For many people, reading is a pleasurable activity that can be entertaining, educational, and inspiring. Reading books can also be a way to get ahead at work and in life.
And lucky for us, because of things like eBooks, audiobooks, and good old-fashioned public libraries, books are more accessible than ever before.
Most bookstores will have a sprawling self-help section, and these days there seems to be an endless selection of books geared specifically towards issues like productivity, time management, procrastination, creativity, and building good habits.
The sheer amount of books about productivity can be overwhelming though, so to help you out, we’ve picked out some of our favorites.
Keep reading to find the book(s) that just might change the way you work—and live—and start building your productivity library.
In this post, we’ll cover the best books for:
- Productivity in the workplace
- Beating procrastination
- Productivity while working from home
- Nurturing a productive lifestyle
Best books for productivity in the workplace
1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—Stephen R. Covey
Starting us off is this classic. Pretty much everyone has—or should—read this book, no matter what stage you’re at in your career. This book is about being productive, staying organized, and getting things done, but it goes deeper than that. Stephen R. Covey teaches us that we are in control of our lives, our attitudes affect our actions, and we have the opportunity to change our lives. If you’re looking to become more productive, start here.
“The most effective way I know to begin with the end in mind is to develop a personal mission statement or philosophy or creed.”
2. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right—Atul Gawande
The thesis of this book is simple: the checklist is the best tool for productivity and organization. Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon, takes us all over the world to show how checklists work for people from pilots to hospital workers. He shows us how the humble checklist prompts us to act quickly and efficiently. No fancy task automation, apps, or algorithms needed.
“Good checklists, on the other hand, are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything—a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps—the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”
3. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity—David Allen
This book is another classic and, like the title says, is all about the action. This book is about doing things, rather than values or philosophy, so it’s great to read this after The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He offers a fascinating thesis: productivity is directly proportional to the ability to relax. David Allen gives us three super simple steps to create a productivity system, unleash your creativity, and improve your day-to-day efficiency. If you’re unsure or can’t get the book (or download an eBook or audiobook), you can check out the official site (gettingthingsdone.com) to get started.
“The beginning is half of every action”
4. The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done—Peter Drucker
Marketed more towards business leadership, this book is all about managing time in order to achieve maximum productivity. This book provides simple steps to take on your way to reaching your potential in a management or executive position. Peter F. Drucker stresses that effectiveness can be learnt and practiced until it becomes a habit and an art—which is great news if you feel overwhelmed or hopeless about your work habits and productivity.
“Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.”
5. Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity—Charles Duhigg
Interested in the science of productivity? In this book, Charles Duhigg presents great productivity tips, and then backs them up with science to show how and why they work. The research is fascinating and compelling, making this a great choice for anyone interested in neuroscience, psychology, and human behavior.
“Motivation is more like a skill, akin to reading or writing, that can be learned and honed. Scientists have found that people can get better at self-motivation if they practice the right way. The trick, researchers say, is realizing that a prerequisite to motivation is believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings”
6. How to Get Sh*t Done: Why Women Need to Stop Doing Everything So They Can Achieve Anything—Erin Falconer
If you haven’t noticed, most of the books on this list are written by men. Women can do everything that men can, but often with more obstacles and demands. Unfortunately, even the best productivity books written by men can’t untangle all of the specific responsibilities and tasks that women can find themselves mired in.
Enter Erin Falconer. In this book, she shows the reader just how to tackle those issues, delegate what you can, and get rid of what doesn’t matter, so you can get your sh*t done. We don’t have to do everything for everyone, only what matters to us.
“If we continue to pursue productivity for productivity’s sake, women will continue to position ourselves diametrically opposed to satisfaction.”
7. I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time—Laura Vanderkam
For some reason, women are expected to have it all: careers, relationships, families. And if women can’t have it all, they have to sacrifice something (Devil Wears Prada, anyone?) In this book, Laura Vanderkam busts through that narrative and shows, through hard data, how women can and do make the most of their time. The beauty of making the most of your time is that you get to do the things you love, without sacrificing what’s important.
“You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself.”
Best books for beating procrastination
8. The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play—Neil Fiore
Procrastination is one of the things that nukes our productivity. This book, however, can help us get procrastination out of the way so we can do what we need to do. Neil Fiore’s writing is super positive and upbeat and can help you diagnose your procrastination problems so you can overcome them.
