The 15 Best Books on Productivity You'll Want Your Team to Read
The question “How can I be more productive?” is synonymous with “How do I lose weight?” and “How can I learn a new language?” Here’s the short answer: Consistency.
The long answer is that it takes dedicated practice to form good habits and stick to your goals. You can decide to be productive to complete a task much like you can decide to eat a healthy meal or complete a level on Rosetta Stone. But unless you have the self-discipline to do this consistently, you’ll always find yourself on square one.
Books are a good place to start for establishing productivity habits. Below you’ll find our top picks that we think your whole team will enjoy.
Personal Productivity Books
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
(Cal Newport, 2016)
Number of Ratings: 36,665
Average Rating: 4.2
How much time do you set aside each day to work without distractions? Perhaps not enough, especially if you’re reading this list. Newport’s “Deep Work” is a manifesto for the deep life without superficial distractions like social media and app notifications.
You are given four rules that teach you to work in long stretches of highly focused, uninterrupted working time to adjust your attention on the things that matter.
Newport gives practical advice that is simple to apply today: Being more specific in emails and messages to reduce conversation time, dividing work between “deep work” sessions and collaborative sessions, and structuring downtime.
However, these tips are not applicable to every office worker. Many of our customers work in customer support, so their day consists of interruptions. But for heavy brain work, Newport’s advice succeeds.
Getting Things Done
(David Allen, 2001)
Number of Ratings: 102,729
Average Rating: 3.98
This is an all-time classic, and so popular that it earned the book and method its own abbreviation (GTD).
The book offers a very practical, straightforward and detailed method for getting stuff done. Allen’s premise is that your brain is for developing ideas, not storing them. His system allows you to “ reach a mind like water ” by getting stuff out of your head and into the physical world.
The book’s strength is its detailed guide towards implementation. On the other hand, this detail and technicality can feel a bit daunting and may keep you from implementing the tips right away.
Also, through its technical approach to productivity it ignores the pitfalls of human nature. This is why many people who read the book still fall back to their old habits.
Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business
(Charles Duhigg, 2016)
Number of Ratings: 19,716
Average Rating: 3.92
Former New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg set out to answer the age-old question, “Why are some people more productive than others?” Through masterful storytelling, Duhigg shares real world stories and habits of individuals and his key productivity concepts.
His combination of personal anecdotes with business research prove the complexity of productivity, and how it’s much more than creating a to-do list. You have to make certain choices and put yourself in the right mindset, which affects your motivation and in return, your productivity.
Reading about eight different productivity concepts may make it difficult to have any memorable takeaways, but this is aided by its appendix, which helps with applying the material and gives an overview of the book’s content.
The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It
(Kelly McGonigal, 2011)
Number of Ratings: 21,213
Average Rating: 4.13
This authoritative book is backed by decades of scientific research and insights from fields like neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics and medicine. Kelly McGonigal noticed that misconceptions about willpower were sabotaging many of her students at Stanford University. This prompted her to set up “The Science of Willpower” course, which she then developed into a book.
Kelly McGonigal shows the relation between willpower and personal success. What’s more, she shows how this willpower can be trained like a muscle.
This book focuses a lot on the “human side” from a theoretical and scientific perspective. It’s a great book that offers deep insights into the workings of the mind and tips on how to use it to increase your own productivity.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People
(Stephen R. Covey, 1990)
Number of Ratings: 401,748
Average Rating: 4.08
Another all-time classic, which is about professional as well as personal productivity. After all, you cannot succeed in one without the other.
Like the title suggests, it’s written in an easy and take-away kind of style. It’s a practical book with a long-term focus on balancing your life. So unlike GTD, it also takes human nature into account. Furthermore, it's worth reading for its strong focus on managing relationships, instead of managing “things,” as with GTD. The person who can make others do things is more effective than the person who does everything on her own.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
(Charles Duhigg, 2012)
Number of Ratings: 234,370
Average Rating: 4.07
How do people develop gambling addictions or go for a run at 6 a.m. every morning? How do we remember to brush our teeth everyday but struggle to remember to put on sunscreen?
Charles Duhigg tackles these questions in “The Power of Habit” by examining what motivates our decisions in life and business.
This book takes a look at habit loops (cue, routine, reward) as a framework for how habits work. Duhigg then presents research and examples of powerful organizations that replaced one habit with a more desirable habit. Though some of his examples were graphic and negative at times, they still help illustrate Duhigg’s findings.
Anyone interested in the psychology behind motivation should definitely pick up this book.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
(Greg McKeown, 2014)
Number of Ratings: 31,123
Average Rating: 4.03
Do you currently have the urge to throw everything away that doesn’t spark joy and live a life of minimalism? What if you could also declutter the way you live your life?
McKeown uses “Essentialism” to teach you how to be more deliberate in making choices, strip your life down to the bare essentials and learn how to just say “no.” These concepts can help establish boundaries at work and, most importantly, in life.
