No matter what your professional or personal life looks like, chances are you’ve wished for more hours in the day. In response to our “go-go-go” culture, authors have penned dozens, even hundreds, of books aimed at helping people get more done in less time. Of course, no one has the free time to read all of them, so we’ve narrowed the list down to the 10 most powerful productivity books currently on the shelves. Each one takes a slightly different approach to time management, so read on to determine which of them will best propel you toward your productivity goals.
Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, by Tim Ferriss
In Tools of Titans, renowned productivity expert Tim Ferriss profiles standouts in a wide range of professions, from medicine and business to politics and entertainment. In each brief chapter, his subjects not only share the secrets of their success, but also reveal interesting minutiae about their daily lives.
The book is divided into three sections:
- “Healthy” is organized around individuals who have earned accolades for their athletic prowess and discoveries related to the human body, including Joe De Sena (founder of the Spartan Race series) and Dr. Peter Attia (a physician focused on the applied science of longevity).
- “Wealthy” is dedicated to multi-millionaires and billionaires whose innovations have changed the way we live (including Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian and author/motivational speaker Tony Robbins).
- “Wise” examines the profound insights discovered by masters of a variety of crafts, such as filmmaker Sebastian Junger, General Stanley McChrystal and comic actress Whitney Cummings.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey
Since its initial publication in 1989, Stephen R. Covey’s classic self-help tome has been read and recommended by millions and remains cemented in Amazon’s best-seller list. While generally marketed as a business book, its enduring advice applies to both the professional and personal aspects of readers’ lives. Its chapters cover key character principles for readers to put into practice, including proactive personal vision, empathic communication, ethical leadership and creative cooperation.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg
By harnessing the idea that the vast majority of human actions are the result of mindless habits, business reporter Charles Duhigg proposes that changing the habitual feedback loop—cue, routine and reward—we can create massive changes in our daily lives. Duhigg examines the science and biology behind many of our most common habits and illustrates the astonishing real-world effects that can result from minor tinkering with these habits. From weight loss and stress reduction to increased productivity and financial success, this book shows readers how their current habits may be holding them back and offers simple solutions for changing their trajectory.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown
In Essentialism, Greg McKeown urges readers to simplify their chaotic lives in order to accomplish more. Rather than teaching us how to do more things in less time, he instead proposes altering our priorities to accomplish the important things and letting the rest of our to-do list fall by the wayside. While on its face the concept may appear unambitious, this approach to life actually requires great discipline: rather than saying yes to every task and request that comes along, essentialism forces us to discern which pursuits truly matter and then pour ourselves into them, so we might make the greatest possible impact with our time and our lives.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen
In contrast to McKeown’s essentialist approach, management consultant David Allen’s book is a guide to improving raw productivity in the 24 hours each of us is allotted per day. Allen’s five-step process for managing workflow requires readers to reorient their physical and psychological space to maximize efficiency. Once this transformation has taken place, both professional and personal pursuits settle into a pattern he calls “relaxed and controlled engagement,” resulting in the stress-free productivity promised in the title.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, by Tim Ferriss
The 4-Hour Workweek put Tim Ferriss on the map in 2007, establishing him as the unparalleled expert in the pursuit of productivity. This “luxury lifestyle design” guide provides a unique framework for earning more income while putting in fewer hours of work, freeing readers to travel and pursue other passions with their newfound free time. This recently expanded edition includes new material, including case studies from readers who have found remarkable success using Ferriss’ methods.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield
In a breezy 165 pages, author Steven Pressfield (whose novel “The Legend of Bagger Vance” became the blockbuster film of the same name) offers practical tips for overcoming paralyzing fear, self-doubt and procrastination—which he lumps together in the destructive force he calls “The Resistance”—to unlock the powerful creativity in all of us.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Though he lived three centuries ago, we would be hard-pressed to name a modern-day multitasker to equal Benjamin Franklin. Among other accomplishments, this author, humorist, scientist, diplomat and statesman invented the Franklin stove, famously experimented with electricity and founded the U.S. Postal Service (among other things). Originally conceived as a guide for his son, this quick, clever read contains timeless lessons about living a meaningful, productive life from which 21st-century readers can still benefit.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey
Daily Rituals is truly the productivity guide for everyone. In it, author Mason Currey profiles more than 160 highly productive, successful people and uncovers the daily habits, rituals and strategies of each. While their approaches to life and work differ considerably, this broad cross-section of creatives like Franz Kafka, Andy Warhol and Charles Dickens allows readers to pick and choose which tips and tricks best fit their own personalities and schedules to create a customized productivity philosophy.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
In a vein similar to Greg McKeown’s essentialism, Cal Newport proposes drastic cuts to minimally productive pursuits she calls “shallow work,” such as immediately responding to email or mindlessly scrolling social media. The resulting surplus of time and energy can then be redirected to “deep work”: the more valuable, meaningful tasks that require targeted concentration and focus to accomplish. In trading shallow work for deep work, readers will not only become more productive with their time, but also more fulfilled by its outcome.