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Productivity is an inherently psychological pursuit, yet not much attention is given in productivity circles to how mental health affects our productivity. The assumption is that if you prioritize the right work, and have the right to-do list, then the productive output will follow. However, this assumption overlooks the fact that mental health has an overwhelming (if not completely decisive) effect on whether we are actually capable of following through on a prescribed productivity process. The closest I’ve seen a productivity guru come to addressing the mental health aspect of productivity is Mel Robbins in The 5-Second Rule and in her various audio-only books (see, e.g., Take Control of Your Life).

In The 5-Second Rule she addresses mental health directly and speaks of her own mental health challenges (anxiety and depression) very frankly. While I found the book inspiring (and it makes my Top Ten for productivity books), her prescribed “cure” for depression and anxiety (counting backwards from 5) is incomplete and begs for a more complete approach to targeting the ways in which psychological barriers interfere with productivity.

In Take Control of Your Life Mel Robbins addresses other people’s mental health issues in a series of case-study-like therapy sessions (though she’s not a licensed therapist, so I’m not sure how she pulled that off). I enjoyed the audiobook, and was able to cherry-pick some good advice from it, but it did not take a scientific approach to addressing mental health issues, instead relying on a few case studies from which Mel Robbins then extrapolated advice for everyone.

I should also mention James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, in which he describes methods for developing new, positive habits that support productivity. I think Clear’s methods would absolutely work within a larger framework for improving mental health, but he doesn’t provide a lot of insight into what that larger framework would be.

For these reasons, I would recommend supplementing productivity reading with books on improving mental health. The first one I would start with is The Upward Spiral, by Alex Korb. In it, Dr. Korb, who is a neuroscientist, describes the neurological processes behind anxiety and depression and gives very concrete advice as to how to improve mental health in those two areas. The book notches into a productivity framework exceptionally well, as Dr. Korb especially focuses on the role of motivation in enabling people to take positive actions in their lives.

The Upward Spiral, by Dr. Korb