As a psychologist, Dr. Niel Friore doesn’t treat procrastination as a personal failure or the outcome of unchecked laziness. The answer isn’t to simply work harder, it’s to understand procrastination and treat the underlying causes.
“In most cases you are the one who confuses just doing the job with testing your worth. Replace ‘I have to’ with ‘I choose to.’”
9. Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time—Brian Tracey
Eating frogs sounds gross, right? Well, that’s kinda the point of this book. Once you do the most challenging thing—like eating a frog—the rest of your tasks will go down a lot smoother. Whatever it is that you’re dreading, get it done first. This productivity system is super helpful for beating procrastination so you can get your work done and actually enjoy life.
“You cannot eat every tadpole and frog in the pond, but you can eat the biggest and ugliest one, and that will be enough, at least for the time being.”
10. The Procrastination Cure: 21 Proven Tactics for Conquering Your Inner Procrastinator, Mastering Your Time, and Boosting Your Productivity!— Damon Zahariades
A cure for procrastination sounds too good to be true, but in this book Damon Zahariades shows us that it’s not only real, it’s attainable. This book gets into the reasons we procrastinate and how to overcome them.
This book is a straightforward, practical step-by-step guide that can take you from start to finish, with plenty of actionable advice to finally stop procrastinating and kick your inner procrastinator to the curb.
“The biggest challenge in working on a task you consider to be boring, difficult, or unappealing, is starting on it. But a strange thing happens once you start: the anxiety and dread associated with it rapidly declines.”
11. Time Warrior: How to Defeat Procrastination, People-Pleasing, Self-Doubt, Over-Commitment, Broken Promises, and Chaos—Steve Chandler
This book is a non-traditional take on procrastination and time-management. Most books talk about working in a linear mindset, but this one is about being in the present and thinking non-linearly. It’s hard to break the habit of linear thinking, but this book can help us rewire our brains and the way we think about time and productivity. If more traditional methods aren’t working for you, this book might be a good option.
“A warrior takes his sword to the future. A warrior also takes his sword to all circumstances that do not allow him to fully focus.”
Best books for productivity while working from home
12. Work from Home Superstar: How to Stay Focused and Rock Your Day—Jack Wilson
A lot of the classic productivity books are based in a traditional office setting. But we’re living in the work-from-home era, and that presents new and unique challenges that many people and businesses are trying to tackle. This short but sweet book is a guide for succeeding from your home office (or couch, or kitchen table, or even your bed). Learn how to overcome common distractions, become more productive, and schedule your work so that it, well, works.
“Working from home isn’t easy. It takes lots of organization and discipline.”
Are you working from home (or planning to work from home)? Learn about remote working tools that’ll help you make the transition.
13. There’s No Place Like Working from Home: Get Organized, Stay Motivated, Get Things Done!—Elaine Quinn
Working from home can mean freedom and flexibility. But it also means you kinda have to be your own boss and keep yourself accountable so you actually get your work done. Elaine Quinn is an experienced coach and mentor for both remote workers and the self-employed.
In this book, she explores issues like effectively managing communication, overcoming feelings of overwhelm and isolation, resisting procrastination and perfectionism, and achieving the elusive work-life balance. If you’ve got productivity metrics to measure and hit, this book will get you on the right path.
“Working from home is still a real job and it’s still real work.”
14. The Art of Working Remotely: How to Thrive in a Distributed Workplace—Scott Dawson
Scott Dawson was working remotely before it was cool. With 21 years of remote work under his belt, this book is a guide for thriving from home. Dive into workspaces conducive to productivity, the behaviors and practices that will set remote workers up for success, and how to balance work and life. This book is a fun and engaging read with lots of real-life examples and lessons that can teach readers more about being productive from home: it teaches you how to succeed.
“People aren’t typically taught how to thrive in a distributed workplace… remote workers have to learn on their own.”
If you’re working from home, communication is key. Make sure you’re using a communication tool or platform that gives you different options for getting in touch with your team, clients, partners, vendors… you get the idea. For example, RingCentral is a great WFH tool that lets you make video conference calls, share your screen on calls, and more:
Best books for a productive lifestyle
15. The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential… in Business and in Life—Leo Babauta
This book presents a Zen philosophy and outlook on productivity. Leo Babauta has written about Zen philosophy and practice before, and in this book he shows readers how to understand what matters most and why. The Zen philosophy underpinning his work makes this book unique and refreshing and offers manageable ways to approach what you actually need to do and how.
“Instead of focusing on how much you can accomplish, focus on how much you can absolutely love what you’re doing.”
