A former colleague of mine always sends me a book every year on my birthday and at Christmas. This year for my birthday he sent me SMARTER, FASTER, BETTER: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, an award winning reporter for the New York Times, graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale. My wife sighed when she saw it. She commented that it was the last book I needed to read because my life has always been about being productive and at my mid-seventies I needed to read books about slowing down, and learning to enjoy leisure! I agreed with her but decided to scan it because I am a glutton for punishment.

I have always believed that if you can find one new thought from a book or article it is worthwhile. Duhigg writes anecdotally and draws principles from case studies. His chapter on Motivation identifies the need for purpose to energize one. Asking the question “Why should I do this or why am I doing this?” can motivate you to accomplishment when the going gets tough.

His chapter on Teams identifies the need for psychological safety and social sensitivity amongst a group to create success. That means listening to every team member and encouraging all to speak in meetings. The team leader needs to model that behavior. By sharing control we demonstrate that we are genuinely listening – repeating what someone has said, responding to their comments, showing that we care by reacting when someone seems upset or flustered, rather than acting as if nothing is wrong.

I came across a new term to me – “Cognitive Tunneling” – for becoming overly focused on whatever is directly in front of you, or by becoming preoccupied with immediate tasks so that you lose your ability to direct your focus. Instead, we latch on to the easiest and most obvious stimulus, often at the cost of common sense. He illustrates this by two dramatic airline disaster stories. To counter cognitive tunneling he advocates taking control of your attention by building mental models that put you firmly in charge. Get into a pattern of forcing yourself to anticipate what’s next. Decide what deserves your attention. The key is forcing yourself to think beyond the immediate.

The chapter on Decision Making is illustrated by playing poker. Duhigg uses it to encourage seeing “the future as multiple possibilities rather than one predetermined outcome: to identify what you do and don’t know; to ask yourself, which choice gives you the best odds. Fortune-telling isn’t real. No one can predict tomorrow with absolute confidence. But the mistake some people make is trying to avoid making any predictions because their thirst for certainty is so strong and their fear of doubt too overwhelming.” As Kierkegaard wrote, “Faith is possibility.” If God has a purpose for your life and the lives of your loved ones then there are all sorts of possibilities. Being locked into one only is a recipe for stagnation. I have been grateful for the opportunities that have been open to me over the years as I have entertained multiple possibilities. Too many limit themselves within narrow boundaries and miss out on God’s best for them to be productive in their lives.

Management books are contemporary applications of time-worn truths that can be found in the book of Proverbs and the teachings of Jesus to be good stewards of all that we have been given. St. Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving…Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 3:23,24; 4:5)