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Natalia Rossingol

15 Best Productivity Books to Read Your Way to Success

Looking to increase your productivity, but don't know where to start? Learn the nitty-gritty from the best books in the productivity space.

We’re limited in time. Everyone has the same 24 hours, but sometimes, it seems to be not enough. However, productivity is not about time – it’s about the result, and some people have no problem producing more in less time. So do they know something the rest of us don’t?  

In this article, we’ve briefly described 15 best productivity books that unlock the secrets of time management, purpose, and focus. They contain a wide range of perspectives and techniques, which often overlap, but are presented through the prism of personal experience, which makes them really valuable. Get familiarized with them so you can find the one that’s right for you, and apply some of productivity tips in your everyday life.

  1. “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport
  2. “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown
  3. "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey
  4. “Zen to Done” by Leo Babauta
  5. “Free to Focus” by Michael Hyatt
  6. “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen
  7. “Principles: Life and Work” by Ray Dalio
  8. “23 Anti-Procrastinaiton Habits: How to Stop Being Lazy and Get Results In Your Life” by S. J. Scott
  9. “How to be a Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More and Love What You Do” by Graham Allcott
  10. “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
  11. “Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life” by Jim Kwik
  12. “Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones” by James Clear
  13. “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours” by Robert Pozen
  14. “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland
  15. “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande

1.“Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport

Ironically, jobs are easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges… Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.

We’re continuously getting distracted by thousands of shallow things like social media, phone calls, and random thoughts and events, which negatively affect our ability to concentrate on what really matters. Having used to quick dopamine, we cannot stand boredom, filling every minute of our free time with activities that are often meaningless, like scrolling our screen. As a result, we never get into a state of flow when our mind is deeply focused and is able to produce the most brilliant ideas.

In "Deep Work," Newport underlines that the ability to work “deeply,” organizing your time properly and practicing willpower, can turn you into a highly effective individual who finds pleasure in work.

Here's our summary of Deep Work here.

2. “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done, it’s about how to get the right things done.

Society puts a lot of pressure on us: we’re overloaded with information, we’ve got too many choices, and we’re expected to do it all. However, trying to achieve success by following this unachievable norm, we set ourselves to failure. To accomplish things that really matter to us, we need to learn to prioritize our life.

The point of the “essentialism” theory developed by McKeown is figuring out what is absolutely essential to you, and then eliminating everything that is not. Essentialism is built on three fundamental truths:

  1. You choose to do something.
  2. Only a few things matter.
  3. You can do anything, but not everything.

This way, living in alignment with Essentialism means being selective in your choices and how you use your resources.

Check our summary of Essentialism here.

3. "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey

As long as you feel you’re serving others, you do the job well. When you are concerned only with helping yourself, you do it less well – a law inexorable as gravity.

This self-improvement book is based on the idea that we see the world through our own perceptions. This is why, to change the situation, you should first change your perception of it and work on your own character and inner motives. While a negative mental paradigm makes you see the world in dark colors, a positive one turns problems into adventures.

The seven habits Covey describes in the book are aimed to help you move from the state of dependence to independence, and then to interdependence – because even though society dictates that independence is the highest achievement, in fact, only interdependence (which is, working with others) can lead you to maturity and great results. Covey explains that success is not just wealth or fame – it’s about individual growth and serving other people.

4. “Zen to Done” by Leo Babauta

Instead of focusing on how much you can accomplish, focus on how much you can absolutely love what you’re doing.

Our life is chaotic, and we often crave some simplicity. In his book, Leo Babauta outlines 10 habits that can help you become more organized and simplify the way you tackle your work. He emphasizes that there is no need to implement all of them at once – it can be daunting and counter-productive, so he provides recommendations on how to painlessly and successfully make productivity habits a part of your life.   

By taking up these habits, not only do you accomplish more – you also achieve a state of mindfulness, “zen,” which is good for your mental health. 

The approach Babauta suggests is about removing everything that is not important so that you can move to your goals without getting lost on your way. He explains that saying no to things that are not important gives you true freedom. 

5. “Free to Focus” by Michael Hyatt

In a world where information is freely available, focus becomes one of the most valuable commodities in the workplace.

Being productive doesn’t mean you have to squeeze more and more stuff into your schedule. On the contrary, you should clarify for yourself what your priorities are, spending your time on what matters and cutting off distractions and interruptions.

