8 Powerful Productivity Books (And Their Lessons)

You can’t expect to improve if you don’t know how. So here are my 8 favorite productivity books to help you get the most out of your time.

They’ll cover procrastination, building awesome habits, organization and more. I’ll quickly introduce you to the book and then summarize their lessons with some actionable tips. 

Just so you know, the amazon links to the books here are affiliate links. It means that if you buy the book,  I get about a 4% commission (at no extra cost to you). If you buy through these links, thank you. 🙂 

1. The One Thing

What it can help you with: How to Lead a Successful Life

“It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.” – Gary Keller

Focusing on just one thing yields extraordinary results.

If you spend your time on 100 different projects you’ll never make significant progress in any of them. Every second spent on one thing is a second you didn’t spend on your most important thing.  

Think about what project in your life is the most important. Every second you spend on it is extremely productive. Now think about what would happen if you dedicated an absurd amount of time to it. How much progress would you have made? 

The most productive thing you could do is find your ONE thing and dedicate yourself to it. The best way to make sure you do is by timeboxing that time. Gary Keller, the author of the book, recommends blocking off 4 hours every weekday for your one thing. Here’s how I timeboxed my one thing:

  1. I took a normal week and blocked of 4 hours during every day.
  2. I sit down every morning and see any changes was made to a normal day. If it was, I move the hours to a different time.
  3. When I inevitably miss an hour or two, I reschedule it to later in that day or week.
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2. Habit Stacking 

What it can help you with: How to develop and find all the good habits that’ll improve your life and productivity

“It’s not easy to add dozens of new habits to your day. But it’s fairly easy to build a single new routine.“  – S.J Scott

When I realized I could improve my life through habits I was thrilled. It was possible to do something little every day and one year later have made tremendous progress.  

But there was a problem: I wanted to start so many habits that forgot to do them. I would lay in bed and then realize I hadn’t done any habits. And without procrastinating (which is my usual reason)! I just forgot. 

Habit stacking solves this problem. You create one routine, not multiple habits. Then you overload that routine with habits that make you more productive, awesome and happier. 

And keep a checklist outlining all the habits. I follow mine regliously, and it has two big advantages:

  • It takes all the decision making out of the routine – I don’t have to think about what to do next.
  • Soon the whole routine is a habit, which it can’t become if you don’t follow the same order every time

And make sure the habits are in a logical order. Do related habits (habits of the same type or done in the same room) after each other. When you have the full routine, specify when and where to do. 

I’ve developed 2 main habit stacking routines. One is my fancy “Weekly Maintenance” where I do everything to maintain my life, such as cleaning, shopping and organizing. It’s 4 hours of utter boredom in exchange for freedom for the rest of the week. Here’s the complete routine. 

Then there’s my morning routine that I wrote a whole post about.

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3. The Power of Habit

What it can help you with: How to understand, develop and stick to habits.

“Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.” – Charles Duhigg

Did you brush your teeth or get dressed first thing in the morning? What did you eat for breakfast? What did you do when you came home from work?

All these things are probably habits; routines repeated regularly and done without thinking. It’s difficult to change most habits, which you’ve probably experienced trying to stop watching YouTube, smoking or eating delicious cookies. Here’s how they all work. 

The Habit Loop

To start new habits, you’ve got to know how they work. Every habit has three distinct parts:

  • The Cue: The trigger which sets the habit in motion.
  • The Routine: The actions the habit consists of
  • The Reward: Something which motivates you to continue the habit.

Let’s take brushing my teeth as an example; the cue is coming into the bathroom after eating breakfast. My routine is to put on too much toothpaste and brushing my teeth. My reward is clean teeth and eating delicious toothpaste.

To create a great habit, you need to choose a clear cue, routine and reward. Now think about a habit you’ve always wanted to start. Now choose a clear cue, such as walking into a room, an alarm or directly after you’ve done something (habit stacking). Then you could reward yourself with a sound showing that you’ve succeeded, a snack or doing something you enjoy. 

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4. Getting Things Done

What it can help you with: How to get an awesome organizational system

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen

When I first read this book I had nothing to organize my life. No calendar, no to-do list and no way to save great ideas. Now I don’t know how I survived without them. Here’s the basics of the Getting Things Done system: 

First capture everything potentially meaningful in an “inbox”. All new ideas, tasks and information go here. My inboxes are my phone’s Notes app and Sticky Notes, because I always have them with me.

Then clarify what every idea means. Ask what the end goal and what the next physical action is. And if the task takes less than 2 minutes, just do it.

Then organize using various tools, mine are:

  • Todoist for tasks in all the different areas of my life
  • Google Calendar for events, meetings and deadlines
  • Google Drive for detailed planning, reading list, article ideas and habit stacking routines

If you’re interested in all the productivity tools I use, check out this article.