16. Daily Rituals: Women at Work—Mason Currey
Mason Currey is well-known for his first Daily Rituals book, which is a true gem also worth checking out. This book focuses on the lives, obstacles, and rituals of female artists. This book illuminates how these brilliant and successful women get to work and get things done.
The women profiled in the book include legends such as Marie Curie, Zadie Smith, Isadora Duncan, Octavia Butler, and Isabel Allende. This book is a trove of collective wisdom for anyone who loves the literary ladies or is looking for some real-life inspiration.
“The sound of the story comes first.”
17. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up—Marie Kondo
You might be wondering what decluttering has to do with boosting productivity. Marie Kondo’s method—”Konmari”—is actually about much more than just getting rid of stuff. Focusing on what “sparks joy” and saying goodbye to everything that doesn’t will help clear out the junk in your home, office, and mind. Tidying up can bring clarity and focus, making it much easier to be productive.
“From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. As a result, your life will start to change…Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.”
In today’s tech-heavy world, app overload is probably one of the biggest, most impactful things we can “tidy up.” For example, if you can use one app to do multiple things (like make phone calls, video calls, and message people), why pay for separate apps to do each one? Look for multifunctional apps when you’re looking for work software. For example, this is how RingCentral’s all-in-one communications app works:
18. What the Most successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings—and Life —Laura Vanderkam
This book is actually three short books compiled into a single handy guide to mastering your mornings and your overall time management. When we waste our mornings, we lose valuable hours and energy. If your sole goal in the morning is to guzzle coffee, this book can help you unlock the potential that those early hours hold.
“The best morning rituals are activities that don’t have to happen and certainly don’t have to happen at a specific hour. These are activities that require internal motivation.”
Want to get a deeper understanding of productivity? Read about Parkinson’s Law.
19. The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life Before 8AM—Hal Elrod
Looking for more ways to actually enjoy your mornings instead of just suffering through them, bleary-eyed and over-caffeinated? Hal Elrod promises that making the most of your morning can transform your life. He lays out his argument using the SAVERS principle, which stands for silence, affirmation, visualization, exercise, reading, and scribble.
Incorporating SAVERS into your morning routine can give you enhanced focus and productivity during working hours. Sounds much better than pounding the snooze button again and again.
“By simply changing the way you wake up in the morning, you can transform any area of your life, faster than you ever thought possible”
20. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life—Jen Sincero
This book is an explosive pep talk for how to believe in yourself and get your life together. It’s not explicitly about productivity, but more of a call to action and general guide for reaching your potential. This book makes a good addition to a library that focuses more explicitly on productivity, and great to revisit when you need a pick-me-up and reminder that you, indeed, are a badass.
“What you choose to focus on becomes your reality.”
21. The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul—Danielle LaPorte
This is another book that might not scream productivity manual, but it’s a wonderful guide to understanding the desires behind your goals. Once you understand your desires, actualizing your goals becomes much easier, and more fulfilling. This book is about more than productivity, it’s about working—and living—with your desires.
“Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have.”
22. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less—Greg McKeown
This is another book that talks about being productive through figuring out what is essential… and what isn’t. Quality over quantity is the mantra here, and once you’ve pruned away the non-essential, the struggle to be productive is radically simplified. Greg McKeown also gives very helpful advice about politely declining non-essential things, which is great if you’re the type of person who can’t say no and always overcommit.
“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.”
23. Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Way—Steven Pressfield
We’re rounding out this list with a book that’s all about action. You can have a doctorate in the science, philosophy, and history of productivity with a library full of productivity books, but none of that matters until you actually get started. You have to actually do the hard work to reach your potential. Steven Pressfield describes the issue of productivity as an issue of resistance and goes in depth on how to overcome resistance so you can do the work.
“Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is stop.”
Which books about productivity are the best?
We’ve gone over a lot of books here. But it all comes down to what works for you as an individual. Some of these are life-changers and can rewire your brain and habits. Some of these books simply won’t work for your own brilliant, messy, and imperfect brain, and some will even contradict each other.
Find which books work the best for you, try following their advice, and see what happens. You might just catapult yourself to enhanced productivity and success. Not to mention, the beauty of productivity is being able to get your work done and enjoy the things that matter to you.
Once you figure out how to be productive, don’t forget about finding the right tools for the job. Software like RingCentral can help you stay productive and your business achieve its goals.
Originally published Mar 30, 2020, updated Feb 26, 2021