Even though multitasking can sound like a great skill, in fact, it reduces your productivity. You work more, restless, and as a result, your energy level drops. You can get chronically stressed. This way, lack of focus leads to bad decision-making, and the quality of your work decreases. This is the opposite of what productivity is. 

Hyatt offers a 3-step formula that can let you achieve more by doing less – stop, cut, and act. You stop to take a deep breath and analyze what your goal is, and then draw a line between what’s important and unimportant. After that, you eliminate unnecessary staff and delegate or automate certain tasks to use your time practically. Finally, you get to work on the tasks add value.

6. “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen

Things rarely get stuck because of a lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined. 

Allen developed his personal productivity method that helps you set priorities and organize tasks. The idea behind this method is that our main challenge is not poor time management or problems with handling excessive amount of information, but rather the lack of clarity, which causes anxiety.

We know what we need to do, and we know we need to stay calm to make things happen – however, this is not enough. The new, more productive approach created by David Allen consists in figuring out what specific actions need to be taken, getting rid of unimportant stuff.

The more information we keep in our head, the more stressful it is – this is why, he recommends dumping mental stuff in some external system and organizing it, which would let you further decide what you need to do about it and whether you need to do something at all, because it may be not worth your attention. 

7.“Principles: Life and Work” by Ray Dalio

Without principles, you would be forced to react to circumstances that come at you without considering what you value most and how to make choices to get what you want. This would prevent you from making the most of your life.

In this book, a billionaire Dalio shares the principles that helped him succeed in life and business, hoping that they will lead you to uncover your own ones. The book is about truth-seeking and decision-making, and it teaches you how to find systems that would bring you success.

Dalio explains that while values define what is important for you and what you want to be, they are not practical when you have to make tough decisions. You need to take action, and by using principles, you outline a set of actions, aligned with your values, that would lead you to your goal.

He mentions more than 500 (!) principles, breaking them down into higher-level, mid-level, and sub-principles, interwoven into his personal journey, and provides a 5-step process for getting what you want.  

8. “23 Anti-Procrastinaiton Habits: How to Stop Being Lazy and Get Results In Your Life” by S. J. Scott

It’s not hard to stop procrastinating. Really, all you have to do is form the same habits used by countless successful people and make them part of your life.

Unfortunately, some of our best intentions to get work done turn out to be futile. We put off important tasks, and as a result, we get ourselves buried under a ton of unfinished things. We still have to do them – but now we’re also super-stressed, which affects our mental health and negatively impacts the quality of our work.

To avoid such situations, Scott recommends developing an “anti-procrastination” mindset – which is, habits that would train you to do your work consistently so that you never procrastinate.

This book provides a step-by-step blueprint that would help you identify what’s important in your life and say “no” to everything else, do the tasks even when you’re not in the mood, break big projects into small pieces, and organize your life.

9. “How to be a Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More and Love What You Do” by Graham Allcott

Never, ever forget that you are not a superhero. You are a Ninja. You’re human. You must realize that the world changes, but that you’re as prepared as you can be.

The problem with many approaches and apps promising to help you achieve extraordinary productivity is that what they promise is impossible. You cannot sleep a couple of hours a day or tackle one hundred tasks at once, yet stay productive – because superheroes don’t exist.

However, ninjas do. Originally, the term “ninja” applies to people trained in Japanese martial art. Alcott uses it in a different meaning - to describe skilled people with a focused mindset.

Ninjas are calm and know how to say “no.” They’re unconventional and ready to take risks. They’re agile and can easily respond to a threat or grasp an opportunity. But they’re not perfect – and it’s okay, because what they aim at is consistency, not perfection.

In the book, Alcott explains how anyone can become a productivity ninja by employing the right techniques, which include writing to-do lists and lists of ideas, the right time management approaches, like “pomodoro,” and monotasking. 

10.“The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

A balanced life is a lie… Extraordinary results require focused attention and time. Time on one thing means time away from another. This makes balance impossible.

The idea that everything matters equally is erroneous. You make a to-do list, but the problem is, not all items on the list are equally important – so what is the use of getting all of them done? In this book, Keller and Papasan explain that truly big things in life start with a simple question: is this the one thing that is worth doing? What should you focus on this year, month, and today? Because success is not about discipline or balance – it’s about doing something that has meaning to you.

This book teaches us that by thinking big and crystallizing your true purpose, you can achieve the highest productivity and feel accomplished because it’s your life and only you know how to make it full.

