it.
  • Farnam Street Blog — not a book, but an online blog with excellent weekly newsletter on decision making.
  • Creativity Inc. — if you want to read more about creativity and management, try Ed Catmul’s Creativity Inc. instead.
  • Reinventing Organizations — fresh and revolutionary look at management, collaboration and organizational structures.

⭐️ Rating: 2/5

View or buy Smarter Faster Better on Amazon

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