Productivity books - must reads, greatest impact?


Which book(s) on the topic of productivity, personal and / or professional, are in your opinion ‘must reads’, ones that you might regard as seminal or simply have had the greatest positive impact on your life … and ‘why?’


Here are some productivity books (in no particular order) that have had a major impact on me:

  • Getting Things Done (David Allen)
  • Making It All Work (David Allen)
  • Atomic Habits (James Clear)
  • Essentialism (Greg McKeown)
  • The Power of Full Engagement (Tony Schwartz)
  • The Now Habit (Neil Fiore)
  • Deep Work (Cal Newport)
  • The Checklist Manifesto (Atul Gawande)

Getting Things Done by David Allen and Deep Work by Cal Newport.

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I struggle with these kinds of self help books. They tend to build these systems around conjecture, and I don’t feel they’re as revelatory or as credible as they claim to be.

The introduction of Deep Work for example, proselytises on the self-accredited practices of Carl Jung. Jung was a seminal figure in the science we now call psychology, but it’s important to remember that Carl Jung’s work was not scientific, has been largely discredited, and his methods often involved holding seances.

So I question his testimony as a basis to build any philosophy on - especially given that he’s clearly a biased and unreliable source. Selection bias for a start, but he was also selling something.

This doesn’t necessarily speak to the quality of the Deep Work book. I read only a few pages. But those few pages, to me, demonstrated enough woo and pseudoscience in it’s formative basis that I would not trust the book enough to spend ten bucks on.


I will throw in a book, though. Enough by Patrick Rhone.

It is not instructional. It’s a collection of essays that are intended to question what is necessary, and what is not.

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The biggest impact on me was probably Seven Habits; however, its being assigned reading at my first real job, and my understanding why my boss believed we should read it, is what make the book effective.

It was my introduction to the urgent/important quadrant, using checklists to define a job, assigning ownership vs. assigning tasks, thinking of your entire life as several areas that each need regular scheduled time, managing up by asking what task should not be done in order to make room for a new task, and a bunch of other things. If I encountered it today, I don’t think it would be as revelatory, though. :slight_smile:

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I’m going to have an eclectic list in no particular order.

Ready for Anything and Making it All Work, David Allen. I found both of these to be more useful than Getting Things Done although they do build on the GTD book. I like that they are more concrete with better examples.

Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon. This is my goto inspiration book. It talks about all the productivity and other issues of farming and brings me back to why I love doing it.

Right Away and All at Once, Greg Brenneman. 5 steps for running a business. Mostly focused on turning around a failing business but also good for starting one and keeping one going.

Do More Great Work, Michael Bungay Stanier. Getting to what’s important and how to move forward. I used this as a workbook and feel a need to do it again soon.

Tunnel in the Sky, Robert A. Heinlein. Teaches you what you really need in life.

Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein. The power of duty and why it’s important.

Farnham’s Freehold, Robert A. Heinlein. Survival Manual with cautions.

I’m only part way through 12 Week Year, Brian Moran, but I’m finding it resonates with the natural cycle of the seasons and I am pretty sure it will become a favorite and re-readable.


I debated putting that one on my list too. I also had to read it for a job and I followed and used that system for years. When I discovered GTD though the shortcomings of the Covey system stood out to me and I’ve never looked back. SO I picked things that apply to me now.

It was and is a great book though.


Oh, yes, I didn’t even mention GTD, but I agree. I read it at the same job, on my own initiative, and ended up creating some custom task forms and views in Outlook 2003(?) so I could give each task a project, a context and an urgent/important designation. It was more productive than it probably sounds!

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I’m considering getting Making It All Work, but have been reading some old reviews stating that a lot of it is an unnecessary rehash of GTD. What’s your take?

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Most productivity books spend about 200 pages too long trying to prove their system is right make reading them somewhat counterproductive.

I like the general idea of GTD but reading the book was a slog. Seriously 2/3s of the book could have been cut, the reader would have taken away what they needed to and you could still have a ton of fluff talking about it.


