If you’re familiar with my writing, you know I hate seeing people reinvent the wheel. We need you at your best, focused on solving the next big problem, not stuck on problems that have already been solved.
When it comes to productivity, there’s a lot we already know. But there are only so many hours in the day, so you may not even be aware of some of the solutions others have already discovered.
That’s why I asked a capable member of my team (Thanks Lizzie!) to summarize the top selling books that have to do with getting things done. By reading these quick summaries, you may notice a book that speaks directly to a weak spot in your own productivity systems.
This is an unbiased collection (filtered for relevance to entrepreneurs) based solely on popularity of sales from three businesses: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and NY Times.
We’re starting with a book about one of the biggest problems entrepreneurs face: getting distracted. Here’s the simple truth. Your top priorities get neglected when you don’t have a boss to answer about wasted hours at work.
Most of us could not have success in our careers without technology. Yet while we need tech to get ahead, it can sometimes get the best of us. Nir Eyal speaks to the psychology that drives us to distraction, and the solutions.
Indistractable provides practical techniques to control your time and attention so you can live your life as you truly want.
You will experience fewer days distracted from your priorities. You will reclaim your focus and attention.
Examining your behavior to identify the reasons behind your distractions. You will also assess your values and review your time and calendar management to improve your output.
5 a.m. might not be for everyone, but it’s worth hearing out what Robin Sharma has to say. It should also be noted, many people find the delivery of this story unsettling since Sharma decided to write it as part advice, part novel.
If you learn the advantages of starting your day at 5 a.m., you’ll never go back. The reason you will never go back is because you will accomplish more of the stuff you actually care about in the first hours of the day than most people accomplish in a week.
Tactic Tight Bubble of Total Focus (TBTF)
Summarized: An addiction to distraction is the death of your creative production. Your attraction to digital interruption is harming your mental wellbeing, finances, and energy.
Five assets that successful entrepreneurs spend time protecting: mental focus, physical energy, personal willpower, original talent, and daily time. The key here is to schedule a period of time every day, in a positive environment to increase creativity, energy, and happiness. There is opportunity for this to happen, according to Sharma, during the wee hours of the morning when everyone else is asleep.
Improved self-awareness and a changed perspective toward the world, the people around you, and your work.
"Adults are deteriorated children... When you were much younger, you understood how to live. Staring at stars filled you with delight. Running in a park made you feel alive. And chasing butterflies filled you with joy... Then, as you grew up, you forgot to be human. You forgot how to be bold and enthusiastic and loving and wildly alive. Your precious reservoirs of hope faded. Being ordinary became acceptable."
Many people consider David Allen’s book to be the one that brought productivity-improvement mainstream for the average person. Allen's premise is that our productivity is directly related to our ability to get our to-do list out of our head so we can relax enough to really focus.
You will be able to clear your mind and organize your thoughts, so you can speed up your pace without feeling scattered or frantic.
Practicing systematic approaches for an accelerated management style.
"...most people are so embroiled in commitments on a day-to-day level that their ability to focus successfully on the larger horizon is seriously impaired. Consequently, a bottom-up approach is usually more effective."
In The 4-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferris unveils the importance of changing the traditional and tiring daily grind, which for many people is beyond a 40-hour work week.
Become a member of the “New Rich” – a mobile group of professionals who value freedom and make enough money to live life on their terms.
Outsourcing or automating most tasks, contained in his acronym: DEAL
Definition – Define what makes you happy. What do you enjoy? What would you like to experience?
Elimination – Eliminate 80% of the things you do that contribute the least to your output.
Automation – Outsource work that does not add value to your dreams.
Liberation – Instead of waiting until you are retired to enjoy life, do it now!
Making the most of the time you have and freeing time up for breaks and “mini-retirements.”
Much of what is contained in Ferris’ plan fits with my coaching methods as I support entrepreneurs in their efforts to boost their productivity by investing in systems that pay you back in the form of dividends of time-savings in the future.
Essentialism is a unique message for a productivity book. So many productivity books talk about how to get more done in less time. But Essentialism is about only getting the right things done. If you have been craving a disciplined approach for deciding what is absolutely essential, this is a good read.
You will learn strategies for eliminating the nonessential, so you can focus your valuable time and energy on the few things that actually matter.
Apply a very selective set of criteria to choose where attention and energy should be placed.
Figuring out what the most quality action you can take is, as opposed to the mindless quantity. You’ll feel less rushed and more thoughtful in your approach to work.
Where is resistance found? Steven Pressfield says it’s found in your “chattering brain.”
There are many enemies in our brains: fear, self-doubt, procrastination, distraction, shyness, selfishness, self-loathing, perfectionism. The author expects readers to go through challenging times where failure is felt. However, he argues that exposing oneself to challenges will aid in learning, overcoming internal resistance, and achieving success.
While this type of book can be motivating for anyone, it’s especially useful for those in creative lines of work. It’s useful for people who experience writer’s block or procrastination.
Discover the barriers that block you from success and perfect the motivation to get over them.
