Beyond the




Book Review: 4 Productivity Principles from Smarter Faster Better

A woman runs from a tidal wave of clothing.

Use these techniques to control that tidal wave of chores, then pass them along to your students in the classroom.

Who wouldn't want to be more productive? In Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity, Charles Duhigg writes about the "science of productivity," and he attempts to identify the strategies that drive the most successful people. For teachers and students, the lessons in this book are powerful. Teachers are preparing students for jobs that haven't even been created, so providing them with the skills to be focused, productive, and creative is critical. Duhigg's main principles can help us all be far more productive and, indeed, smarter, faster, and better!

Further Reading: Avoiding Perfectionism Can Save Your Teaching Career


The Right Motivation

Motivating students to complete assignments, take part in co-curricular activities, and strive for excellence can be tough. But as Duhigg explains, "Motivation becomes easier when we transform a chore into a choice. Doing this gives us a sense of control." He offers the example of General Krulak, who redesigned the Marine Corps boot camp by giving recruits a stronger internal sense of control. "Most recruits don't know how to force themselves to start something hard," Krulak said. " If we can train them to take the first step by doing something that makes them feel in charge, it's easier to keep going."

Because of this, I changed the way I assign essays. Before reading this book, I'd assign an essay, and students would need to complete it in class or at home. Now, I give students a choice of two essay topics. We complete the introductions in class so I can guide students through the process and articulate exactly what I'm looking for in an effective thesis statement. Once students have finished the introduction, they're better motivated to complete the entire essay.

Proper Goal-Setting

Duhigg notes that it's easier to be self-motivated when our choices are seen as "affirmations of our deeper goals and values." When we're moving toward meaningful goals, we experience a feeling of self-determination that keeps us going. With that in mind, students need to set two types of goals: large goals that spark big ambitions and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely) goals that help them form a concrete plan.

Vera, a student in my advisory period, completely bombed her first semester as a freshman, receiving several Fs. During goal-setting, she wrote she wanted to raise her GPA to a 3.5 and get into a good college. To Vera, this goal seemed nearly impossible. She then listed her SMART goals, which included "going back to teachers for extra help, completing all assignments, not going out every day after school, and taking honors and AP courses."

Writing out these goals forced Vera to come up with a plan, and she put her goals in her binder to be reminded of them daily. I'm happy to report that now, in her senior year, Vera has a strong GPA and earned acceptance to a top-tier college.

Increasing Your Focus

Students (and teachers!) can definitely benefit from increased focus. Duhigg says the best way to achieve better focus is to tell ourselves stories about what we expect to see.

Micah wanted to earn a track scholarship. He knew he was fast, but he wasn't sure how to achieve his goal, so he envisioned what he'd need to do to make it happen. What would occur first? What were the obstacles? Micah envisioned himself practicing every day. He visualized himself eating healthy all the time—burgers and fries don't fuel star athletes. He saw himself lifting weights and increasing his strength.

His job was a potential obstacle. How would Micah's story play out when he needed to study and practice each weekday? He envisioned going to his boss and asking to work on the weekend. And through it all, Micah needed to see the story of working hard to maintain good grades. Telling these stories and envisioning how they would play out made Micah super focused and helped him achieve his goal.

Expanding Decision-Making

Teens are faced with hundreds of decisions each week: Should I go out with friends or do schoolwork? Should I get a job or play a sport? Duhigg says the best way to make decisions is to envision multiple futures. "By pushing to imagine various possibilities—some which might be contradictory—students are better equipped to make wise choices." To illustrate his point, he tells the story of Delia.

Further Reading: The 7 Keys to Consistent Action

Delia was a high school student from an impoverished background who was studying engineering. Her sister had a baby, and Delia's father wanted her to babysit after school. Delia feared this would hurt her chances of getting into college. She analyzed her dilemma, envisioning several futures and reframing the problem, which she initially saw as a choice between helping her sister and letting down her family. In her analysis, Delia noted that babysitting meant she wouldn't be able to take part in the Robotics Club, and she'd be too tired to do homework. After her analysis, Delia explained to her father that her schoolwork would enable her to attend college and become far more valuable to her family in the future. Presented with the data and new frame, her father agreed.


Smarter Faster Better is a book that can help teachers and students create their own successful narratives to succeed with less stress and struggle—truly becoming smarter, faster, and better at all we do.