If you’ve answered “yes” to any of the questions above, I want to suggest five books to you that can help. These books helped me deal with the very same productivity-related issues I’ve just described. I hope you’ll experience the same positive changes I went through after you read these books.
I bought this book when I was in a bad place. I was severely depressed from extreme work-related stress. I was in this negative cyclical pattern of feeling overwhelmed about how much work I had to finish, which then led to a lack of motivation to work because it didn’t seem to matter or make much of a difference, which led to burning out, and then to depression, which circled back to more feelings of being overwhelmed.
The cycle went on for a while. No matter how much time I spent working, the right things weren’t getting done. I was in desperate need of change.
I needed help. The help came in the form of a book that permanently changed my life. The book is Getting Things Done.
I was never the “self-help” sort of guy. I’m also a very critical and discerning person, so it’s hard for me to take the promises claimed in books, blog posts and by self-labeled “gurus” at face value. But I decided to give this book a shot.
What’s the worst that can happen? I thought to myself. I felt like things couldn’t get any worse.
I decided to commit a long weekend (Friday to Sunday) over four years ago to reading and doing the things outlined in Getting Things Done. I still regularly use the concepts, techniques and ideas I’ve discovered in GTD, even after close to half-a-decade of first reading the book (and I’ve read it at least once a year as a refresher and to keep me on track). Since first getting my hands on this book, I’ve gone on to improve my personal productivity tenfold.
I’ve managed to sustain the continual growth of Design Instruct and Six Revisions. I’ve become a more prolific web content producer. I wrote a book shortly after reading GTD (something I never thought was possible) and have contributed to one of my industry’s most popular multi-author books.
I’ve even lost a lot of weight and I’m now at the healthiest state I’ve ever been in my life. In the past few years, I was able to change my life drastically in ways that let me lead a more fulfilling and purposeful one. And the catalyst of these changes was GTD.
Getting Things Done (GTD) tells you about a flexible and deceptively simple system for organizing your work and life. The book reveals concepts and ideas about the most efficient ways to get your tasks done. If you follow the book’s advice strictly — at least at first when you’re still transitioning into a more productive you — I guarantee you’ll feel an instant relief, as if a 15-ton 18-wheeler truck you’ve been carrying on your shoulders suddenly decides to roll off.
If I can suggest just one book to people who are currently in the sort of desperate, depressed state I was in four years ago, Getting Things Done would be it. It will also serve as a good foundation to the other books I’ll be telling you about below. Also, pick up the two other subsequent books by David Allen (the author of Getting Things Done): Ready for Anything and Making It All Work.
These two books will help you keep the GTD system a component of your life.
This book will change the way you think about your work. The entire premise of The ONE Thing is that the average professional works on too many things, when the truth is we can get more results with significantly less effort. Instead of measuring productivity in terms of the number of things we’ve done, the 14-hour work shifts we put in to feel more productivity, and the amount of items we cross off on our to-do list, this book instead suggests we focus on just one thing that will make the most impact in our day, our week, our month, or our entire life.
The ONE Thing overflows with discussions of research studies that support the idea that when it comes to productivity, less is more. The book also has tons of inspiring anecdotes and quotes that are guaranteed to move you into action. Getting Things Done is a great introduction to the whole concept of thinking more thoughtfully about your personal productivity.
However, the Getting Things Done (GTD) system doesn’t really emphasize the importance of prioritizing the most impactful thing you can do right now to move you towards your primary goals; it doesn’t help you “line up your dominoes” like The ONE Thing does. The ONE Thing helped me fix that knowledge gap. The Design Instruct team use concepts borrowed directly from The ONE Thing to help us identify, strategize and prioritize the things we should be working on in any given workweek.
In our weekly meetings, we always identify “The ONE thing” we can work on to make things better, easier and more efficient.
This book highlights the importance of focusing on the right things in order to get the most results from your time and efforts. The book is centered around the Pareto principle: The idea that throughout history, there has been this reoccuring pattern of unequal distribution where you see the majority of results coming from the minority of possible causes. The 80/20 Principle promotes the habit of determining the key things that matter and then focusing on them to get the most bang for your buck.
One example of how I applied the 80/20 Principle can be seen in the recent set of small updates we made with the site’s web design. We realized that our content was hard to read because of the way we had designed our article pages. We got enough complaints about the reading experience that we decided to do something about it.
We were faced with a choice: Do we spend our time and resources on a redesign, adding new features like a responsive web design, new WordPress custom post types to help us produce and present our different classes of content better, add a “Contact us” form and a whole slew of other new possible site features that did and didn’t affect the reading experience? Applying the idea behind the 80/20 Principle — the idea that you can achieve a lot with just a few key changes — I proposed that we should just update the website’s typography and take out things that didn’t help with the reading experience. It would be a simple and small set of changes, and I believed it would really bring a significant improvement in your reading experience.
We spent a couple of hours planning and implementing the website’s new typography, instead of days or weeks performing a complete redesign of the site. We also identified excess elements that didn’t help with the readability of our web pages, such as the thumbnail at the start of each post. Is the site’s reading experience 100% perfect because of these changes?
No way. But I’ve learned to stomach imperfection despite me being naturally a perfectionist, in exchange of efficient results. Does it mean we won’t be redesigning the site in the near future, and adding all the other essential new site features we discussed?
Nope. We’re going to go ahead with the redesign sometime soon. But what we did is we identified small, easy-to-do key changes that instantly provided us and our readers with relatively big results.
The results of this small effort has been absolutely surprising. We got near-instant positive comments from our readers (on social media and through emails) about how better the reading experience is now. Our web analytics software shows me a +1.01% increase in average visit duration and a -0.65% decrease in bounce rate — metrics that have been relatively stagnant in the past few months for us.
This to me shows that site visitors are deciding to stay on a web page longer perhaps due to a better reading experience. All of that because of a few key CSS stylesheet updates that takes me but a couple of minutes to execute.
Read The Power of Habit to help you harvest the productivity gains resulting from forming good habits. The book is based on research studies on how habits work and how they’re formed. You can also deduce possible ideas from the book that you can use yourself to create your own good habits.
The other books I discussed prior to this book will teach you how to organize your work better and will help you find the most crucial stuff you should be doing right now. But The Power of Habit will help you become a productivity machine. It will get you through the times when you’re lacking motivation to work by showing you how to lean on your habits so that you can switch on your auto-pilot mode.
#5 Getting Real
A few years ago, I got a hard copy of this book as a Christmas gift from one of my previous employers. Though Getting Real is about building web apps better and more efficiently, most of the concepts and ideas discussed in the book apply to any type of work, project, and even life scenarios. For example, the first section in the second chapter called “Build Less” explaining the concept of less in more in software development also applies to your graphic designs or your blog posts or the way you send sales emails or the way you make a decision on what coffeemaker to buy.
If you’re not a web app developer, don’t be put-off just because it’s about building software; the book is an easy and quick read. You won’t see any code in the book. Perhaps one of my selling points for getting you to read Getting Real is that it’s available free online.
I also suggest reading a book called Rework, which shares ideas related to building a successful and more productive business; it’s also by the same authors of Getting Real.
What Books on Productivity Do You Suggest?
Can you share your thoughts about any of the books above? Do you have other books on productivity you can recommend to us?
How have these books helped you? Share your thoughts, suggestions, and opinions in the comments please! Thanks.