Which one do you recommend reading right after original GTD? GTD made a lot of sense to me so I never really read anything after that book, I sort of picked GTD up and was running (using Omnifocus with it was another matter entirely!).

I’m leaning towards Making it All Work, but some of the reviews are really wonky.

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I found that Making It All Work to be a welcome complement to Getting Things Done. It goes beyond the foundational principles and delves into more real-world examples. It also introduces some new concepts (e.g. the Matrix of Self-Management) that I found to be very helpful.

I don’t think Making It All Work has been updated since it was originally published circa 2009, so some of the GTD terminology may not match what’s used in the second edition of Getting Things Done (e.g. the 20,000 foot view was renamed to Horizon 2)…and some of the example given may be a bit out of date.

These are pretty minor issues as the terminology remains mainly unchanged and the advise shared is timeless.


The Effective Executive (Peter Drucker)
Measure What Matters (John Doerr)
Principles for Life and Work (Ray Dalio)


Excellent recommendation, I’ll check it out! Thanks :+1:t2:

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While not about productivity, per say, the following three books fundamentally shifted my relationship to creativity and procrastination:


In the productivity realm, Getting Things Done is the most important book I’ve read. It has had a profoundly positive influence on my daily life for almost 15 years. No other book comes close in terms of what I got out of reading it.

I will also say that, despite what David Allen claims in the book, I don’t think GTD is right for everyone. I think certain temperaments or personality types will react differently to it. I know people who are perfectly capable of running their personal and professional lives as well as or better than I do who would have no patience for a GTD system.

GTD taught me several important new ways to think about how I do things, but two core concepts radically altered the way I do everything. They are:

A List of Lists: All my life I had been making checklists for myself, but I could only manage checklists that limited their scope to one well-defined project. Any list that had a scope greater than that just got messy and unsustainable very quickly. GTD teaches you to create a master list of all of your lists. It kind of taught me to take my sporadic and uncoordinated checklists and turn them into a relational database of checklists, I guess. This was a huge revelation for me.

Somebody To Tell You What To Do: I had always worked best when there was somebody there to tell me, “Here’s what we need you to do. Now do it.” By helping me understand that I can break my work into phases (collect, process, organize, etc.), it showed me how I can be the teller and the doer. I see my GTD system as nothing more than a way to enable the Present Me to define what needs to get done so that I can be the one telling the Future Me, “Here’s what we need you to do. Now do it.” Many people don’t need to be taught this. I needed it badly.

And many people think the book is too long and repetitive. I don’t think that. I found it to be a relatively quick and easy read, and I’ve read it multiple times. But if you read the reviews at Amazon, that’s probably the top complaint about it. Only you know what’s too long or too repetitive for you.

I think Making It All Work is a nice complement to GTD. I didn’t find it essential, but I was glad I read it.

Two other books that are not strictly productivity books but that taught me valuable lessons about self-improvement:

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King


Not sure if this is a profound book. But It is a reminder book that nudges me to shut up and listen.

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Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit — procrastination is a symptom. This book delves into treating the causes.

Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method — more than an explanation of the methods, it speaks to the reasoning behind the methods. More insightful than I was expecting.

@Kourosh Dini’s Being Productive and Workflow Mastery — a relaxed and supportive approach to being productive.

Edit: @mikeschmitz reminded me, The One Thing, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and Mindset were also influential to me. Added here for my future reference too.


I actually made a podcast about this a little while back :slight_smile:

I’m also working on a page for my site of the most influential books I’ve read, but in a nutshell (and without Amazon links):

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear - best book on habits I’ve ever read
  • The One Thing by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan - really powerful idea about the clarifying questions
  • So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport - inspired me to try and make screencasts/podcasts, wouldn’t be here without this book :slight_smile:
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl - MUST READ! This book will mess you up in a good way.
  • Extreme Ownership by Jock Willink & Leif Babin - phenomenal leadership book
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck - understanding the growth mindset is critical to personal growth, IMHO

I should also add I’m reading Make Time by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky based on a recent Focused episode w/ Shahid Ahmed and loving it.