Some of McKeown’s references may seem stale to the average reader, such as Rosa Parks’ story and the “No school on Thursday” journalism lesson from Nora Ephron. However, this doesn’t detract from the book’s message of saying “no” to anything that is nonessential and the overarching idea of “less but better.”
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The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal
Number of Ratings: 10,781
Average Rating: 4.04
As the title suggests, this book is about how energy influences our productivity. With the main premise that it’s “energy, not time, that is the fundamental currency of high performance,” the authors base much of their research on professional athletes’ high levels of performance.
This book is unique and powerful at explaining the workings of energy and productivity, uncovering common pitfalls, and sharing very practical and original tips on how to raise/maintain your energy and thus raise productivity.
They focus, for example, on the benefits of ritualistic behavior – such as the “pull left sock, pull right sock, bounce ball two times, then throw and serve,” which you see some tennis players do. The book is also filled with case studies and process/worksheets that help you put the ideas into practice.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
(Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1991)
Number of Ratings: 41,033
Average Rating: 4.11
This is an interesting book that covers the path to the state-of-mind in which you are fully engaged, focused on your work and in the flow .
Based on years of psychological research, Mihaly argues how this “flow” is the key to happiness (and to productivity as well), and offers insight on how to “turn everyday experience into a moment by moment opportunity for joy and self-fulfillment.”
Work Smarter: 500+ Online Resources Today's Top Entrepreneurs Use To Increase Productivity and Achieve Their Goals
(Nick Loper, 2014)
Number of Ratings: 175
Average Rating: 3.71
This is the ultimate practical book. You won’t find any chit-chat about motivation, spirituality or psychology. Just a long list of (mostly free) productivity tools for the web worker.
As one reviewer on Goodreads.com notes: “It’s a good collection, handy to have on one’s Kindle and definitely bigger than what one would want to wade through on a website.”
Team Productivity Books
Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams
(Tom DeMarco & Timothy R. Lister, 1999)
Number of Ratings: 7,052
Average Rating: 4.16
Though this book was written for development managers, the tips still apply to all types of knowledge workers, and actually became one of Userlike’s cornerstone management books. While books like “Deep Work” focus on the individual, Peopleware focuses on the group and how to set up productive teams.
DeMarco and Lister tackle many accepted truths, like people working better under time pressure, introducing new technology to solve existing problems (as they will likely create new problems), fake deadlines and more.
You’ll find plenty of tips in this book that improve the quality of your office space, though don’t expect to find many citations for their claims. But if you enjoy anecdotes and need some fresh team productivity tactics, then you’ll enjoy this book.
(Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, 2010)
Number of Ratings: 119,845
Average Rating: 3.94
This isn’t necessarily a book on team productivity, but rather smart ways to run a business. It made this list because it contains many great tips on team productivity, while the other tips are worthwhile to read for anyone.
Many productivity destroyers are very recognizable at the workplace, e.g. “ASAP is poison” and “Meetings are toxic.”
This book covers the main insights the team of 37Signals accumulated while building their businesses. It feels like a series of blog posts, which is also what it's based on. 37Signals runs the massively popular blog Signal V. Noise , where they already shared many of their insights. They collected the best and put them in this book.
These aren’t complex lessons, but they're good to go over again in text. They give you the same feeling you get when talking to a seasoned professional in a certain field. It’s not groundbreaking stuff that you’re picking up, but you are learning core truths.
Freedom, Inc.: Free Your Employees and Let Them Lead Your Business to Higher Productivity, Profits, and Growth
(Brian M. Carney & Isaac Getz, 2009)
This book makes a case for “freeing” employees in the workplace, propagating a company culture of freedom. The authors argue that when employees are free to act in the best interests of the company, everyone benefits.
Filled with business cases, this book actually makes a strong argument. This book is necessary for companies deploying antiquated methods for “controlling” their employees – methods that don't fit the reality of our present day working environment.
The main criticism of this book is that it's not applicable to all organizations. If you're running a nuclear power plant, for example, you’d better care more about regulations adherence than your employees' creative desires. Still, this is a powerful book for management teams aiming to make their companies more innovative as well as productive.
Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
(Jeff Sutherland, 2014)
Number of Ratings: 9,632
Average Rating: 4.19
This book is an introduction to Scrum, which is an agile framework for completing complex projects. Originating from software development, Scrum works well for any complex project.
More than a guide, this book offers stories and case studies on scrum, thereby discussing its value and how it should be adapted in the 21st century. At the end, you'll find an appendix of scrum practices you can use.
The One Minute Manager
(Kenneth H. Blanchard & Spencer Johnson, 1982)
Number of Ratings: 86,695
Average Rating: 3.87
This book has appeared at the top of management book lists for decades – it's a classic.
Blanchard and Johnson wrote a business novel about good management: how to manage and interact with people. It brings forward the idea of the “one minute manager” who boosts team productivity by setting goals for her subordinates, praising as well as reprimanding them.
The main criticism of this book is that it’s propagating common sense. Maybe. On the other hand, it might be that this book and its fundamental truths are at the source of what we now consider “common sense.” Definitely worth the read.
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