Update from the author: we’ve updated the product information of the best productivity books to be current for 2023.
Productivity: it’s such a commonly used word. You hear it from entrepreneurs, business executives, and even teachers. Productivity seems like the one thing everyone tries to strive for regardless of their job or experience in it. It’s even measured by the US Labor Bureau.
There is so much hype over one vague word. One word that defines how well we do in school, at work, in our chores, and in our life. We all know that being productive means to produce, be that physical commodities or just results. More broadly, it can be defined as “getting things done”.
But what makes someone truly productive? If two people were in the exact same situation needing to accomplish the exact same task, what would make one more successful than the other? Can someone truly be a productive person? If so, how?
What do productive people do?
They Take Plenty of Breaks
A lot of people actually confuse the habits of productive people and the habits of less productive people. For a moment, imagine what a productive person looks like. Are they constantly pushing themselves to do the next task? Do they rush to complete all of their activities without any down time?
The truth is, this workaholic idea of productivity that’s prevalent all over the modern economy is not true at all. In fact, it’s the opposite of true: productive people give themselves plenty of breaks because humans don’t operate at their best when they’re constantly being stressed out. It might sound counterintuitive, but having downtime in between tasks is proven to help you work more efficiently.
They Put Their Mental Health First
The idea of taking plenty of breaks is at the center of a productive person’s lifestyle because they’re guided by keeping their mental health in shape. After all, you can’t perform your best if your health isn’t in perfect condition.
Making mental health a priority when it comes to being productive is likely the most crucial aspect of a productive person. It can influence your other choices and characteristics related to productivity. Regardless of your tasks, allowing yourself some time and space will increase your energy and make you a happier worker.
They Don’t Try to Multitask
Even the best of us have dealt with having to complete multiple projects, assignments, or chores all at the same time. You may have even read “life hacks” that involve getting multiple tasks done at once for maximum productivity.
There are rare cases where it can be efficient to work on multiple separate tasks at the same time, but these cases are few and far between. Most of the time, trying to multitask leads to a lack of focus which results in poor work quality, slower progress, and general disorganization.
Instead of multitasking, productive people focus on each task individually, making sure they’ve done a quality job in a linear pattern. That way, they already know the work they’ve done is satisfactory, and they won’t have to make up for it later.
They Don’t Try to compensate for an unproductive work session
Sometimes, highly productive people can appear like magical guardians of productivity that never experience off-days, failures, or setbacks. These people can seem like everything always goes efficiently for them, which can make us feel bad.
We start to wonder if we’re doing anything wrong. We might even try to work double to compensate for whatever unforeseen circumstances got the best of us. Sooner or later, everything is off balance and one finds themself extra tired with less work done.
Here’s a secret: productive people also experience challenges they never thought possible. So how do they work against it? A lot of times, they don’t. If you can fix a problem or error, that’s great. But no one can be perfect 100% of the time. Instead of trying to fight this fact, productive people accept it. They let themselves get full nights rest even when they’re behind. They make time for their health and free time even when there is extra work to be done. This results in someone who is in a better mood to tackle extra challenges.
They Know There is Always More to Learn
It’s funny: a lot of top business executives and productivity gurus seem like they understand all there is to know about getting things done. They have a confidence and demeanor that makes us wonder what secret knowledge they’ve unlocked to being so productive.
You could say that they do know the special secret to productivity, but it’s a bit paradoxical: they know that the learning never stops, especially with being productive.
In other areas of learning, your knowledge is limited to how much information has been collected and what’s currently being discovered. But with productivity, a lot of the knowledge comes from people’s personal habits and perspectives.
Everyone has slightly different ways of structuring your lives, which means everyone can teach you something new. With so many different blogs, podcasts, and productivity books, it means you can always get some new advice for being more productive.
Books are an especially great way to absorb knowledge about procrastination. They contain so much more information than a simple article or episode of a productivity show. This is incredibly advantageous because it means you can connect with the author on a deeper level.
A lot of productivity advice is about making deeper connections; you can’t be motivated to be productive unless you truly deeply believe that your work is meaningful. Plus, it’s just nice to hear from a good writer who’s confident about their productivity methods.
We’d like to share the 5 best productivity books to get you started on your journey to getting more work done. Additionally, we’ll summarize the important parts of each book and share key takeaways that make the book worth reading.
The main idea of the book revolves around three factors that determine productivity: time, energy, and attention. Author Chris Bailey argues that you need to master all three to be truly productive.
Another huge part of the book emphasizes figuring out what relevant productivity looks like. Ask yourself if you truly want to be productive for whatever work is in front of you. This may seem basic, but many people are working towards goals that they aren’t actually interested in. When your goals aren’t motivating you, precious energy will be wasted on meaningless side projects, and you will be burnt out by the time you get to the stuff that matters.
We think it’s one of the best productivity books because it doesn’t try to shove toxic productivity down the reader’s throat. It does quite the opposite, and has the reader focus on creating an environment where they are the happiest, and least overwhelmed.
The book also describes the traits of tasks that we end up procrastinating on. Bailey notices that we are more likely to put off things that are uninteresting, unorganized, confusing, and unpleasant. The book is full of these seemingly simple breakdowns of things like productivity and procrastination. It’s easily digestible, but develops an expert understanding of task management.
- You have to prioritize the very utmost important tasks that are working toward your ultimate life goals, and get rid of everything else.