The Proposed Mechanism:
In Do The Work, readers are supposed to take action faster and spend less time thinking in advance. Pressfield advises that you skip the motivational self-talk and just… Act > Reflect > Act > Reflect.
Believing that taking action builds your competency and confidence. You will finish one goal and then have little hesitation before starting on the next.
“The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
Gretchen Rubin had the opportunity as a writer to take herself on a year-long mission to escape the mundane and find happiness.
As the title suggests, achieve greater happiness, have more fun. But it’s also a productivity book in disguise, because all productivity begins with gaining clarity about what you want, and then taking small daily steps to move in that direction.
To be happy you must have both variety and challenges. Small changes can make a big difference. If you are hung up on big dreams, you might miss some of the small joys in life. Rubin says there are little things to do every day (positive behaviors) that can improve your life.
Not thinking that happiness is an abstract, unattainable concept. You’ll learn that happiness won’t be achieved by big moments or adventures – it is in the little joys that make up your daily life.
Keep a resolution chart. She says the project would not have worked if she did not have one. Find out what works to make you happy, then keep your chart to make sure you actually DO those things. "Accessibility to good ideas and practices makes it easier for the subconscious brain to access them." Here is an example of a resolution chart that Rubin made to illustrate a new focus for each month of the year.
In The Power of Habit, business reporter Charles Duhigg uses scientific research to uncover why our habits exist, and how we can use habits to create lasting change. Duhigg explains that the best way to get rid of a destructive habit is to replace it with a constructive one.
You will be able to understand how habits are formed, why they have remained, and how to end unhelpful habits.
There is a neurological pattern called The Habit Loop that consists of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward. To change your habit loop, you must change the routine. The cue always remains the same. The reward will likely appear different than it did before, but there will still be a reward of some kind for you to appreciate.
Fixing the procrastination habit.
“To modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habit’s routines and find alternatives. You must know you have control, and be self-conscious enough to use it.”
Cal Newport was one of the first authors to point out our diminishing capacity to get important work done due to constant distraction from our devices in our modern, always-on culture.
He shares stories of people who have gone against the grain to create periods of uninterrupted time for what he calls “deep work.” That’s where mastery awaits. It’s a way to create meaningful progress of the sort you simply can’t pull off without escaping from constant distraction.
You will develop your own deep work routine that will improve your capacity to think more creatively and create a bigger impact in your field through more significant achievements.
Without eliminating distraction, it would be impossible to enter deep work for demanding tasks that use a lot of brain power.
Flow states allow us to produce better results, in less time. Newport outlines a training regimen and four rules to support the skillset known as deep work.
Accomplishing big projects that feel out of reach to the average person.
Author Steve Scott gathered research and information from several other books to put together this motivational collection. How to Stop Procrastinating outlines the 8 reasons why most people procrastinate and gives a framework to build action-oriented habits in life.
You will tackle your problem areas and become an improved, ultimate version of you.
A more productive life and a desire to fight back when you feel low motivation.
Eat That Frog is a phrase that speaks for itself. Do the hardest tasks first. But here’s the real secret about why it works. When you leave a task you hate for later in the day, you automatically and subconsciously sabotage your speed to slow down on the tasks leading up to it. By getting it done first, you get a mood-boost that speeds you through the day.
Brian Tracy’s book is a comprehensive list of productivity tips that could give you an edge to achieve your goals. Eat that frog is just one of the ideas he covers.
It is also a quick read, or an audio listen of a couple hours which might be perfect for collecting new ideas on a morning or evening commute.
You will be reminded of some of the basic, best-practice ways to beat procrastination and get stuff done.
Make list of your tasks before you start your workday. Sort them into an ‘A’ column and a ‘B’ column. Then number the items in each column by priority. The most important tasks will be located in 'A'. You cannot go to 'B' until you complete your ‘A’ tasks. You cannot start an A2 task until you finish your A1 task.
Keeping a pen and notebook on hand to “think on paper” as you decide where to focus your attention.
“Everyone procrastinates. The difference between high performers and low performers is largely determined by what they choose to procrastinate on.”
What are you going to do tomorrow? And when will you do the things you’ve selected?
This book is about what most successful business owners have figured out: NO there’s not a way to get everything done, every day. However, successful people get a couple of the most important things done every day.
You will understand why you do the things you do, how to manage time, and improve your performance.
Identify 3 important things you will do tomorrow, and pick out one as a “must do.” Each day – no matter what – take action on your must, make the most of your time, learn how to talk to yourself kindly in your head, rehearse how you will talk to others, and identify a “virus” that is impacting you, then vaccinate.
Focusing on the solution instead of the problem. It will give you better control of your mind to have a more positive perspective.
Make Time is about “rethinking the defaults of constant busyness and distraction so you can focus on what matters every day” so that daily life doesn’t feel like a frenzy.
You will be more thoughtful about the way you apply your attention, to what, and why.
Placing importance on your passions and values rather than reacting to what others demand of you.
