My ten favorite books on productivity and time management:
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
- Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins
- Your Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt
- The One Thing by Gary Keller
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Getting Things Done by David Allen
This is a classic, as David Allen articulates a productivity method that has since become ubiquitous in corporate project management and personal goal setting: Identifying the project you wish to complete, and then identifying every step you must take to complete the project. (He doesn’t actually recommend doing it in that order–he spends the first third of the book advocating for people to jot down every miniscule task they need to complete, and then working up from there to organize the tasks into their respective projects. His method for keeping track of random to-dos is a part of my core workflow.
Free to Focus, by Michael Hyatt
Michael Hyatt has written a number of productivity and goal-setting books, and I think this is his best. In it he describes very concrete actions one can take to increase productivity and complete work goals with more intention.
Deep Work, by Cal Newport
This is my favorite book by Cal Newport. He takes an investigative research and science-based approach to productivity, by interview numerous productive people about their approach to work and research the latest scientific studies that shed light on how people produce good work.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
This is a classic that belongs along side Getting Things Done on the bookshelf hall of fame for people interested in productivity. While he doesn’t provide much concrete advice on productivity, Stephen Covey does a really nice job providing a philosophic framework for productivity and inspiring readers to make changes that will benefit both their professional and personal lives.
The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins
Mel Robbins is a lawyer turned motivational speaker who brings a unique no-nonsense approach to productivity. She’s like the fun aunt who is always saying something hilarious but also weighs in with great advice when you need it. The most valuable aspect of this book is that she identifies a tiny but critical step in the process of becoming productive: the moment when we go from inaction to action. Almost every other author on the topic of productivity glosses over this step, and Mel Robbins makes a major contribution to our understanding of productivity by zeroing in on a critical area that can cause so many problems. How many times have we had a great desire to accomplish a goal, and even a great plan as well, and yet we can’t motivate to start, or to re-start after a failure? The 5-Second Rule provides the advice needed to push past moments of inertia.
Your Best Year Ever, by Michael Hyatt
While Free to Focus provides a lot of concrete advice about the weekly and daily process of being productive, in this book Michael Hyatt widens the lens and provides guidance on big-picture planning. I didn’t love this book as much as Free to Focus because it didn’t have as many immediately actionable pieces of advice, but I did find it inspiring and it helped me become more intentional about yearly goal-setting.
The One Thing, by Gary Keller
In this book Gary Keller introduces a method that has since become popular in productivity circles: identifying the most impactful tasks and concentrating on those in order to get the most value out of your time. The book is written like a manifesto, and it’s a fun and inspiring read.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
This book covers similar ground as The One Thing, but for whatever reason it wasn’t as compelling for me. Nonetheless, I’m including it on this list because it contains slightly more concrete advice than The One Thing, plus it’s always helpful to hear from different people on the same topic.
Atomic Habits, by James Clear
This book focuses on the power of habits as a productivity tool. The author comes off a bit like a “productivity bro,” which is my term for guys who have the vocabulary, speech cadence, and mental blindspots of a fitness-obsessed fraternity brother who is now in an MBA program but actually plans to work in finance. Which is not to say I have a problem with any of those four descriptors (fitness is great/fraternities I’m neutral on/MBAs are great/finance can be important and impressive). It’s just that productivity bros tend to occupy a certain life space in which they have significant environmental privileges that most of us do not have AND the over-confidence not to realize it. As a result, books written by productivity bros are not always fully helpful to the average person interested in improving their life through productivity work flows. Back to this book–it’s very good, and James Clear offers concrete advice about how to create and maintain habits that support goal-attainment.
Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport
This is another manifesto-style book that lays out the case for why we should reduce our digital distractions. It’s a good companion book to Deep Work, because it dives deep into one of the most common obstacles to accomplishing deep work, which not getting sucked in by the distractions of our electronic devices. For some reason I did not find it as entertaining to read as Deep Work, perhaps because it comes across a tiny bit as a school teacher wagging their finger at you. However, if you can get past that it is full of really insightful writing, and research, about the pernicious effects of screen time and tips for how to tame our device usage.