Are you trying to do it all and feel like you’re failing? Welcome to the club. Many people, especially entrepreneurs and business professionals, feel like they're swimming against a relentless tide of tasks, deadlines, and obligations. Sometimes it feels like we're all just treading water, trying to keep our heads above the surface.
We know procrastination, bad habits, poor time management, and low productivity are some of the things that can prevent us from reaching our goals. But how do we tackle these problems?
Productivity books are one lifesaver to consider. A productivity book is, quite simply, a book about becoming more productive. This can mean different things for different people. It might mean becoming more efficient at work or finding more time for personal pursuits. Whatever your definition of productivity, there is surely a book to help you achieve it.
The best productivity books offer actionable advice and clear insights into the habits of successful people. They can help you identify your own areas of opportunity and equip you with the tools you need to make positive changes. Whether you want to streamline your work processes or find more balance in your personal life, a good productivity book can be an invaluable resource.
Are you ready to stop treading water and start getting ahead? This article rounds up 10 of the most popular and highly recommended productivity books, along with key takeaways from each one to help you become more productive in life and work.
Self-help books vs. productivity books
Let's discuss some of the differences between productivity books and self-help books before jumping into our list. Both book genres are designed to help readers improve their lives in some way, but there are some key distinctions between them.
Self-help books are usually written to help the reader overcome personal challenges, achieve goals, or improve their well-being. In contrast, productivity books typically provide advice and tips on being more efficient and effective in work and other areas of life.
While both types of books can be useful, it's important to choose the right book for your needs.
If you're looking for help with a specific issue (like relationship troubles or mental health), a self-help book may be a better choice. However, a productivity book may be more useful if you're simply looking for ways to boost your productivity (both personally and professionally).
Why productivity books are a good idea
There are many benefits to reading productivity books. They can provide clear and actionable advice on things like how to kick bad habits or better manage your time. The best books can give you insights into the habits of successful people, which you can then apply to your own life.
Other benefits include:
- Helping you to identify your productivity blocks
- Offering actionable advice for improving your productivity
- Showcasing the habits of successful people
- Inspiring you to change your own habits
- Providing insights into time management and organization
- Helping you to find more balance in your life
Productivity books are a great way to motivate yourself. Seeing your progress after reading one and applying the principles can be incredibly inspiring.
Top 5 productivity books to read if you want to accomplish more this year
If you're looking for a productivity book to help you do more this year, we’ve created this bestsellers list with the most popular and highly recommended books. We’ll take a close look at the top five productivity books and share five additional books worth considering.
1. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is a self-help book by Stephen Covey and published in 1989. This bestseller has sold over 40 million copies and has been translated into 40 languages. The book covers seven habits that Covey believes will lead to success in both personal and professional life.
The seven habits are:
- Be proactive. Take the initiative. You don't have to wait for someone else to tell you what to do. You can figure out what you want and then go for it.
- Begin with the end in mind. Clarify your goals and objectives before taking action. This will help you to stay focused and on track.
- Put first things first. Prioritize your tasks and activities. Don't try to do everything at once — focus on the things that are most important.
- Think win-win. Seek mutual benefit in all your interactions. This will help you build relationships and achieve success.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Listen to others and try to understand their point of view. Only then can you hope to be understood.
- Synergize. Work cooperatively with others to achieve more than you could on your own. This habit is all about teamwork and collaboration.
- Sharpen the saw. Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. This will help you sustain your energy and focus.
2. “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” by David Allen
In “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” David Allen lays out a system for achieving greater productivity and peace of mind. The key to the productivity system is what Allen calls "mind like water," the ability to remain calm and focused in the face of stressful or chaotic situations. The book also discusses how to manage your workflow, stop procrastinating, and get things done.
- “It’s a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on.”
- If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined.
- “You must use your mind to get things off your mind.”
- Getting things done requires defining what “done” means and what “doing” looks like.
- Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.
3. “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” by Cal Newport
In “Deep Work,” bestselling author Cal Newport argues that the ability to focus without distraction is becoming increasingly rare — and valuable — in the modern world. He offers a set of rules for achieving deep work, including scheduling your day around periods of deep work, eliminating distractions, and developing a system for capturing and processing ideas.
