In learning to become more productive, it pays to consider a variety of resources and approaches. Some people benefit the most from hiring a coach. For other people, it makes sense to learn by reading books. This article provides an introduction to some of the classic books int he productivity and personal effectiveness genre. Reading a practical book is one of the strategies I recommend to renew your leadership. Pretend you are mining for gold when reading books to improve your productivity – it is best to find and apply a few insights rather than having a shallow knowledge of many concepts.
1. Getting Things Done by David Allen
Far and away, this is one of the best and most popular books I have ever read about personal productivity. The book lays out an entire framework for managing the information and possibilities that come at you every day. Even better, David Allen has published a brand new edition of the book in 2015. I’m looking forward to reading the book and refreshing my understanding. In particular, I recommend the “Two Minute Rule” and the Weekly Review from this book as productivity techniques.
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2. Mindset by Carol Dweck
Mindset is a book that explains how our thinking shapes our results. For example, people that regard their abilities – to do work, to learn etc – as fixed often struggle. In contrast, Dweck discusses how “the growth mindset” help us look at challenges in a new way. In terms of productivity, this book makes the strongest case for how to become more productive in education and learning. The book’s ideas can also be applied to the workplace and other environments as well.
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3. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
What comes to mind when you think about productivity? For many of us, it is about completing one more task and packing even more work into the day. Greg McKeown makes the compelling point that we can become more successful by focusing on the essential only. One of my favorite sections of Essential was his description of how to politely and firmly say “No.” If you don’t learn to say no, your productivity will suffer.
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4. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey
By any measure, Covey’s book is one of the most important contributions to the personal effectiveness category. The first habit – Be Proactive – can be truly life changing as a way to improve your productivity. Covey also does well in pointing out the social context of our work. For example, the book covers how to maintain and sustain relationships at work and at home. Without good relationships, it is difficult to be productive.
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5. The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter Drucker
Drucker is widely known as one of the most influential business thinkers and consultants of all time. Don’t let the title of this book fool you – the book is not limited to CEOs, Vice-Presidents and other people with executive job titles. Instead, the book applies to most professionals and knowledge workers. Early in the book, Drucker explains a great technique to measure how you spend your time. Building on that foundation, you will also learn Drucker’s excellent framework for making decisions. After all, making effective decisions is a vital productivity skill for everyone to master.
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6. No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs by Dan S. Kennedy
Dan Kennedy made his reputation as a highly effective copywriter and direct marketer. In this book, he shares lessons and observations on time management for entrepreneurs. Unlike office workers who are subject to supervision, entrepreneurs have the freedom to work their own schedule. Unless you have a system to stay productive, it is easy to lose focus. That’s where Dan Kennedy’s guidance comes to play.
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7. The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM) by Hal Elrod
In this book, Hal Elrod makes the compelling case for the importance of the morning in daily productivity. In this short book, Elrod lays out a multi-step self-improvement program readers can use each morning. Specifically, Elrod discusses the importance of fitness, quiet time and reading each morning. It is a great way to start the day on your own terms.
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8. Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success by John C. Maxwell
John C Maxwell is best known as an expert on leadership and personal growth. In this book, Maxwell covers the key activities that keep your day under control. For example, Maxwell points out the importance of maintaining a positive attitude. After all, if you head to work feeling angry and discouraged, your productivity will suffer.
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9. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield and Janet Switzer
I first discovered “The Success Principles”by listening to the audio book in 2014. I liked it so much that I bought the new edition that came out in 2015. The book is informed by Canfield’s long success in publishing, public speaking and other fields. While time management per se is not the focus of the book, it covers many other principles that help us to achieve greater results in our life. For example, there are great suggestions regarding how to set goals, overcome disappointments and manage goals. This is a large book that is well worth the time to read and study.
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10. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
One of the most popular productivity books of the 2000s, “The 4-Hour Work Week” made a great impact on the world. Ferriss reminds readers that elimination – i.e. stop doing low value tasks – is one of the most important ways to improve productivity. For some people, hiring a virtual assistant is another great method to consider. If you’re only heard the buzz around the book, take the time to read it.
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11. Churchill: A Life by Sir Martin Gilbert
By any measure, Winston Churchill was one of the most productive people who has ever lived. His outstanding achievements recently inspired a series of outstanding essays on The Art of Manliness website (e.g. Work Like a Slave; Command Like a King; Create Like a God). In his early career, Churchill was full of activity – serving in the military, writing articles and writing books. In political office, Churchill was highly productive and took on demanding projects.
Why am I including Churchill in a list of productivity books? I include him because he meets the biography test – he is an example that we can learn from. While it is great to learn from books that discuss principles and ideas, there is something special about biographies that are worth considering. By studying the giants of history, you will learn how real men and women have become productive despite the many challenges of life.
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