Finally, review the system as often as you need to get everything current and clear. Allen recommends to do a weekly review. I also check my calendar once a day and plan out the day’s work in Todoist.

Check out GTD in 15 Minutes for a more detailed overview.

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5. Doing Good Better

What it can help you with: How to make a difference with your life in the most productive way

“Effective altruism is about asking “How can I make the biggest difference I can?” and using evidence and careful reasoning to try to find an answer. It takes a scientific approach to doing good.” – William MacAskill

You’re walking home from work, when you suddenly see a child drowning in a lake. You rush forward to save him, but there’s a problem. You’re wearing $1000 shoes and they’ll be ruined if you go out in the water. 

You’re probably saying “What frickin’ douchebag doesn’t save the child?”. But all of us stand for this choice every day. We choose not to spend our time or money to help others, and instead spend it on ourselves.

Most charities are extremely ineffective – but the good ones are shockingly effective. There’s a whole website dedicated to finding the top charities: GiveWell. Their current top charity is the Against Malaria Foundation, and their current estimate of cost per life saved is $3 162.

According to The United Census Bureu the median US income is $30 240. That means if the average American gave 10% of their income they would save a life every year.

If you think saving lives is a productive activity and want to make a difference with your career, this book has you covered.

If saving lives sounds productive, you also can check out 80 000 Hours AMAZING guide on how to make a difference with your career.

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6. The Productivity Project 

What it can help you with: How to use the top 25 productivity techniques 

“Productivity isn’t about how much you produce; it’s about how much you accomplish.” – Chris Bailey 

If I would choose just one productivity technique from this book, it would be meditation. It’s scientifically proven to have huge benefits such as increased focus, happiness and productivity.

And contrary to popular belief, it’s extremely simple:

  1. Sit down in a chair
  2. Set a 5-minute timer
  3. Observe yourself breathing. Notice the air coming in and going through your body. Then feel it flowing out.
  4. Repeat
  5. When you start thinking about something more interesting than breathing, bring your focus back
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7. The Motivation Hacker

What it can help you with: How to summon extreme motivation to do anything 

“Moderation in all things, they say. That may keep a society together, but it’s not the protagonist’s job.”  – Nick Winter

After I read this book I wrote a book myself. A horrible one, that nobody will ever see. I also ran a half-marathon and started this blog.

My favorite method to get extreme motivation is precommitment – you set up horrible things to happen if you fail. It makes quitting impossible because of the now VERY REAL consequences of you failing.

Here are 3 consequences you can set up:

  1. Bet money that you’ll succeed. You could give a family member $100 and tell them to not give it back if you fail. Or you can use the goal tracker Beeminder that takes your money if get off track. 
  2. Do it with someone else who’ll expect that you show up. Because how often do you miss meetings, concerts or appointments because of a lack of motivation?
  3. Share the potential failure using email, your blog or social media. Schedule a post saying “I’ve failed. Here’s an embarrasing picture of me – and I command you all to laugh at me forever, and share this everywhere.”

Then you’ll achieve superhuman motivation.

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8. The 4-Hour Workweek

What it can help you with: How to work 4 hours a week while living a rich life

“Life is too short to be small.”  – Tim Ferris 

It’s possible to automate your job or business so you only work 4 hours a week. I couldn’t believe it when I realized this – but there’s a catch. It’s really hard to do, but possible. 

The first step to reduce your work hours is Elimination. Screw almost everything and focus on the few things that will get you somewhere. Combine elimination with the 100s of other productivity techniques in all these books, and you’ve already cut your workweek in half. 

The second step is Automation and Outsourcing

(This mostly applies to entrepreneurs. Many workers can take advantage of those two things, but they have to convince their boss to pay them based on results instead of time. I have no idea how to do that, but they talk about it in the book.)

You can automate internet work with services like IFTTT and Zapier. They connect your apps and services and create automatic workflows. 

Then you can outsource all the other parts of your business. If you’re solo you can hire a virtual assistant who can manage your email, social media, calendar and a whole lot more.

You can probably find someone to outsource your work to no matter what it is. In the future I could automate this blog by paying writers, allowing guest posts or have a virtual assistant do promotion.

Is it easy to automate your work? Absolutely not.

Is is possible? Yes.  

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Thanks for reading. 🙂

If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends.

So, what are your favorite productivity books? 

  • Isha Choudhary

    Do not eat toothpaste ( https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002745.htm ) but i can see why that works. I gargle every time i eat sweets cuz the left sweetness drives me INSANE!!!!!

    • Elias Edgren

      Yeah, I know I shouldn’t do it… but it’s so delicious! 🙂