You have dreams, aspirations and goals. And as a savvy hacker, you know that what you do day-to-day is directly tied to your future success. So you write a to-do list, install a CRM system, do your best at organizing your calendar, and push forward. No matter how hard you try though, you keep bumping up the feeling that you aren’t getting enough done.
Sounds about right?
Then it’s time to brush up on your productivity skills.
Success is not just about getting more stuff done (though there’s no denying that efficiency is a huge piece of the pie). You’ll also need to figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing, and if what you’re doing is even necessary.
You’ll want to consider things like your energy levels, natural work cycles, willpower, habits and what obstacles are getting in the way of using your time wisely. Taking all of that in with one go can feel overwhelming.
Lucky for you, I’ve sifted through dozens of ‘best of’ lists from all over the web and come up with these top 30 productivity books to help you get a one-up on life:
1. Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity, by David Allen
“People often complain about the interruptions that prevent them from doing their work. But interruptions are unavoidable in life.”
This book is something like the modern Bible of productivity books – it appears on every single productivity list and is recommended by many.
Allen’s premise is simple (even if the book is not): “our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax.” He’s developed a framework that you can customize to your own needs and get all those pesky free-floating to-do’s into one organized system filled with files and action lists.
There are dedicated followers of this system (self-named GTDers), but know that this is a complex system requiring a level of self discipline and organization just to get through the book.
2. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
“The most effective way I know to begin with the end in mind is to develop a personal mission statement or philosophy or creed.”
Everybody from Presidents to CEOs to college students use this book to organize themselves and stay on track doing what’s most important. Less a system for getting things done, this book provides a methodology for life and work. If you’re keen on becoming more productive, this is a library staple.
3. Think Like da Vinci: 7 Easy Steps to Boosting Your Everyday Genius, by Michael Gelb
“We are each the center of a unique and special universe and totally insignificant specks of cosmic dust. Of all the polarities, none is more daunting than life and death. The shadow of death gives life its potential for meaning.”
Part historical commentary on the genius of da Vinci, part productivity book with excellent exercises to boot, this book has a little bit for everybody. You won’t necessarily find accurate or extensive information about da Vinci as a thinker, but you will come away with valuable information.
It will also give you new ways to experience the world and think differently all in the name of liberating your “unique intelligence”.
4. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg
“About willpower: This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”
A fascinating look into what habits are, how we form them and how to change them. The first 2-3 chapters are the strongest and hold the information most of us are looking for: How to change our habits.
This book is rife with strong examples of how people and businesses changed their habits and ultimately makes a case for how we can all change our habits to better support what we want most.
5. Eat That Frog, by Brian Tracey
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
As with most productivity books, you won’t be bowled over by new information, but Tracey does a great job of motivating the reader to stop procrastinating and just get stuff done.
The book is broken down into 21 tips that Tracey himself uses to create his own outstanding success. The tips are very accessible and the book easy to read making it a great starting point for beginners.
6. Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life, by J.D. Meier
“A lot of people wait for their moment of inspiration before they start, but what they don’t realize is that simply by starting, the inspiration can follow.”
Meier presents a system designed around producing results instead of focusing on activities themselves. While the book can be repetitive, the system is brilliant and simple making the book worth reading.
The system has you set flexible boundaries, tasks, and goals against a fixed time. What you end up with is a focus on balance and outcomes over process. This means you end up staying focused on why you are working instead of the actual minutia of the task at hand.
7. The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
“The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not.”
This book is based on research done on athletes and high performers. What the authors discovered was that athletes perform their best when certain factors in their body and life are controlled correctly.
For instance, one key to performing like a peak athlete is to manage energy, not time. They go on to explain the four primary sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
This is a book for anyone looking not just for a specific method to increase productivity, but a lifelong practice of sustained energy and focus.
8. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get It, by Kelly McGonigal
“If there is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing: the power of paying attention.”
This potent book takes a different spin on productivity and explains the new science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve health, happiness and – of course – productivity.
McGonigal explains exactly what willpower is, how it works and why it matters. She also gives you tips and exercises on improving your self-discipline and willpower.
There’s even a related 10-week course if you want to extend what you’ve learned in the book.
9. The Power of Story: Change Your Story, Change Your Destiny, by Jim Loehr
“We grow the aspects of our lives that we feed – with energy and engagement – and choke off those we deprive of fuel. Your life is what you agree to attend to.”
If you’re up for a book about defining your mission and purpose in life, then this is for you. While lengthy, it is simple and well written, ultimately giving a straightforward methodology for creating life stories for the different parts of your life.
One of the best parts of the book is the section on discovering and defining your Ultimate Mission and the Story Creation Process – helping you dig into what your purpose is and learning about how we craft the stories we tell.
10. Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Getting Things Done, by David Allen
“Sometimes the biggest gain in productive energy will come from cleaning the cobwebs, dealing with old business, and clearing the desks – cutting loose debris that’s impeding forward motion.”
This is Allen’s follow up book to his legendary Getting Things Done. Unlike the other dense resource, this is a compilation of pearls of wisdom from his years of coaching and consulting.
