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11 Life-Changing Books To Help You Build Better Habits

11 Life-Changing Books To Help You Build Better Habits

When you woke up this morning, what did you do first?

Did you hop in the shower, check your email, or grab a doughnut from the kitchen counter? Did you brush your teeth before or after you toweled off? Which route did you drive to work? When you got home, did you put on your sneakers and go for a run, or pour yourself a drink and eat dinner in front of the TV?

In 1892, the famous psychologist William James wrote, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” I absolutely love that statement because it’s absolutely true: most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits.

And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security, and happiness. One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.

Habits, by definition, are choices that we all make deliberately at some point—and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day. At one point, we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we got to the office, how often to have a drink, or when to go for a jog. But then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic. It’s a natural consequence of our neurology. And by understanding how it happens, you can rebuild those patterns in whichever way you choose.

This brings us to this list of books on how to build better habits. Each of these books are powerful tomes in and of themselves when it comes to the challenge of building habits that stick; but together they become a comprehensive collection of resources on how to create and sustain the habits you need to succeed, both personally and professionally.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

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1. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

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    The interesting thing about habits is that once we develop them, they go totally unnoticed in our day-to-day activities. For example, you probably don’t think about how many simultaneous actions go into reversing your car out of the garage and into the street safely and smoothly. You just do it. That’s a habit. However, so is smoking. The Power of Habit teaches you how to be deliberate about building better habits that serve you both in life and in business.

    2. Drive by Daniel Pink

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      This book will equip you with everything you need to know about developing the habit of self-motivation. In other words, this book will teach you some of the most powerful leadership lessons you’ll ever learn. Author Daniel Pink debunks some of the biggest myths about what really motivates us at work, breaking down the characteristics of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and how far too many organizations rely on extrinsic motivators, even though they’re counterproductive. Instead, Pink explains how we can best motivate ourselves and others by understanding how to utilize intrinsic motivators. Bottom line? You can’t lead a successful life unless you’ve developed a habit of motivating yourself on a consistent basis, and Drive is a cornerstone book on how to figure that out.

      3. Mindset by Carol Dweck

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        Mindset discusses the differences between people with a “fixed” mindset versus those with a “growth” mindset. Our mindset determines the way we deal with tough situations and setbacks as well as our willingness to deal with and improve ourselves. This book demonstrates how we can achieve our goals by changing our mindset and then developing the success habits to help us nurture that psychological switchover the long-run. It’s a very powerful book on personal transformation that’s also backed by sound scientific research to boot.

        4. The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan

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          I recently had an opportunity to interview the co-author of this book and he told me that one of the biggest reasons why most people fail at keeping their New Year’s Resolutions is because they set way too many of them to begin with. The key to sustainable success is actually simple: focus on one thing and see it through for long enough that you achieve your goals. That’s it. Success is sequential, not simultaneous. This book breaks down the mechanics of that process.

          5. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

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            This book was written over 1800 years ago. Guess what? The powerful principles, written way back in the second century, remain just as applicable today. Just read this quote and you’ll understand what I mean:

            “For how could we do what justice requires if we are distracted by things that don’t matter, if we are naive, gullible, inconstant?”

            He’s got to be referring to our texting and driving habits, right? The Stoics were known for their disciplined pursuit of excellence, especially when it comes to maintaining emotional stability—which they kept regardless of how stressful a situation they might’ve been dealing with at any given moment. This type of emotional stability wasn’t built overnight. It was built by way of habit. Want to learn about adding some Stoic flare to your own habits? Pick up a copy of Meditations.

            6. Willpower by John Tierney, Roy Baumeister

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              This book aims to re-ignite a conversation that people have been ignoring for decades: what’s the role of willpower in helping us achieve our goals? The answers will surprise you. They’ll also provide you with actionable ways to reshape your lifestyle habits in a way that allows you to find and ignite that charge within yourself to help you achieve lasting change, progress, and ultimately success. Decades of scientific research tells us that the key to forming and sustaining habits is self-control (aka: willpower). And if you want to build up your own willpower muscles, then this is the book you need to read.