Read our summary of The One Thing here.

11.“Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life” by Jim Kwik

Do your best to keep your self-talk positive. Remember this: If you fight for your limitations, you get to keep them. Your capabilities aren’t fixed, and it’s possible to learn anything.

This is a book about how to upgrade your brain and improve your mental performance. According to Kwik, becoming limitless is not only about excellent memory and accelerated learning – it’s about looking beyond what you think is possible. We all have our constraints, artificial beliefs imposed on us, which impede our progress – but fortunately, we can unlearn them.  

For your brain abilities to become limitless, Kwik offers the Limitless Model – Mindset, Motivation, and Method. He explains that by figuring out the limits in the HOW (method,) the WHY (motivation,) and the WHAT (mindset,) you can change the processes for accomplishing things, find the true purpose, and reconsider your inner convictions. To do this, he provides step-by step techniques that will make your learning easier.

12.“Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones” by James Clear

Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound and turn into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.

We’re what we do, and what we do is often merely a habit. Habits define our lifestyle, so picking the right habits and getting rid of the wrong ones can make a considerable change. This book is not about productivity as it is – yet, it will teach you how to achieve your goals by altering your daily habits. 

Clear explains the behavioral mechanism of habits, describing them from a psychological point of view, and provides detailed instructions on how to develop habits that would help us become who we want. He describes the 5 Laws of Behavior change. To make new habits a part of your life, Clear recommends tracking your success at the end of each day using a habit tracker.   

The idea of the book is that you can achieve a lot by taking baby steps – but on a regular basis.

Read our summary of Atomic Habits here.

13.“Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours” by Robert Pozen

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Deal with low-priority items in a way that allows you to spend as little time on them as possible.

It doesn’t matter how much time you spend on your tasks. What matters is the quantity and quality of your work. Robert Pozen points out that to be extremely productive, you should first and foremost focus on your results, whether it concerns your professional or private life.

His formula is simple and is based on three fundamental rules. First, you have to articulate your goals and rank them according to their priority. Second, you need to focus on the final result. Third, you should not pay too much attention to small tasks.

In addition to that, Pozen recommends simplifying your daily routine so that you don’t spend too much time and energy on mundane things. This means eliminating the necessity to make little choices like what to eat for breakfast or what to wear, opting for a limited number of choices.    

The book also contains advice on how to develop personal skills like writing, reading, and public speaking, how to manage relationships with your boss and your team (since relationships also affect productivity,) and how to achieve work-life balance.

 14.“Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland

No Heroics. If you need a hero to get things done, you have a problem. Heroic efforts should be viewed as a failure of planning.

The term “scrum,” which stands for a team performance framework, was developed in 1993 by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. Scrum represents a new way of working, aimed to deliver better results at higher quality and lower cost, which challenges a traditional top-down management approach and which has been successfully adopted by both tech and non-tech companies.

This book is more about the philosophy behind Scrum rather than how to use it. The range of topics in the book is wide – Sutherland talks about the origins of Scrum, impact of team size, the importance of time, priorities, danger of multitasking, planning, and even happiness. Sutherland provides steps of implementing Scrum, underlying that this concept can be used to improve team performance for any type of project, in any human endeavor – for business, for schools, and even for handling poverty.

Related: Agile vs Waterfall - Know the Difference

15.“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande

Discipline is hard… We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures… We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.

We often make mistakes not because we lack knowledge, skills, or experience. Sometimes we are simply inattentive, but that inattentiveness may cost a lot, especially if you work in high-risk industries, like aviation, construction, or sphere of medical assistance.

Gawande offers an effective technique that he developed while working at hospitals, - checklists, lists that contain detailed actions you need to take while performing a specific task. He points out that while checklists might be boring and time-consuming, they significantly reduce the risk of mistake and, consequently, failure.

The author shares his personal experience of developing and implementing checklists, telling us about difficulties and lessons he learned. He presents characteristics of good and bad checklists, and provides a formula of how to develop a good one. He underlines that checklists do not make things more complicated – on the contrary, they save your time.

Here's our summary of The Checklist Manifesto here.

Good books for productivity are an investment into your future – but only on condition that you actually follow the practical advice, because reading for the sake of reading is more about pleasure rather than use. So pick one of these productivity books which you think will help you learn something new and try using the techniques described in them. If they worked for someone else, why wouldn’t they work for you?

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