The four ground rules for deep work are:
- Rule 1: Work deeply. Focus on one thing for as long as you can, and then turn it off completely and go on to the next thing.
- Rule 2: Embrace boredom. Allow time for your mind to wander. Experience empty space without devices.
- Rule 3: Quit social media. Spend less time on social media and limit your usage to specific times and purposes.
- Rule 4: Drain the shallows. Eliminate unnecessary meetings and time-wasters so you can make time for deep work.
4. “The Power of Full Engagement,” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
In “The Power of Full Engagement,” Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz argue that managing one's energy levels is the key to achieving success in any field. According to the authors, we all have a limited amount of energy available to us each day, and it is essential that we use this energy wisely.
They suggest that we think of our energy as falling into four categories: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. To achieve peak performance, they argue, we need to find a way to balance our energies across all four domains. This may require making some lifestyle changes, such as getting more sleep or exercise, but the rewards will be well worth the effort. In addition to providing a roadmap for achieving success, “The Power of Full Engagement” is an inspiring and motivating read.
Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related energy sources: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
- Physical energy is vital to daily functioning. Without physical energy, you won’t be able to do anything. It's a combination of your diet, exercise, and sleep.
- Emotional energy allows you to react to situations with a broad set of feelings and not just let the world push your buttons. Positive emotions promote performance; negative emotions stifle it. We must access pleasant and positive feelings to perform at our best.
- Mental energy fuels your attention span. It's about concentrating on what you want, when you want, and for how long you choose. It helps you endure when things get difficult.
- Spiritual energy is not about religion; it’s what gives us the motivation to act. According to the authors, spiritual energy is defined as a set of beliefs and a purpose beyond personal gain. It's your life's compass and will keep you going when the going gets tough.
5. “The 4-Hour Workweek,” by Timothy Ferriss
“The 4-Hour Workweek,” by Tim Ferriss, is a fantastic book for anyone who feels bogged down by the nine-to-five grind. In it, Ferris outlines a blueprint for streamlining your work week and creating more free time. His book is full of practical advice, life and work hacks, and tips to develop good habits that can help anyone who feels stuck in a rut.
The key productivity hacks from “The 4-Hour Work Week” are:
- You don't need to work 40 hours a week to be successful. In fact, you can probably get by working just a few hours a week if you're strategic about it.
- Outsource as much of your work as possible. Plenty of people are willing to do your work for you, and you don't need to break the bank to afford them.
- Automate repetitive tasks. If there's a task that you have to do over and over again, find a way to automate it. This will free up your time to focus on more important things.
- Eliminate distractions. Distractions are time-wasters and can prevent you from completing your work. Turn off your phone, close your email, and do whatever else you need to do to minimize distractions.
5 more productivity book recommendations worth adding to your reading list
- “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” by Greg McKeown: Less is more. Greg McKeown contends that we live in a culture of constant busyness and over-commitment, which leads to feelings of overwhelm and stress. He urges readers to adopt an essentialist mindset to streamline their lives and work toward their most important goals.
- “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours,” by Robert Pozen: A guide to being productive without working around the clock. Pozen outlines strategies for time management, goal setting, and prioritization. He also offers advice on how to avoid burnout and stay motivated so you’re ready for anything. Also check out “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande for more on this subject.
- “Eat That Frog!” By Brian Tracy: The title of this book is a metaphor for tackling your most important task first. Tracy argues that if you start your day by eating the frog (i.e., your most difficult task), the rest of your day will be downhill from there. If you enjoy this book, you may also like “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth About Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller.
- “Zen to Done,” by Leo Babauta: This is a simplification of David Allen's popular productivity system, “Getting Things Done.” Babauta's system is based on the principles of Zen Buddhism, and it stresses the importance of mindfulness and focus.
- “The Power of Habit,” by Charles Duhigg: Why do we do the things we do? Duhigg explores the science of habit formation and how our habits shape our lives. He also offers strategies for establishing good habits and how to break bad ones. Check out “Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones” by James Clear and “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg if you’re looking for more advice on habit strategy.
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