An easy read and a fun addition to the library, this book helps you understand the philosophy behind Getting Things Done.
11. The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play, by Neil Fiore
“In most cases you are the one who confuses just doing the job with testing your worth. Replace ‘I have to’ with ‘I choose to’.”
As the title suggests, this is a book about overcoming procrastination. With an upbeat tone and positive attitude, Fiore provides a comprehensive plan to overcome that pesky habit we all seem to have.
Probably the best part of the book are the tools to diagnose your own procrastination problem to get behind the issue itself. It also provides other tools so that, once you do know the nature of your problem, you can finally start getting things done.
12. Life Hacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better, by Adam Pash
“This book isn’t a computer user manual, and it isn’t a productivity system – it’s a little bit of each.”
This book is dense with hacks, tips and tricks to get things done faster and more efficiently. No philosophy here, just straight up tools to make your life more automated and streamlined.
The hacks include getting the most out of your computer’s operating system, smartphone and a 100+ shortcuts to use. If you like links and references, this is your book.
You’ll likely get lost down the rabbit hole of suggestions but, the book is structured in such an organized way, it’s easy to return to where you left off or jump to a section most relevant to your needs.
13. The Power of Less, by Leo Babuata
“Instead of focusing on how much you can accomplish, focus on how much you can absolutely love what you’re doing.”
Babuata is known well for his blog Zen Habits and this book is a direct extension of what he shares there. A brilliantly simple take on productivity that actually feels manageable.
The book provides productivity tips but goes way beyond by infusing a Zen-like philosophy, encouraging you to reflect on and understand what matters most to you and why.
14. Zen to Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System, by Leo Babuata
“Take as much stuff off your plate as possible, so you can focus on doing what’s important, and doing it well.”
Using his usual Zen philosophy, Babuata takes the best productivity tips and tools from other systems and simplifies them. Babuata breaks it down into 10 simple, straightforward habits and how to change them, keeping it as simple as possible.
If you prefer a more complex system with lists, graphs, charts and such this is not for you.
15. 101 Ways to Have a Business and a Life, by Andrew Griffiths
“When we are recharged, feeling good, feeling healthy, have caught up on sleep and so on, we are in a much better state of mind, and this revitalized energy is reflected in our business.”
Griffiths compiled tips, experiences and responses from thousands of business owners to write this book, which helps business owners identify the main reasons for work-life imbalance and suggests ways to fix it.
Well organized and easy to read, this book is designed to be picked up and read even when things are at their most overwhelming.
Particularly charming is the author’s own story of how his business overtook his life and affected his own relationships and health. His wake up call and the changes he made prompted the writing of this book, which turns out to be as practical a guide as he would have needed when he finally realized what his business was doing to him.
16. Total Workday Control: Using Microsoft Outlook, by Michael Lineberger
“If struggling staff try to “do it all” by rushing through the day at 200 mph, they become more inefficient.”
A well respected book for the worker who uses Microsoft Outlook, a software mainstay for the majority of companies worldwide. This book tends to assume you’re already using core productivity skills taught in other books, like David Allen’s Getting Things Done, so it’s best to use this book in combination with another, more generalized book on productivity.
That said, this is an impressive work that takes you deep into the technical aspects of Outlook’s capabilities ultimately freeing up time for more important tasks.
17. One Year to an Organized Life: From Your Closets to Your Finances, the Week-by-Week Guide to Getting Completely Organized for Good, by Regina Leeds
“The chaos around you is an effect. It is the result of a cause that was set in motion, most likely, but not always, a long time ago.”
This witty and straightforward book takes you on a yearlong journey of organization.
Leeds helps you break down tasks and build routines over time so you never do feel overwhelmed. Tasks are broken down into categories that are assigned to a specific month. Each month is then organized into a system of assignments for each week. Baby steps is the name of this game.
18. The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, by Gary Keller
“Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls– family, health, friends, integrity – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”
Keller’s premise is that we work on too many things at once. We would get significantly more done, with less effort, if we reduce the number of things we focus on – preferably just one thing.
So, instead of measuring our productivity by the number of things accomplished, Keller prompts us to focus on the one thing that will most greatly impact our day, week, month or life.
A highly enjoyable book and a refreshing reminder that less is more.
19. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, by Jocelyn K. Glei
“The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second.”
This is a book with a number of contributors, which makes it a book for everyone. It provides a variety of viewpoints, tips and observations on focus, routine-building, creativity and useful tools to have in your belt.
However, if you’re expecting in-depth information on any particular topic, you might be disappointed. While there are many gems to be found, the contributions can be brief.
20. Execution IS the Strategy: How Leaders Achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time, by Laura Stack
“One way to make everyone speed up is for you, the leader, to discover, and eliminate any obstacles that prevent team members from moving quickly.”
A great book for leaders of any organization of any size. The majority of the book focuses on helping individuals, leaders and organizations figure out where they are weak while providing tools and strategies for how to address it.
21. Work Smarter: 350+ Online Resources Today’s Top Entrepreneurs Use To Increase Productivity and Achieve Their Goals, by Nick Loper
“This isn’t about the latest gadgetry or shifting your mindset; it’s about how to increase productivity so you can achieve your goals. It’s about working smarter, not harder.“
This book is a compilation of resources every time management and productivity nerd needs. With a nod toward efficiency, the book is written is bullet point form naming the resource and a quick line or two describing what it does.
