Whenever he was interviewed on television, he appeared relaxed and thoughtful. By this definition, Atul Gawande seemed to have things pretty well figured out. His accomplishments in medicine, writing, and public health were important and real. I was an investigative reporter at The New York Times and spent my days chasing stories and my nights rewriting book pages. At the time, I was finishing a book about the neurology and psychology of habit formation.
I emailed him to ask if he had some time to talk. A productive weekend might involve walking through the park with your kids, while a productive workday involves rushing them to daycare and getting to the office as early as you can. His accomplishments in medicine, writing, and public health were important and real. And, if I learned it, could I change my own life? Then there are others, like Gawande, who seem to exist on a different plane of getting things done. Amid all this hustle and scurry—and under the guise of asking for a little publishing advice—I sent a note to an author I admired, a friend of one of my colleagues at the Times. Productivity, put simply, is the name we give our attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort. My wife, who worked full-time, had just given birth to our second child. A few days later, he responded to my email with his regrets. In fact, Gawande had suggested to our mutual friend that I should email him again, later that month, when he would have more time in his schedule for chatting. No, my friend told me, I had it wrong. Second, and more important, there were people out there who knew how to be more productive. I was an investigative reporter at The New York Times and spent my days chasing stories and my nights rewriting book pages. Another might opt to use that time locked in her office, returning emails and calling a few clients, and feel equally accomplished. By this definition, Atul Gawande seemed to have things pretty well figured out. My introduction to the science of productivity began in the summer of , when I asked a friend of a friend for a favor. He had written three books—all bestsellers—and was married with three children. I wanted to know how he managed to be so productive. At that moment, I realized two things: Before becoming a journalist, I worked in private equity and — for one terrifying day — was a bike messenger in San Francisco. Facebook About My name is Charles Duhigg. He was an associate professor at Harvard, an adviser to the World Health Organization, and the founder of a nonprofit that sent surgical supplies to medically underserved parts of the world. Gawande was particularly busy that week because he had bought tickets to a rock concert with his kids. At the time, I was finishing a book about the neurology and psychology of habit formation. I was in the final, frantic stages of the writing process—a flurry of phone calls, panicked rewrites, last-minute edits—and felt like I was falling further and further behind. I just had to convince them to share their secrets with me.
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