There are lots of ways to become more productive, and if you’re wondering what they are we have good news for you: Some smart, driven people have already worked it out. And they wrote down their findings into a bunch of very productive books.
Now, a productive book isn’t one that’s running around your desk tidying up your dirty coffee cups (though that would be pretty cool). We like to call these productive books because they sometimes go outside the traditional definition of books about productivity. They’re not just about how to get more done in less time. Instead, they’re books about psychology, about philosophy, about goals and focus and changing your mindset in order to change the way you live and work. And that’s what productivity is really about.
11 Productive Books to Add to Your List This Season
So in the spirit of improving productivity, let’s jump right in. Here are 11 of the best productivity books to get your hands on now.
In a nutshell: An entertaining read that teaches you the science behind making and breaking habits.
Why it’s a productive book: Habits are important. Habits are why you floss your teeth, make your bed, and automatically open the Twitter app every time you pick up your phone. Some of your habits are helpful. Some are not.
So how do you get rid of the bad ones and build more of the good? By understanding what makes those tricky little habits tick. Enter Charles Duhigg’s book, which breaks down the habit loop (cue —> routine —> reward) and teaches you how to harness it for a healthier and more productive life. Delivered via a package of entertaining real-life stories, it’s also a book you can’t put down.
Bonus: Taste test Duhigg’s habit-changing wisdom via his TED Talk.
In a nutshell: Learn how to get more done by cutting away distraction and focusing deeply on what matters.
Why it’s a productive book: Lack of focus is the arch-nemesis of productivity. It’s like Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker, or, you know, Taylor Swift to Kanye West. So how do we defeat a lack of focus when we live in a distracted world?
According to Cal Newport, we need to cultivate the skill of deep work. His book gives practical advice on how to do that, backed up by science and research. Learn when to take breaks, how to ditch distractions, and why embracing boredom is actually important in the quest to get things done.
In a nutshell: Rewire your brain for happiness and positivity and you’ll, in turn, be more productive.
Why it’s a productive book: If you succeed at your goals you’ll be happy, right? Not so fast, says Shawn Achor, who challenges that conventional wisdom with this book. According to Achor, it’s the other way around. Research shows that when we’re happy we’re more motivated, resilient, and productive, which leads to more success.
So what strategies can you use to become happier and more positive, and fuel the success you’ve always wanted? Spoilers! If you want to know that, grab a copy of the book.
Bonus: Sample Achor’s theories in his uplifting TED talk about happiness and productivity.
In a nutshell: Learn why talent is overrated and how you can succeed by developing a powerful little trait called grit.
Why it’s a productive book: Perseverance pays off. You hardly need a PhD to know this: You learned it in “The Little Engine That Could” when you were five. And yet, how often do you fall into the trap of thinking you don’t have the talent or skill to succeed?
Thinking like that stunts productivity, because we become too afraid to even try. Duckworth’s book explains, using research, how success can be achieved with a unique combination of passion and perseverance she calls grit. It also reveals, of course, how to cultivate this trait yourself.
Bonus: For a great introduction to grit, check out Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk outlining the book’s core concept.
5. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal
In a nutshell: Understand the psychology and biology of willpower in order to get more of it.
Why it’s a productive book: Everything you think you know about willpower is wrong. (Well, probably.) Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal sets the record straight by explaining what willpower really is (hint: it’s a biological function, not a saintly virtue), how it works, and how to train your brain to have more of it.
The book includes exercises you can follow to help meet specific goals. Getting up early and resisting those cookies? Willpower, here we come.
In a nutshell: Find out why focusing on challenging activities can send you into a deeply pleasant, happiness-inducing state of consciousness.
Why it’s a productive book: Flow is that state you’re in when you lose yourself in a task. You have laser-beam focus. Time stands still and everything else melts away. It’s a pretty good feeling, right?
Well, one psychologist (whose name we won’t ever try to pronounce) posits that being in flow is a deeply positive experience that contributes to our happiness and quality of life. And, he says, you can consciously choose to experience it more often. Lose yourself in the pages to find out how.
Bonus: Not yet sold on the book? First, have a listen to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s popular talk on the subject of flow.
In a nutshell: This classic Stoic text touches on goals, gratitude, and gaining power over our minds so we can overcome external challenges.
Why it’s a productive book: Okay granted, no Roman emperor ever sat down to write a New York Times bestseller on how to get most out of your workday. And yet, Marcus Aurelius’ thoughts are surprisingly relevant almost 2,000 years later.
Trained in the philosophy of Stoicism, Marcus Aurelius reminds us that nothing can be accomplished without change, that our world is shaped by our thoughts, and that we can’t control our circumstances—only how we respond to them. No wonder he came to be known as “The Wise”.
In a nutshell: Learn how to change your mindset to a “growth mindset” so you can flourish in any endeavor.
Why it’s a productive book: Are your abilities fixed or can you develop them? This book explores a simple yet potentially life-changing idea: If you shift your mindset to believe the latter, you’ll win at life. Or at least up your chances of it.
The idea of fixed mindset versus growth mindset is now a popular psychological concept pioneered by Dweck. By the end of the book, you’ll not only deeply understand what these terms mean, but you’ll also have a renewed enthusiasm for embracing challenges and criticisms, and putting in the effort it takes to really grow.
Bonus: Dr. Dweck gives a rundown of her growth mindset theory for TED. Check it out for a primer on the topic.
In a nutshell: Maximize your potential by aligning yourself with your highest values.
Why it’s a productive book: Are you really being productive if you’re pursuing the wrong things? Dr. John Demartini would probably answer with an impassioned no. Because, says Demartini, it’s when your goals are congruent with your highest personal values that you’re motivated and inspired to achieve them.
Demartini’s book starts out by helping you identify what’s most meaningful to you (it may not be as obvious as you think) and then teaches you how to use this knowledge to cultivate a productive and fulfilling life. In a world where values are overlooked and undervalued, it’s worth a read.
In a nutshell: A highly practical guide to the art of settings goals (and actually achieving them).
Why it’s a productive book: This book’s title may be kind of prosaic, but it also gets to the heart of what Heidi Grant Halvorson is offering—science-backed strategies for achieving your goals. Things you’ll learn? When positive thinking is valuable (and when it’s not), what to consider when setting a goal, using triggers to boost your performance, and much more.
A social psychologist, Dr. Halvorson writes with a healthy dose of humor and humility, drawing on personal life stories to illustrate her points.
11. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō
In a nutshell: Learn how to organize and declutter physical spaces in order to eliminate distractions and foster a calm, motivated mindset.
Why it’s a productive book: She’s been called “The most organized woman in the world” and “The Beyoncé of Organizing”. If that doesn’t give Marie Kondō some serious street cred in the decluttering space, we don’t know what will. Kondō’s own method of tidying up—called the KonMari Method—has amassed legions of devotees thanks to its power to make a difference in homes, businesses, and beyond.
Kondō covers everything from how to store and fold things, to which questions to ask yourself when deciding what to keep and what to ruthlessly toss in the trash. You might find that not every technique applies to you—but a lot of it will. And since clutter is an enemy of productivity, learning how to get your shit organized is totally worth the effort.
Your turn: Have you read any of the books on the list? What are your favorite books for boosting productivity and getting things done?
Want more tools to get you performing at your best? Check out our post on productivity apps.
Author: Tania Braukamper
Tania Braukamper is an Australian-born writer and photographer. She believes in curiosity, kindness, and adventure as a state of mind.