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              7. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

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                This is a book about success and how there’s a lot more to it than being smart and working hard. Maybe you’ve heard of Gladwell’s famous 10,000-hour rule and how it relates to success. Even then, there’s still so much more to learn about how successful people became so successful in the first place. Outliers is a must-read title if you’re looking to expand your mind about the subtleties and nuances that contributed to the success of icons like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

                8. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

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                  You’ve surely heard of this classic. In the book, Stephen Covey says,“People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value.”

                  Do you have your changeless core in check? I know it took a lot of inner work before I felt like I did. And one key component of developing that powerful inner core is by developing powerful habits that are based on principles. Why? Because principles don’t change. They’re timeless. Each of the habits laid out in this book are based upon principles, and are designed to act as individual prescriptions for effectiveness in every arena of your life.

                  9. Mini Habits by Stephen Guise

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                    Mini Habits is all about how taking small steps daily can lead to massive changes over time. If you’ve been struggling to lose that fat and achieve your health and fitness goals, if you’ve been looking to attain new skills or build powerful habits that stick, if you’ve been hoping to make massive changes in life but just can’t seem to make it happen, then this book is going to break down the big ideas you need to know in order to bust through those sticking points and build the habits you need to succeed.

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                    10. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

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                      In this book, author Peter Drucker tells us that “effectiveness must be learned.” What does that mean? It means that being effective is a habit, but so is being ineffective. Often times, people think they’re being effective when what they’re really being is efficient—there’s a difference. Being efficient means to be doing things right. Being effective means to be doing the right things. This book teaches you how to develop the habit of doing the latter so that you can achieve success in life and business as quickly and effectively as possible.

                      11. Make It Stick by Peter C. Brown, Henry Roediger, Mark McDaniel

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                        We are now living in the age of the buzz, the bing, and the flash—the age of distractions and constant notifications about the things that don’t matter. And to make matters worse, we’ve got more information flowing into our purview than we ever have before. In order to make sense of all this “stuff” and focus on our most meaningful objectives in life, we’ve got to develop the habit of learning how to learn. In other words, in order to succeed in the modern world, we need to develop the skill of grasping and retaining important concepts quickly. That’s what Make It Stick helps us do.

                        Which book will you read first?

                        Now that you’ve got this big list of books to help you build better habits, there’s only one question left: which one do you read first? Should you go out and get all of them immediately? Should you read them all at once? Or should you take a lifetime to read them? Ultimately, it’s totally your decision what you do with this list and how you apply it to your life and career. However, if I may, here’s what I would suggest you consider as you get started:

                        • Subscribe to a book summary site, like GetFlashNotes Book Summaries, to get the key takeaways from the books on this list.
                        • If you’d prefer to read an entire book, I would highly suggest that you read just one book at a time. Sometimes, when we see something new and exciting, we have a tendency to want to do/learn/read it all at once. As we all know, this is nearly impossible to do without stressing ourselves out. So, choose a book and commit to reading it from start to finish.
                        • If you’re in a rush, try audiobooks, or audio summaries.
                        • Finally, if you’re in a super rush, check out some YouTube video book summaries, like this one.

                        More by this author

                        Dean Bokhari

                        Author, Entrepreneur, Podcast & TV Host

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                        Last Updated on November 19, 2019

                        20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

                        20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

                        Are you usually punctual or late? Do you finish things within the time you stipulate? Do you hand in your reports/work on time? Are you able to accomplish what you want to do before deadlines? Are you a good time manager?

                        If your answer is “no” to any of the questions above, that means you’re not managing your time as well as you want. Here are 20 time management tips to help you manage time better:

                        1. Create a Daily Plan

                        Plan your day before it unfolds. Do it in the morning or even better, the night before you sleep. The plan gives you a good overview of how the day will pan out. That way, you don’t get caught off guard. Your job for the day is to stick to the plan as best as possible.

                        2. Peg a Time Limit to Each Task

                        Be clear that you need to finish X task by 10am, Y task by 3pm, and Z item by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.

                        3. Use a Calendar

                        Having a calendar is the most fundamental step to managing your daily activities. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software.

                        I use it. It’s even better if you can sync your calendar to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are. Here’re the 10 Best Calendar Apps to Stay on Track .

