First off, let me confess one thing: I am a productivity nerd!
When it comes to productivity, I’ve studied the greats, and even interviewed a few of them for my podcast, Optimized Geek (be sure to check out the links at the end of this article).
The truth is, when you run your own business, you absolutely need to take a strategic approach to getting things done. The same is true for many 9-5 jobs as well–and, yes, even your personal life.
In fact, one of the keys to maximizing your productivity is learning how to prioritize activities regardless of whether you think of them as “work” or “personal”. After all, your ultimate goal should be to minimize the time you spend on trivial administrative chores and things that you hate, so you can focus more on doing what you love.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it sounds. That’s why there are thousands of books on productivity!
So, in order to save you time (and money) I’ve compiled a short list of the productivity books I found most useful. I’m sure you will find them useful too…
If you’re reading this blog, then you’ve probably heard of Tim Ferriss. If you haven’t, then there’s no need to take my word that his most popular book, The 4-Hour Workweek is well worth your time. After all, it has sold over 1.4 million copies, been translated into 35 languages, and spent more than four years on the New York Times bestseller list.
Although it was published over a decade ago, The 4-Hour Workweek was so ahead of its time that many of Ferriss’ insights have only become more relevant. Take, for example, the idea that you should outsource inessential tasks to virtual assistants. In 2007, this was a radical idea. In 2018, it would be strange if you’re not doing it.
Another valuable concept for our information-saturated age is the idea of “selective ignorance.” Ferriss argues that you don’t need to keep up with the latest news on politics, sports, business, culture etc. In fact, using your brainpower to try and absorb everything that’s going on in the world will only distract you and diffuse your focus in an unhelpful way, making you less productive.
Chris Bailey’s legendary blog, A Life of Productivity, is a favorite of productivity gurus the world over. It’s filled with incredible insights gleaned from interviews with experts, experiments, and digging through scientific papers. In 2016, Bailey decided to take everything he’s learned and condense it into a book, highlighting the 25 most powerful tactics that emerged from from his extensive research. And what a book it is!
One of the great things about Bailey’s work is the way he unpacks common sense assumptions about productivity using personal experience and scientific research. For example, we all know the old adage, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” It makes sense, right?
Getting up early seems like something you should do if you want to get more done.
Well, Bailey tested it out by getting up at 5:30 am every day. The results? Disastrous!
What he learned instead was that every person has a different natural sleep schedule, and there is no “one size fits all” approach. For some, getting up at 5:30am is perfect. For others, it may be 10:30am.
In our social media age, it is almost impossible to avoid distractions and achieve a deep state of focus and concentration. What this means is that it can be difficult to find the time and mental energy to tackle those big, meaningful tasks. Instead, our brains are constantly in a reactive mode, readjusting to each email, notification, or message. As a result, out concentration is spread thin.
These distractions not only stop you from getting work done on a day-to-day basis, but over time, they can actually harm your career, as you waste time on trivial tasks instead of putting energy into ticking off big career milestones.
Deep Work is all about learning how to focus by disconnecting from distractions and using time tracking tools and to-do lists. While that may sound straightforward, Newport suggest that it’s not enough just to plan out your days. For maximum impact, he argues that you should group like activities together by creating “focus”, “buffer” and “free” days. Newport also recommends hiring a virtual assistant to manage your administrative tasks, thereby freeing up more time for deep work.
Are you the type of person that often finds yourself putting out fires and dealing with emergencies rather than focusing on the important work you should be doing? Or, are you an entrepreneur who feels overwhelmed by the hustle of running your own business? Fear not, there’s a solution to your problems!
Instead of suffering a slow death by 1000 tiny cuts, you can make your life easier by creating simple, repeatable systems that allow you to delegate tasks and free up your time to focus on the important things in your life. In Work the System, Sam Carpenter shows you how to tease out the root cause of the annoyances that are dragging you down and transform your business into a well-oiled machine.
If you’re skeptical, don’t be: Carpenter applied these principles to his own business, and moved from an 80-100 hour work week to a one hour work week, while simultaneously increasing his income exponentially.
If you’ve never heard of productivity guru David Allen, then you must have been hiding under a rock. Allen’s time management method is legendary, and it’s all outlined here in his most famous book, Getting Things Done.
I have to say that this is one of my absolute favorite business books. If you find yourself feeling like you never get enough done, like things are out of your control, like the day always gets away from you, then this is a must-read!
The key to Allen’s method is getting away from the “time management” mindset and into a “focus management” mindset. That means not simply organizing your time, but organizing it in a way that helps you avoid burnout and gets you closer to a state of permanent productivity. While some of that is just simple planning and common sense, you may also need to work on recalibrating bad habits and unproductive behaviors to truly reach an optimal level of productivity.