One day, an innocent worker goes online and decides to see if there are any tips out in the big wide world on getting more done, more quickly, more often. But soon, the poor sod becomes entangled in a complicated trail of information; a few quadzillion blogs on the subject, millions of books, and a whole lot of fancy terms like “ubiquitous capture” and strange rituals such as weekly reviews and inbox processing.
It’s easy to get lost in the world of personal productivity. It’s hard to get started, and we get that. It’s a jungle of information and not all of it makes sense, and a whole lot of it is in direct conflict: do you go the Inbox Zero approach (that is, clearing out your inbox completely in regular processing sessions), or use Gmail with labels and let things sit in your inbox, with older messages found with the assistance of search?
All of this conflicting information makes it tempting to find one person’s philosophy and latch onto it religiously. I mean, check out the Getting Things Done fanclub. But just because all of that information is conflicting doesn’t mean it’s all useless; there’s a lot of excellent advice and the tough part is in forming a basic understanding of personal productivity and developing your own basic system, a framework with which to process that avalanche of words.
Here you’ll find a few of the blogs and books you should read to get a grip on it all, if you’re serious about getting this part of your life under control. For the most part I recommend starting with the books to get a good overall idea rather than the piece-by-piece approach of blogs, with one exception I’ll mention in a moment.
There are many great blogs on the subject out there; I read many more than those listed below, but it would be unwise to overload you with new sites when we’re trying to help you find out what’s what. Here are some of the best blogs to get started with.
Lifehack — I’d probably be out of a job if I didn’t recommend Lifehack to you in this list, eh? But I don’t do it for the sake of the Overlords. Lifehack provides a whole bunch of great information and helps hundreds of thousands of people get their productivity under control.
Now for that exception I was talking about: a few months ago, our own Dustin Wax started the Back to Basics series. This is honestly one of the best concise overviews of the whole personal productivity thing I know of and I’ve stopped recommending books as one’s first foray into this area. They’re in second place. Now, I recommend this excellent series, which you can get into here.
Lifehacker — Often confused with Lifehack thanks to the difference of only a syllable in name, Lifehacker is actually quite a different site. It’s filled with a stream of tips, tricks and software recommendations that can help you make life a little bit easier. Very cool site if you want information in bite-sized chunks (at least most of the time).
Zen Habits — Leo Babauta, a former Lifehack contributor, runs Zen Habits, a site that discusses all sorts of things in all areas of personal development. His productivity advice is sound and his writing is engaging. If you like thoughtful, useful advice, this is a great site to read.
Put Things Off — When I first came across Put Things Off, I admit that it was the funky images in Nick’s Inbox Heaven piece that pulled me in. No surprises that the guy is a graphic designer by day and a productivity guru by night. But the advice is not only good reading and practical, the author is funny as all hell. There’s no more comedic way to get productivity advice out there.
43 Folders — 43 Folders was one of the pioneers in the productivity blogging sphere, and to this day many people getting started flock to Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero and Making Time to Make pieces as starting points and foundational items in their systems. The writing is engaging and very often, it’s immediately practicable.
Just as with blogs, there are plenty of excellent books on the subject of personal productivity. However, a limited list of some of the best to get started with will be much more useful than a list of every great book that ever existed. If you have other books in your “Must Read” list, let us know in the comments.
Getting Things Done — Many would consider Getting Things Done the book on personal productivity principles. It offers a great system and is so influential that many people who’ve never even read the back cover of the book are implementing concepts and techniques discussed in it.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — Where Getting Things Done’s focus is more on systems and methods, Stephen Covey’s book focuses more on principles and habits that make you more effective and productive. Seven Habits and Getting Things Done are well-known as “the” productivity books, and it’s probably because their focuses compliment each other well while being great books in their own right.
4 Hour Work Week — this book by Tim Ferriss is one of the most recent popular books on productivity topics and talks about a whole range of things from outsourcing to firewalling incoming information. It’s definitely a must-read that is very relevant to the times we live in.
Zen to Done — I’ve heard this ebook described as Getting Things Done without the complication; as you’d imagine from a book with the word “Zen” in the name, it’s about getting things done with simplicity. It’s a short and readable ebook with a great price and is definitely worth the penny. It’s not short on info just because it’s an ebook, but it doesn’t inflate and pad out information to meet some editor’s word count. If you’re looking for a book you can get in and out of quickly, grab this one.
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