Elevate your life, improve your focus, and boost your productivity.
It feels ironical learning about productivity from books, but sometimes, the best lessons come from the written word.
There’s a quote by James Altucher that goes something like
“When you read 1000 books, it’s as if you have learned about all the mistakes 1000 authors made in their lives, and how not to repeat the same.”— (Paraphrased as I couldn’t find the original.)
When you look at it from that perspective, a self-help book that comes from personal experience and research is loaded with life-changing lessons.
In this post, I’ve collected the key takeaways from five of my favorite books about productivity. These are also among the world’s top-rated books in this niche, so read on for some power-packed lessons that can help you achieve twice the results in half the time.
(Note: The links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase these books through these links, it will help me earn a small amount of money — at no extra cost to you. Thanks!)
1. Build Daily Habits With A Long-Term Goal
I learned this from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
The key learning was that if you can align with your “character ethic” by forming these seven habits, you’ll learn how to move from dependence to interdependence:
- Be proactive. Take responsibility for your actions.
- Begin with an end in mind: Choose your short-term behavior according to your long-term life goal.
- Put first things first: Plan your day, week, month, and year in advance. Only spend time on things that align with your deep values.
- Think win-win: Most of life requires cooperation, not competition. Create win/win agreements with people that clearly state expectations, privileges, and consequences.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood: To understand others, listen with empathy. To be understood, present your views according to:
ethos: personal credibility
pathos: emotional alignment with the other person
logos: logical reasoning
- Synergize: Value the differences in relationships.
- Sharpen the saw: Renew and improve yourself in the following categories by spending at least an hour each day on your physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being.
This book can be a lifesaver if you’re into long-term behavior modification rather than quick hacks and tricks.
“Until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”” — Stephen Covey
2. Build A System Around Your Tasks
If you’re looking for productivity advice that’s specific, direct, and practical, a wonderful book to pick up is Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.
David Allen talks about building the GTD system around your tasks so you never have any pending items on your to-do list before calling it a day. There are four major parts to the GTD system:
- Collecting incoming items: This includes letting things accumulate in your physical or virtual receptacles like inboxes, to-do lists, voice mail, or e-mail.
- Processing the items: Sit down with the accumulated items and process them. This can have several elements like — act on it right then, file it for later, trash it, delegate it to someone else, or create a “Next Action” item associated with it.
- Doing the tasks: Focus on one thing at a time without worrying that the other things will be forgotten.
- Review: Regularly review your system to ensure your action items and project lists are up to date.
“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.” — David Allen
3. Set Clear Boundaries
If you’ve ever felt your life spiraling out of control with endless commitments and no clear work-life balance, then Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown could help you.
The author draws lessons from some of the most successful people to present his stance that, with a proper personal mission statement, SMART goals, and a willingness to simplify your perspective, you can prioritize and live a more meaningful life.
The key takeaway is to identify and hyper-focus on what you do best and what matters to you. You can deliver your highest possible contribution without feeling burnt out.
- The non-essentialist has vague, un-inspirational values and a mission statement they generally ignore.
- An essentialist has a concrete and inspirational mission strategy that they stick to with conviction.
“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. ” — Greg McKeown
4. Learn to Prioritize
Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy is an effective lesson on prioritizing your work and discarding or delegating the unimportant tasks.
Here are the 21 steps to beat procrastination and stick to your targets:
- Write out your goals for the year, month, and week. Concentrate on the most important ones.
- Plan your day in advance on paper.
- Know the 80/20 rule: 20% of your work will constitute 80% of your achievements. Concentrate on that 20%.
- Be aware of the consequences of what you choose to work on and which tasks you ignore.
- Adopt the ABCDE method. Organize your tasks by value (a,b,c…) and priority (1,2,3…).
- Focus on areas that will give you the best results.
- Obey the law of forced efficiency.
- Prepare thoroughly by keeping the 6Ps in mind: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
- Review your work and implement changes. If you’re not improving, you’re getting worse.
- Leverage your talents and follow your energy.
- Identify your key constraints and learn how to minimize their detrimental effects.
- Take it one task at a time.
- Put pressure on yourself to stick to your commitments.
- Leverage your superpowers. Select the key times of the day when you are most productive and work on your tasks.
- Be your own cheerleader.
- Practice creative procrastination. You’re not going to be able to get everything done all at once, so be okay with putting off the less important tasks for later.
- Do the most difficult task first (eat that frog).
- Break your tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks, and tackle them one by one.
- Create large blocks in your schedule of time to get your work done.
- Develop a sense of urgency, so you don’t procrastinate.
- Stop multitasking and only focus on one task at a time.
“One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not to be done at all.” — Brian Tracy
5. Learn to Focus Without Distraction
If you want to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time, the key learnings from Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport might help you.
To create drastic changes in your schedule and improve the way you approach work, keep these lessons in mind:
- Define your non-negotiables: Figure out what is most valuable to your success.
- Prioritize: Spend the most time on these tasks, mainly in the early hours of the day when your attention span is long.
- Focus: Try to spend at least three deep work sessions on your non-negotiables, each approximately 90 minutes long. Keep all mobile devices away, and create a high-productivity space for yourself so you’re not distracted.
- Demarcate: Almost anything other than your main task is a shallow task. Learn to set your priorities straight before you begin working.
- Batch work: Bunch all the shallow tasks into one deep task and get them all done in one session.
- Take breaks: Spending time in nature helps to retain your attention span.
“If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive — no matter how skilled or talented you are.” — Cal Newport