- Recognize that energy doesn’t come in a uniform pattern. Sometimes work will take twice as long in one part of the day as another. That’s perfectly healthy.
- If you’re trying to stay away from digital distractions, never open or connect to any webpage that isn’t absolutely necessary for completing your tasks.
- Create a “patience” list. We all have an idea of the things we have to do, but the things we are simply waiting for (think Amazon shipments or email replies) need to be tracked as well.
- Productivity starts with mental health, which starts with physical health. Be mindful of your diet and exercise.
This book also has sections about energy, time management, and being attentive. But it’s the detailed variety of other sections that really make the book shine.
For example, there’s a chapter of the book dedicated to finishing projects. You might relate to starting on ten different things without ever finishing them, but have you ever thought about why you do that? The book answers that question and more. Essentially, the goal is to create smart deadlines that you can track over time.
Our personal favorite section of the book is the one about routine. It basically says that the less you have to plan out each individual day, the more brain power you can dedicate to the important stuff. The book explains why humans are creatures of routine, and how keeping one makes us more productive.
Like The Productivity Project, there is a noticeable push to do the right work, which the concluding chapter of the book is dedicated to. It recommends putting your heart in charge. In other words, order all of your goals and tasks by what you would want. It also talks about the value in cutting out anything and everything that isn’t immediately a part of your goal for this life.
- Use “sprinting theory”. If your goal is to go out on a run and you sprint away from your house for just the first ten minutes, chances are you’ll continue the rest of the run. This works for any task.
- Follow your plans. The basic act of doing what you say will be more powerful than you know. Your brain is listening, so get in the habit of following what it decides to do.
- Start with the worst thing. Once it's done, everything else is easier!
- Always follow a task with something completely different. If you just finished something technical, work on an artistic endeavor. If you just did a household chore, run an errand that requires a drive. Variety is the spice of life and will make your productivity more energized.
- Define the ending time for every task you have. If a task has no perceivable end point for the day, you will do it slowly until the day is over.
This legendary book that’s sold millions of copies. Stephen Covey’s masterpiece can be found on the bookshelves of corporate offices, schools, and government buildings all over the world.
So what are these 7 habits? The first three are about mastering one’s self, while the next 3 deal with people skills, and the last one is just basically “keep practicing all of these habits”.
Each habit is great, but the first three are especially great for being productive. Habit one is “be proactive”. The argument here is that people can take charge of their own lives. We control our destiny, and the knowledge of that is liberating. Of course toxic positivity and responsibility is bad, but feeling like we can make some difference is the basis of productivity.
Habit two is “begin with the end in mind.” Covey means this in a broad, existential sense. Similar to other authors in the list, he’s trying to get us to ask “Why am I really doing this?” Many of us waste so much time on pointless tasks because we’ve never thought about the answer.
The third habit is to “put first things first.” While the previous habit focused on endings, this one focuses on what to do right now. So much time is wasted figuring out what to do in what order when we frequently already know at least the first step. Once you do that, step two often presents itself.
For decades, Covey’s work has been considered one of the best books on productivity, and developing as a person.
- Commit to continuous learning. Like we discussed earlier, the most wise productivity gurus understand that there is always more to learn.
- Nothing is as difficult as it seems. It’s likely you already know the end goal and the first step of your tasks.
- Reach out to other people for support, and synergize with their ideas.
The thesis of this book is mindset, which is similar to the proactivity described in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But it isn’t some sort of pseudoscientific nonsense. Author Carol Dweck is a tenured psychologist, and her writing reflects that.
Dweck identifies two mindsets that vary greatly, but center around one difference: perfection vs. growth. Perfection mindsets see success as being “smart”, look for certainty and validation in others, and don’t deal with failure well.
Growth mindsets focus on competing with who you were yesterday, instead of the world around you. They see failure as an opportunity to improve, and look for long term improvement instead of easy wins and cheap validation.
The book goes over these two mindsets and how the latter will make you a more productive person.
- Knowing that you have power over a situation is the first step in actively dealing with it.
- Having a positive mindset means acknowledging that failures will be inevitable.
- In order to have a proactive mindset, you have to be aware of both mindsets in a given situation.
- Mindset shifts are a proven psychological phenomenon that can have a huge impact on your life.
Productivity can be described as where we focus our time and energy in response to our tasks. To be more productive, we have to be more proactive. You can become more proactive by taking responsibility for things in your life rather than blaming things out of your control.
The choices you make should reflect what you want to achieve. This will make your tasks more relevant to you (making you more productive) but also help you gain a sense of agency over your life.
Attention is a learned skill. People who are attentive are more likely to vividly imagine the future, have an internal dialogue about their experiences, and connect anecdotes from their past to the world around them.
- We get better results when we think we have control over them.
- Being able to react to unforeseen circumstances is an invaluable tool.
- If you have a clear understanding of how you got into a task, it will be easier to complete that task.
- Long term goals can only be achieved if they’re broken down into smaller goals.
These are the 5 best productivity books. All of them include extensive guides to becoming a more productive, motivated person. Most of them are longer than competing productivity books, and even the shorter items on this list are packed full of helpful productivity tips.
We encourage you to read through multiple books on this list. You might find a number of similarities between them, or that some offer more relevant advice than others. All-in-all, these books have helped thousands (some of them, millions) of people. They are the very best books on productivity and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Happy reading!