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For the last several years, Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, has been studying the science of productivity. Why are some people so impressively productive? Why do some companies produce innovative creative breakthroughs while others don’t? In other words, what are the secrets to productivity? Duhigg has distilled his findings in a new book out this month, Smarter Faster Better.

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Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

1. To increase self-motivation, view your choices as expressions of control and “affirmations of values and goals”: Researchers have found that highly self-motivated people have a strong internal locus of control. If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to tackle a tough job, try reminding yourself both that you have a choice in the matter and that there’s a reason you took on the task in the first place.

2. To build a productive team, focus on “psychological safety”: Duhigg found that productive teams encouraged an environment of psychological safety, which Amy Edmonson defines as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking” in a 1999 journal article. “If you are leading a team…think about what messages your choices send,” writes Duhigg. “Are you encouraging equality in speaking, or rewarding the loudest people? Are you modeling listening? Are you demonstrating a sensitivity to what people think and feel, or are you letting decisive leadership be an excuse for not paying as close attention as you should?”

3. People need both long-term, big picture “stretch goals” and smaller, concrete “SMART” goals: To achieve big things, Duhigg found that people often need to first set big inspirational, visionary goals (“stretch goals”) and then break those goals into smaller, more manageable tasks (“SMART” goals). According to a 2006 paper by Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham, “specific, high (hard) goals lead to a higher level of task performance than do easy goals or vague, abstract goals such as the exhortation to ‘do one’s best.'”

4. The best way to absorb new information is to “do something” with it:  In a number of studies, researchers have found that humans learn best when they’re forced to “do something” with the information presented to them.  “If you read a book filled with new ideas, force yourself to put it down and explain the concepts to someone sitting next to you and you’ll be more likely to apply them in your life,” Duhigg writes. “When you find a new piece of information, force yourself to engage with it, to use it in an experiment or describe it to a friend.”


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Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Jun., 1999), pp. 350-383
Sage Publications, Inc.
Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 15, No. 5 (Oct., 2006), pp. 265-268
Sage Publications, Inc.