The other day I tried to summarise what I reckon Smarter Faster Better is about. What should I do? I hereby exhort myself to work on five of his eight points:
- My “morning cave” idea – rising early and working, nothing else, until noon – has added much to my efforts. It fits nicely into Duhigg’s Motivation chapter, giving me control in a meaningful context. Don’t ever stop!
- Each morning, tell stories about the day, before, during and after, a la Duhigg’s Focus chapter
- Follow his Goal Setting chapter and religiously use a To-Do list that goes big and small
- Ramp up the fever! Get emotional, be as desperate as I should be to finish the book, switch tack to edit from another angle. This is the kind of approach Duhigg says, in his Innovation chapter, works for highly creative groups
- Be bolder in turning my over-voluminous research data into useful book knowledge, using my pen, plot points and index cards.
Of course just writing such earnest thoughts down won’t guarantee they happen, but I’m enthusiastic.
Duhigg writes so sweetly, so clearly and with fine narrative control. Smarter Faster Better could be summarised in many ways but let me muck around a bit and rephrase it in gonzo terms.
First, you can see where he’s going with his eight chapter headings: Motivation. Teams. Focus. Goal Setting. Managing Others. Decision Making. Innovation. Absorbing Data.
How do I sum up these eight in my terms (I guess I’m modifying Duhigg’s points somewhat by restating them, so if you want a Cliffnotes summary, get one or read the book)?
- Boost motivation by taking control and invest everything with meaning
- Lead teams by establishing safety
- Tell yourself stories to boost focus
- Fill To-Do lists with both “stretch” goals and small measurable actions
- Manage others by trusting them
- Explore probabilities all the time
- Create by getting inside yourself, ramping up desperation, and critiquing from a wildly different perspective
- Change data into knowledge by writing it out yourself
There is something rather captivating about all this but what does it mean for me? I’ll reflect.
Late afternoon, still light and balmy, in the sumptuous hills of the Brecon Beacons. I headed downhill, through the busy town, over a bridge and then had 3 kms along a narrow hedge-lined road. Same in reverse. A bit faster, back to 6:20 pace. I felt light and my left foot was just fine. The pub awaited.
Reminding me I’m no athlete, 150m ascent and descent a couple of days ago. Slow but marvellous.
Charles Duhigg is a splendid writer of stories that impart “how to” advice. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive has just come out. For two reasons, these days I’m inclined to gloss over such books: there is an aspect of the journalistic style that can encourage a suspicion of slickness; and I’ve come to a middle-aged person’s aversion to general “do this and that” advice, preferring to trust my own evolving process (hey, call it a big year).
But this once I’ll look for clues on how to get to the end of Chapter 20 by the end of next year. in reality, I need to synthesise smarter, work faster, and somehow write “better.” His book is apt. So I’ll jot down the takeaways from each chapter as pithily and provocatively as possible, and ask at the end what might help.
A week ago, I rose extra early. I stretched. I hadn’t jogged for two and a half days. When I laced up my green joggers, I felt an emotion mostly absent from pre-jogging preparations. Excitement! I even imagined my body calling, “go, go, go, I need this.”
I took a different route, almost into the centre of town. Magic.
Before we left Melbourne for forty days of European hiking, one of my peroneus tendons on the left foot, which attaches to the outside of the foot and heads laterally underneath for stability purposes, was exhibiting what they call “tendinopathy,” the new word for the old “tendonitis.” On most jogs it twinged and threatened to bring me to a walk. Icing and taking care with foot strike have staved off Big Year disaster.
But now walking might, I believe, cure that darned left foot. My chunky hiking boots enclose the entire foot and lessen the lateral movement. The hiking stride doesn’t put nearly as much pressure on the foot as the jogging footfall. The multi-hour exercise might loosen up the blood flow through the tendon. So much for amateur theory. Let’s see what happens today.
Better. Much better. 10 kms as needed for the Big Year. Tortoise pace with all the ups and downs but mid 20s and a breeze, what more could I ask for?
I’m still filled with joy at actually completing (synonyms: finishing, being done with, mastering, gazumping, hammering, nailing, slamming, winding up) a chapter. I can now “finish” all of them. Editing, rewriting, etc. can be done.
But there’s a caveat. My chapter 2, which miraculously compresses pivotal reactor history of excessive complexity into one narrative, is TOO LONG. Seventy-five or a hundred pages, actually, depending on the density of a page. Decapitation will trim that but not to the forty pages that an 800-page book of twenty chapters demands. And I can’t see myself eschewing the drama and “truth” of the story I’m assembling.
What to do? Think, certainly.
One year. 1953 when it all changed. Let’s build power plants not bombs, they said. (But keep building loads of bombs as well.)