Freakonomics Radio is one of my favorite podcasts. It explores the hidden side of everything and in an episode from 2016 it explored how to be more productive. As with many things, productivity means different things in different situations.
For his book Smarter Faster Better Charles Duhigg talked to more than 400 people about the secrets of being productive in life and business. Not that this is my main goal in life, but it’s still very useful to know about the most important productivity tools and skills.
Charles had this basic rule for his book, which was that when someone told him something that they felt made them more productive, that he wouldn’t include it in the book unless it seemed to be universal. And so if he talked to over 400 people, he probably heard 300 different ideas about how to increase productivity.
But what he would find is that one set of ideas would work for a group and then another group would say exactly the opposite. So a good example of this is, like, the fanatical devotion on one goal at all costs. When he talked to people in Silicon Valley, they would say
Here’s the most important thing on being productive, is that you choose, like, one outcome and you just remain persistent.
And then he would talk to people in big companies and they’d say
Here’s the thing about being productive. You have to be flexible. You can’t commit yourself to one goal.
And this happened again and again and again, except that he did notice that there was this small handful of consistent ideas that kept on coming up. As he boiled through all of these stories and all of these papers that he was reading and all of these experts, there were really only eight things that came up again and again and again.
The 8 Ultimate Productivity Tools or Skills
We trigger self-motivation by making choices that make us feel in control. The act of asserting ourselves and taking control helps trigger the parts of our neurology where self-motivation resides.
We train ourselves how to pay attention to the right things and ignore distractions by building mental models, which means that we essentially narrate to ourselves what’s going on as it goes on around us.
Everyone actually needs two different kinds of goals. You need a stretch goal, which is like this big ambition, but then you have to pair that with a specific plan on how to get started tomorrow morning.
- Decision making
People who make the best decisions tend to think probabilistically. They envision multiple, often contradictory, futures and then try and figure out which one is more likely to occur.
The most creative environments are ones that allow people to take clichés and mix them together in new ways. And the people who are best at this are known as innovation brokers. They’re people who have their feet in many different worlds and, as a result, they know which ideas can click together in a novel combination.
- Absorbing data
Sometimes the best way to learn is to make information harder to absorb. This is known in psychology as “disfluency.” The harder we have to work to understand an idea or to process a piece of data, the stickier it becomes in our brain.
- Managing others
The best managers put responsibility for solving a problem with the person who’s closest to that problem, because that’s how you tap into everyone’s unique expertise.
Who is on a team matters much, much less than how a team interacts.