I’m a true productivity geek. I love researching science-based ways to work smarter and get more done in less time.
In my quest to master productivity, I’ve read more than 30 books on the subject.
And while I’ve gained insights from all of them, only five productivity books truly stand out as game-changers.
These are the ones I’ve recommended most often to my friends, clients, and business connections.
This book showed me that true productivity isn’t about being busy, it’s about being effective. And it isn’t about doing more, it’s about doing what matters.
In fact, the more things we try to do at the same time (take on more projects and pursue more goals), the more we scatter our time, energy, and attention.
This only makes us more overwhelmed and less effective.
Instead of trying to do everything and be everything, we need to hone down on the one thing — the most important task, goal, or project that creates a positive domino effect in our personal- or professional lives.
In other words, do less, but focus more on.
To make this practical, Gary Keller introduces the concept of the Focusing Question, which is a daily tool to identify your most important task:
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do today that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?”
I ask myself this question across multiple timeframes (e.g. what’s the one thing I can do this week/month/year to create the most impact in my work/life?).
It has worked wonders for my productivity. I’m less busy, but more effective.
Upgrading your brain is one of the most productive things you can do. No single productivity hack can compensate for a slow, foggy brain.
That’s why I love Limitless by Jim Kwik, a renowned expert on memory and brain improvement.
Simply put, the better you care for your brain, the better your cognitive performance will be (better focus, enhanced mental clarity, increased problem-solving capacity). The better your cognitive performance, the more productive you’ll be.
“Your brain is capable of amazing things. With the right techniques and a little bit of effort, you can unlock your full cognitive potential and achieve success in every area of your life,”writes Jim Kwik.
In Limitless, Jim Kwik says that three of the most important habits for optimal brain health are adequate sleep, regular exercise, and healthy nutrition.
Lack of sleep causes short-term cognitive impairment (brain fog, slower thinking, lack of focus) and can even lead to long-term cognitive decline (the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease).
As Jim Kwik wrote, “Without adequate sleep, your brain cannot function at its best. It’s like trying to drive a car on an empty tank of gas. Make sure you’re getting the sleep your brain needs to perform at its best.”
But a good night’s sleep (between 7 and 9 hours) will help you focus better, think more clearly, and improve your decision-making abilities.
“Physical exercise is one of the most powerful ways to boost your brain power, improve your memory and increase your overall cognitive abilities,” writes Jim Kwik.
Exercise increases the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a crucial role in the growth and survival of brain cells.
Furthermore, exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, which brings oxygen and nutrients to brain cells and helps to remove waste products.
Proper nutrition is crucial for maintaining a healthy brain.
As Jim Kwik wrote in Limitless, “Your brain is like a high-performance sports car, and the food you eat is like the fuel that powers it. The better the fuel, the better the performance.”
Especially foods high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes help improve brain function.
That’s why Jim Kwik recommends eating brain-boosting foods such as nuts, berries, fish, and leafy green vegetables.
In our increasingly connected world, finding the mental space for focused, uninterrupted work can be challenging.
In other words, Deep Work is a must-read for anyone who wants to thrive in today’s distracted world.
Cal Newport defines deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.”
To thrive in today’s rapidly evolving work environment (think AI, blockchain, etc.), we need to learn complex topics fast and produce at peak levels in terms of quality and speed.
That’s why deep work is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.
To improve your focus and get more ‘deep work’ moments in your workday, I recommend the following tips from Deep Work:
James Clear is arguably one of my favorite writers of all time.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from Atomic Habits is that it’s more productive to focus on your systems than your goals.
As James Clear wrote, “Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.”
For example, if your goal is to gain five kilograms of lean muscle mass within six months, the process could be lifting weights four times per week and eating 100+ grams of protein daily.
And if your goal is to self-publish a book within nine months, the process could be to write 800 high-quality words per day.
Defining a clear system allows you to focus on taking the right actions.
And ultimately, it’s your actions (or lack thereof) that determine if you’ll achieve a goal or not.
As James Clear wrote in Atomic Habits, “The key to success is not to focus on your goals, but to focus on the systems that will help you achieve those goals.”
This book is sentimental to me, as it’s the first self-improvement book I read after hitting personal rock bottom.
The main lesson I learned from this book is the importance of being proactive about your life.
Being proactive means taking responsibility for your life and actions, regardless of the circumstances.
It means we must focus on what we can control (our actions and behaviors) rather than dwelling on things we can’t control (other people’s behavior).
By taking control of your own actions and decisions, you can create the life you want rather than reacting to the life that has been ‘handed’ to you.
As Stephen Covey writes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
“Proactive people don’t blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values.”
In short, being proactive is the key to getting things done and making big leaps in your career and personal life.
This requires personal leadership. It requires taking ownership of your actions, decisions, and life circumstances.
Lots of people tend to struggle with this. As Covey writes, “Many people are deeply scripted in reactive behavior. They feel victimized and resentful, blaming outside forces for their own situation.”
But if you want to live a life of high performance, you can’t afford to be passive or reactive.
As Stephen Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Proactive people don’t just react to the conditions of their environment. They create the conditions they desire.”
Remember, it’s all you versus you.
If you want something, be proactive about it. Don’t sit around and wait for things to magically fall into place.
Founder Personal Growth Lab
At PGL, we share science-based tools and routines to optimize your health, cognitive performance, and productivity.