                        Find out more tips about how to use calendar for better time management here: How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

                        4. Use an Organizer

                        An organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items.

                        These Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools can help you organize better, pick one that fits your needs.

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                        5. Know Your Deadlines

                        When do you need to finish your tasks? Mark the deadlines out clearly in your calendar and organizer so you know when you need to finish them.

                        But make sure you don’t make these 10 Common Mistakes When Setting Deadlines.

                        6. Learn to Say “No”

                        Don’t take on more than you can handle. For the distractions that come in when you’re doing other things, give a firm no. Or defer it to a later period.

                        Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits has some great insights on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

                        7. Target to Be Early

                        When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

                        For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required.

                        Learn from these tips about how to prepare yourself to be early, instead of just in time.

                        8. Time Box Your Activities

                        This means restricting your work to X amount of time. Why time boxing is good for you? Here’re 10 reasons why you should start time-boxing.

                        You can also read more about how to do time boxing here: #5 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity.

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                        9. Have a Clock Visibly Placed Before You

                        Sometimes we are so engrossed in our work that we lose track of time. Having a huge clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment.

                        10. Set Reminders 15 Minutes Before

                        Most calendars have a reminder function. If you have an important meeting to attend, set that alarm 15 minutes before.

                        You can learn more about how reminders help you remember everything in this article: The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

                        11. Focus

                        Are you multi-tasking so much that you’re just not getting anything done? If so, focus on just one key task at one time. Multitasking is bad for you.

                        Close off all the applications you aren’t using. Close off the tabs in your browser that are taking away your attention. Focus solely on what you’re doing. You’ll be more efficient that way.

                        Lifehack’s CEO has written a definitive guide on how to focus, learn the tips: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

                        12. Block out Distractions

                        What’s distracting you in your work? Instant messages? Phone ringing? Text messages popping in?

                        I hardly ever use chat nowadays. The only times when I log on is when I’m not intending to do any work. Otherwise it gets very distracting.

                        When I’m doing important work, I also switch off my phone. Calls during this time are recorded and I contact them afterward if it’s something important. This helps me concentrate better.

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                        Find more tips on how to minimize distractions to achieve more in How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

                        13. Track Your Time Spent

                        When you start to track your time, you’re more aware of how you spend your time. For example, you can set a simple countdown timer to make sure that you finish a task within a period of time, say 30 minutes or 1 hour. The time pressure can push you to stay focused and work more efficiently.

                        You can find more time tracking apps here and pick one that works for you.

                        14. Don’t Fuss About Unimportant Details

                        You’re never get everything done in exactly the way you want. Trying to do so is being ineffective.

                        Trying to be perfect does you more harm than good, learn here about how perfectionism kills your productivity and how to ditch the perfectionism mindset.

                        15. Prioritize

                        Since you can’t do everything, learn to prioritize the important and let go of the rest.

                        Apply the 80/20 principle which is a key principle in prioritization. You can also take up this technique to prioritize everything on your plate: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

                        16. Delegate

                        If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks.

                        When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more. Learn about how to effectively delegate works in this guide: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

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                        17. Batch Similar Tasks Together

                        For related work, batch them together.

                        For example, my work can be categorized into these core groups:

                        1. writing (articles, my upcoming book)
                        2. coaching
                        3. workshop development
                        4. business development
                        5. administrative

                        I batch all the related tasks together so there’s synergy. If I need to make calls, I allocate a time slot to make all my calls. It really streamlines the process.

                        18. Eliminate Your Time Wasters

                        What takes your time away your work? Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Stop checking them so often.

                        One thing you can do is make it hard to check them – remove them from your browser quick links / bookmarks and stuff them in a hard to access bookmarks folder. Replace your browser bookmarks with important work-related sites.

                        While you’ll still checking FB/Twitter no doubt, you’ll find it’s a lower frequency than before.

                        19. Cut off When You Need To

                        The number one reason why things overrun is because you don’t cut off when you have to.

                        Don’t be afraid to intercept in meetings or draw a line to cut-off. Otherwise, there’s never going to be an end and you’ll just eat into the time for later.

                        20. Leave Buffer Time In-Between

                        Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each tasks. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.

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                        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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