As you’d expect, there are tools galore for CRM, ecommerce, email, file sharing, storage, marketing, news and travel.
22. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande
“The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.”
After so many books offering complex and sophisticated organization and productivity systems, Gawande’s technique can feel like a cool drink of water. He offers the humble checklist.
But do not dismiss this book too quickly! The author goes on to cleverly demonstrate why the checklist is the superior tool for any productive, organized person using examples of pilots and doctors in life threatening situations to make his case.
You’ll likely never look at a checklist the same again.
23. Ready Aim Fire!: A Practical Guide To Setting And Achieving Goals, by Erik Fisher and Jim Woods
“Goals require intentionality. A ship doesn’t just leave the harbor and find the destination by chance.”
Though the examples in this book are bent toward the writing craft, this book can be applied to any project or goal.
The authors provide a step-by-step plan to set goals that include intentional rest periods. They also include personality and aptitude tests, like DISC, Myers-Briggs and a Strengthsfinder test.
24. What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings–and Life, by Laura Vanderkam
“The best morning rituals are activities that don’t have to happen and certainly don’t have to happen at a specific hour. These are activities that require internal motivation.”
If you liked any of Vanderkam’s shorter works, you’re in luck. This book combines her three popular mini e-books into one comprehensive guide.
This is a very easy read, very enjoyable and filled with useful nuggets of information. As the title suggests, if you struggle with getting things done in the morning, this is a book for you.
25. Time Warrior: How to defeat procrastination, people-pleasing, self-doubt, over-commitment, broken promises and chaos, by Steve Chandler
“A warrior takes his sword to the future. A warrior also takes his sword to all circumstances that do not allow him to fully focus.”
Chandler takes traditional time-management and turns it on its head. This is a book about “non-linear time management”.
Otherwise put, this is a book about working in the present moment while breaking your brain’s habit to think linearly into the future about what needs to get done.
There were moments when it felt like Chandler was calling me out personally, so adeptly does he understand our linear mind work tendencies.
This book gives gentle and simple tools to rewire your relationship to time, productivity and integrity.
26. The Productive Person: A How-to Guide Book Filled with Productivity Hacks & Daily Schedules for Entrepreneurs, Students or Anyone Struggling with Work-Life Balance, by Chandler Bolt, James Roper and Jamie Buck
“We’re all guilty of adding too many tasks to our to do lists, only to find ourselves moving unfinished tasks to tomorrow’s list at the end of the day. Then we repeat the cycle week in and week out.”
A great book geared toward people who work for themselves or in a company that allows them to manage their own schedules every day.
When we’re on our own with time, it can easily feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. The authors show you how to change that mindset and fill each day with more using a condensed, compact and very simple format.
27. 23 Anti-Procrastination Habits: How to Stop Being Lazy and Get Results in Your Life, by S.J. Scott
“You can trace every success (or failure) in your life back to a habit. What you do on a daily basis largely determines what you’ll achieve in a life.”
A very quick and easy read filled with concise action steps for each habit. This book provides a survey of other time management methods and so makes a good place to start if you’ve not been exposed to other time management strategies.
The methods suggested are the standard task list creation, assigning them and attaching dates for follow up. Not terribly original, but a great place to begin if you’re new to time management.
28. Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business, by Margaret Greenberg, and Senia Maymin
“For the last 50-plus years, sociologists have been asking people to keep time diaroes of their activities. Surprisingly, people report only one momre hour of free time today compared with 1965. We’re busier than ever, yet we seem to be accomplishing less and less.”
A book that blends best practices from top business leaders and concepts of positive psychology.
For the information junkie, this book is fantastic. It’s well-structured with solid takeaways, including tools, reflection questions, a reading and discussion guide and summaries in the appendix – meaning plenty of reading and references to keep you busy for a long time.
29. Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, by Staffan Noteberg
“Getting thoughts out of your head is mandatory if you want to be able to stay focused.”
No productivity list would be complete without the Pomodoro Technique. This simple but powerful method has permeated the working culture at large.
In it’s most basic form, the Pomodoro Technique has you chunk work in 25 minute segments with 5 minute breaks in between. This framework for productivity forces you to focus on one thing at a time, leaving less room for procrastination.
30. The Desire Map, by Danielle LaPorte
“Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have.”
This book is a bit of an outlier in the productivity genre, but LaPorte claims (and her hordes of enthusiastic supporters would agree) that focusing on the desire behind your goals will lead you to the actualization of your goals with far more clarity and effectiveness than otherwise. It’s a creative, interesting look at how and why we do what we do.
As LaPorte says, we have the system backwards. We shouldn’t be chasing the goals themselves, we should be “chasing the feeling that you hope achieving that goal will give you.”
So here you go, 30 best productivity books that will help improve your productivity and get you to achieve more. Pick one and start reading it, and don’t just read it, apply the tips and techniques to your work and everyday life, then you’ll find yourself achieve more that actually matters!
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