Image - Books to Improve Productivity

[In a hurry? Scroll to the bold header “The List”]

productivity /noun/ the state of yielding results; a measure of output per unit of input

Why productivity?

We each think of something a bit different when we think about how productive we are or could be. When I think about productivity, I consider the constraints of time and resources that produce natural barriers. There are numerous ways to measure productivity, but I like to measure it as how much I get done in a certain amount of time. A standard measure of time could be a week and we all get the same 168 hours every seven days.

So how do you get more done in the same amount of time? It’s a matter of mindset. When you think in more productive ways, you get more done. This isn’t limited to just “tasks”. Let me ask you a few serious questions:

How much time do you spend just sitting and thinking?

How much time do you spend turning raw train of thought into cohesive ideas?

Productivity is a step-by-step process of solving problems in your life. When you can look at the world differently, you can solve problems in different ways. When you can solve the right problems first, you save yourself time later. When you change your mindset, you can commit to more by breaking down bigger problems into smaller tasks.

As far as I know, there are no (or next-to-no) college or high school courses on being more productive. We occasionally get study tips, but study tips don’t necessarily translate to adult life when you need to read 12 briefings to write a recommendation report, go to three meetings, make dinner, and take the dog to the vet. It all leaves little time to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode. In fact, the word “binge” sums up the paradox of productivity: we power through entire seasons of television because we won’t necessarily have time to later, which invariably causes us to have less time later to complete our other tasks.

To expand on this last point and clarify a bit, increasing productivity is not the same as just being busy all the time or adding more obligations to your plate. Productivity is about finishing all the things you need and WANT to get done. If you’re looking to spend more time with a significant other, hit golf balls out on the back 9, binge watch your favorite show, or actually cram more work in, you need to be more productive.

The List

This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, nor does it catalog the best books on the subject, but they are some of my favorites that I have read and currently use in my life.

  1. Essentialism | Greg McKeown: You’re doing too many things, so says Greg. In order to accomplish more, you need to start saying “NO” to things and prioritizing the important pieces of your life. Giving more attention to less tasks gives way to better results. Prioritizing and removing tasks from your To-Do list will free up space in your mind.
  2. Getting Things Done | David Allen: I heard about this one on the Motley Fool Answers Apparently it can get a bit cultish if you swim into the deep end of the system. At the core of it, you learn and implement a system that gets everything in your head onto paper (literal or digital), organizes it, and guides you to execute it. You’ll be able to set up reminders for yourself months or years from now, track “someday” goals, and break projects down into stepwise tasks. Allen’s website even offers templates (for a premium) for various current platforms. Currently I use GTD with Evernote.
  3. The Now Habit | Neil Fiore: Is procrastination a killer for you? Feeling guilty about doing something for pleasure? This book will help get over those feelings so you can see a better balance to life. Fiore (who has a Ph.D in Psychology) leads you through the reason we procrastinate and why it’s so rewarding for our brains. Then he details insight and mental guidance to break those bad habits and push yourself.
  4. The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking | Edward Burger: This book takes you through strategic ways to think differently. As it relates to productivity, it allows you to reshape the problems laid before so you can navigate your way through your thoughts better. It’s even helped me in finding problems I didn’t know about, while simultaneously better equipping me to solve them. It has real-life examples and implementable action steps so you can literally get started while you read.
  5. The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program | Stanley Frank: A little backstory here first. My mom bought this when I was a kid and it stuck with me. Unfortunately, I lost interest in reading and my speed slowed down to about 250 words-per-minute. I’ve since picked it back up and reinstated my love of reading, but with the added help of a digital program (7 Speed Reading). I’m now around 500 words-per-minute for textbooks and 600 for anything else. For its application to productivity, think about it this way: however fast you read material now, ask yourself what you would do if you could read it in half the time, or if you could read twice as much in the same time? With more practice, you can get to three times your reading speed. [Want to test yourself? Look for the link at the end of this post]
  6. The 5 Second Rule | Mel Robbins: This one is a bit of a curveball for productivity. It will help you do what you otherwise would be too afraid, too lazy, or too uncertain to do. For the productivity aspect, you’ll face what Robbins (no relation to Tony) has dubbed “activation energy” – getting off auto-pilot and into your life. Many times, this 5 Second Rule will get you to try something new, but it could just be as simple as getting out of bed and into the gym.

Two birds, one video

For a little taste of the last book recommendation, and if you are currently participating in the 30-day TED Talk challenge, watch this video of Mel Robbins’ TEDx Talk about How to stop screwing yourself over.


Speed Reading Test from the Wall Street Journal


In a world becoming more defined by reading headlines, it is becoming too time-consuming to read entire books. Slow down. Reading should be a critical part of your life. I won’t go into great detail about the benefits of reading, but in short, you expand your vocabulary, knowledge, and focus. This is one post in a series of book recommendations on improving different aspects of life.

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