I’m slightly obsessed with optimizing my life for maximum outputs. Out of many areas at work and in life, one of the areas I care a lot about is my productivity. I’ve read a good number of books on productivity and time management. Frankly, not every single one of them is great.
Today, I want to share with you my most recommended productivity and time management books. I organize the books into three levels of productivity: Fundamental, Psychology, and Tactic.
Best Books on the Fundamental of Productivity
When people talk about productivity, they quickly think about what apps they’re using and how they manage their time. However, those tactics don’t work for every single person. What comes first is the fundamentals: Your mental states, physical health, and energy level.
Among everything you can do, setting up and optimizing for a solid fundamental generates the biggest impact on your productivity. Here are two books I highly recommend that help you do just that:
BRAIN RULES BY JOHN MEDINA
Brain Rules shares how the brain sciences can influence the way we teach our children and the way we work. In each chapter, the author describes a Brain Rule — what scientists know for sure about how our brains work — and then offers transformative ideas for our daily lives.
NIGHT SCHOOL BY RICHARD WISEMAN
We’re living in an increasingly underslept society. Many people believe that when they’re sleeping, they’re wasting their time not getting work done. It’s never further from the truth. Night School dives deep into sleep science to show us the power of sleep and how we could get the most out of the time we spend in bed.
Best Books on the Psychology of Productivity
The next level of productivity is our psychology. It includes our approach to time management, how we prioritize and focus, the way we’re wired and behave, and more. Here are the five most recommended books that cover everything you need to know:
ESSENTIALISM BY GREG McKEOWN
Essentialism taught me an important idea: Doing less, but better, to accomplish more. Often, productivity isn’t about getting more done in less time. Instead, it’s about getting the right things — the essentials — done effectively.
THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE BY STEPHEN COVEY
This is one of the very few books that I reread for several times. The seven habits are not just small daily routines; they are the core principles that everyone can implement in their life to achieve greatness. Three of them are about developing yourself and three of them is about improving your relationships with others. And the last habit is about opting for never-ending improvement in all areas of life.
THE POWER OF HABIT BY CHARLES DUHIGG
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to take control of their behaviors and thus, their life. It explains how our habits work, backed by science, research, and real-life stories. Besides, the book has provided practical strategies and techniques to apply the changes to the individual, organizational, and societal level.
DEEP WORK BY CAL NEWPORT
In the increasingly connected age, the ability to focus becomes a rare and valuable skill. Cal Newport divided Deep Work into two parts. He first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating the deep work ethic will generate massive benefits in the long run. Then, he moves on to provide a rigorous regime that helps you acquire the skill of focus.
THE POWER OF FULL ENGAGEMENT BY HUM LOEHR AND TONY SCHWARTZ
This book popularized the concept that energy management should be the core of productivity improvement instead of time management. The key to high performance is to be fully engaged. However, we’re human, not machines. That’s when the book lays out strategies to be fully engaged and strategically disengaged.
Best Books on Productivity and Time Management Tactics
After you’ve mastered the fundamentals and the psychology of productivity, it’s time to start testing out strategies and tactics in details. It could be how to delegate and automate your tasks, what tools to use for each component of your productivity system, and how to manage your to-do list and work schedule.
Out of many books I’ve read, here are the three most recommended books that cover the strategies in details with real-life case studies.
THE 4-HOUR WORK WEEK BY TIM FERRISS
The book introduces a new way of living that Tim Ferriss calls the New Rich. In order to accomplish that, you need to focus on cash flow and mobility instead of the money you have sitting in your bank account. It then provides ways to delegate your work at the same time leverage your inputs for greater outputs, so that you gain more time freedom in return.
HOW TO BE A PRODUCTIVITY NINJA BY GRAHAM ALLCOTT
This is a book packed with a good combination of high-level concepts, psychological mental frameworks, and street-level strategies and tactics. The author argues that instead of managing your time, manage your attention. And then he moves on to lay out the entire process to achieve that from processing your inbox to developing your second brain to hosting effective meetings.
MANAGE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY BY 99U
Manage Your Day-to-Day is a great book on productivity, especially for creative people. I like how Jocelyn K. Glei inserts snippets of experts from the creative community, covering a wide range of related topics, such as self-control, emotions, mindfulness, and grits that most people overlooked. One of the best ideas in the book includes role-based time management.
Final Thoughts and Takeaways
If there is one thing I want you to take away, it’s that to understand the three levels of productivity well: Fundamentals, Psychology, and Tactics. Knowing their differences gives you better clarity of where you should be improving. And then pick up the recommended books and start reading.
Keep in mind that the knowledge you gained is only as good as you execute them. If you do nothing after reading the books, you will likely get nothing as a result. Don’t just read them, push yourself to implement them.
One final note: There is no one-size-fits-all solution to your productivity problems. The key is to test and adjust so that what you learned can integrate well into your life to get the best outcomes.