Before writing this book, Laura Vanderkam interviewed several successful people who get the most out of the 168 hours we all have in a week. Next, Vanderkam had a group of people who felt overwhelmed carefully log how they spent their time. Her book outlines how successful people allocate their time differently than those who struggle.
You will learn how to manage your time like successful people do. You will free up time for your family and interests and become happier as a result.
A strong component of Vanderkam’s methods is to outsource the items in life that are not within your core competencies. She is also a clear advocate for time-tracking software and has downloads available on her website.
Taking a hard look at how you spend your time, and thinking about how to use your time more wisely.
Dr. Snyder counts this book among those that have influenced him most. Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto, says even the most practiced experts (such as pilots and doctors) rely on checklists to reduce mistakes and improve outcomes. He points out that in the surgical world, a 90-second checklist has lowered the rate of fatalities by more than a third.
The book is a mix of advice, proven success, and entertaining real-world stories. Checklists can be used for everything from onboarding clients, writing books, and performing complex procedures, to raising children.
You and your business will suffer less mistakes and you will have more energy because your mindshare isn’t being taken up by remembering the best-practice steps that help you get things done efficiently.
SOPs and Checklists – of course!
Not relying on your memory. You’ll recognize the power of SOPs for yourself and your team.
“One essential characteristic of modern life is that we all depend on systems—on assemblages of people or technologies or both—and among our most profound difficulties is making them work.”
"Checklists seem to provide a protection against such failures. They remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit. They not only offer the possibility of verification, but also instill a kind of discipline of higher performance."
After what the authors describe as a “two-decade quest” on how to take action on your best ideas, they put their findings into this book published in 2017. Kane, Garguilo, and Skoryk’s main concern is how often people wait for the “perfect time” to execute important ideas. Garguilo states, “People seem to value collecting good ideas more than they do actually making any of them happen.” A bias toward action has to be developed so that ideas don’t just stay in an idea phase.
You will bring your ideas to life. You will take action on your ideas with less anxiety, fear, and overwhelm.
Surge suggests that taking an action right away on a concept is the most important step for progress.
Motivating yourself (and others) to make your dreams happen in reality instead of just in your imagination.
In Time Warrior author Steve Chandler urges his audience to become “style trackers” rather than “time trackers.”
Tracking your cognitive style will make you the coveted Time Warrior, as understanding how you operate can change how your limited time is spent.
Don’t think about measuring time by the clock. Time Warriors manage chaos by slowing down, rethinking how time is managed, filtering out distractions, and staying present instead of worrying about the future.
Doing the things you’ve decided to do, whether you feel like doing them or not.
"Why didn't you do these things before now? Why do you care? I don't care if it was fear, laziness, or because your father never showed you how to do it. I don't care if it's a DNA imbalance on the right side of your spiral nebula. I don't care about anything like that. If procrastination is occurring, do the things you are procrastinating on."
“People who race out ahead of life are falling down on the dance floor. They are living in their own future, which is where fear lives. But when you slow down to master this present moment, life gets fearless.”
Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has scaled businesses from 3 million to 60 million within a 5-year span. He has identified 12 (and a half) emotional ingredients that were, and continue to be, the reason he’s been successful. Gary Vee believes that great leaders are hustlers but are also empathetic, compassionate, self-aware, and patient.
You will learn to effectively harness your emotional intelligence to excel in the workplace.
Perseverance through the difficult times while exhibiting compassion toward others.
Dig deep into the why's. “Why did the employee choose to say that behind my back?” Be upfront and know their motives. "I want to learn and understand why."
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is passionate about the mental state he names “flow.” Flow is a state of intense focus and contentment in the present moment. Sometimes referred to as being “in the zone,” flow states are known to drive performance and spark innovation.
You will be inspired and achieve higher levels of creativity, pleasure, and happiness. You will produce more valuable work by spending more of your time in flow states.
A combination of both science and philosophy, this book speaks to controlling your inner experience to achieve flow states more often. Learn the flow triggers so you can become more productive.
True happiness, living up to your full potential, being present, and achieving goals.
“Goals justify the effort they demand at the outset, but later it is the effort that justifies the goal. If goals are well chosen, and if we have the courage to abide by them despite opposition, we shall be so focused on the actions and events around us that we won’t have the time to be unhappy.”
Bregman believes the best way to fight constant interruptions is to create productive distractions.
You will cut through the daily clutter and focus on key items that are your true top priorities.
Take regular pauses during work to refuel, choose to focus on “wants” instead of “shoulds”, charge ahead with speed during uncertainty, do not keep items on the to-do list for more than three days, resist the temptation to say “yes” too often, spend a few minutes each day thinking about who you should connect with and what you have learned that day, and create an environment that supports your productivity.
Embracing several bite-sized chunks of advice that can be practiced within 18 minutes on any day for self-improvement.
I hope this comprehensive collection motivates you to reach your next level of purpose and productivity. If you want to discuss any methods outlined above, I am available on the Voxer app at coachtodd to chat. Interested in joining my next mastermind class? Sign up for my Farsighted Entrepreneur newsletter list to stay up to date on virtual and in-person events.