I have read so many productivity and organizing books that I started to think I can’t learn anymore, but boy was I wrong! It isn’t that the concepts are completely new; it’s that the personal insights and presentation are. I had a hard time limiting myself to six, but here are some great productivity books for you to read this year and why I’m crazy about them.
I was very surprised that this book, which helps you evaluate your productivity habits regardless of your approach, was so enlightening. For example, one habit is collection. This is the idea that you need to collect all of your to-do’s into one trusted system. This is so obvious, but David Allen helped me see that my failure to do this was giving me grief. I’ve been using some kind of task management system for a long time, so I thought I would get high marks in this area. Wrong!
The evaluation in the book helped me see that I was not collecting phone, text, or IM-related tasks. Thus, I was forgetting them! I am now immediately adding them to my system, which at present is ToDoist.
There were other reasons I loved the book, not the least of which is its use of research to support best practices for getting more done. Francis Wade wrote a guest post in which he explains how we can get even more done if we’re already productive.
This is a book you’ll want in your library, regardless of the app or system you’re using at the time.
I cannot even describe how much I love this book. This book is the natural sequel to FLYLady’s Sink Reflections. I don’t believe I have ADHD, but the author makes it clear that you don’t have to have it to benefit from these organizing principles.
I think I can summarize the premise of the book this way: organize for how you will behave rather than how you’d like to behave. In other words, you may wish you would take the time to put things back into beautiful, stacked Pottery Barn containers, but the truth is you will shove it back into a cabinet, wherever there is room. So make room! Drastically declutter.
I am following the home storage solutions 101 calendar for decluttering this year and I am drastically decluttering. Here’s an example. I have a large number of expensive kitchen appliances that I needed when I was really into healthy eating (why I’m not obsessed with this anymore is a post for another time). While I keep telling myself that I’m going to make homemade jerky and tortillas and bread with wheat flour from my mill, but I don’t. These appliances take up enormous room in my kitchen and mind. Every time I see them, I feel like a failure. No more! They served a purpose at one time in my life and now I’m going to bless someone else with them.
There is more to this book than I can describe here, but I can’t recommend it enough.
I am easily overwhelmed by all the things I have to or would like to do. Most people have heard of the 80/20 principle (that 80% of the rewards come from 20% of your efforts). Keller makes it that much simpler: choose the one thing that will make everything else easier or eliminated.
I was so enamored with the book that I created a daily, weekly, monthly to-do list for it. I still love it as it gives me clarity and peace of mind.
The One Thing can give you peace of mind, too, no matter how many to-do’s you have on your list.
I heard about Essentialism after I read The One Thing. I worried that it would be redundant. It wasn’t.
My biggest takeaway from the book is that I want to BE an essentialist rather than do a few things to simplify my life. I want to replace the nonessentialist thinking of I have to, everything is important, and I can do it all with I choose to, only a few things really matter, and I can do anything, but not everything. The last two are particularly important for me. As hard as it is to admit that I can’t do it all (and that it doesn’t even matter that I can’t), there is great freedom there too.
Essentialism is a book I need to reread regularly. I think you’ll want to be an essentialist, too, if you give it a read.
Loren has guest blogged for Psychowith6 on productivity before and I’m a huge fan. He recently completed his ebook which is free to subscribers. I have to tell you that I’ve read a huge number of books on procrastination and I wasn’t expecting much, but this book is really valuable if you are a Christian who struggles with putting things off.
My favorite tip from the book was to visualize yourself in the process of working toward your goal and not just achieving the goal. As I work on my curriculum, I keep fantasizing about the day when the first volume is complete. That’s great! But it makes the day-to-day fanny-in-chair stuff seem that much more unpleasant. Now I visualize myself writing and learning how to complete the project.
That brings me to another insight from the book which was HUGE for me. Loren writes that many people procrastinate because they don’t have a growth mindset, but more of a pass/fail one. In other words, some people put things off when they discover a task doesn’t come easily to them. They assume that they “just aren’t good at it” so there’s no point in continuing. I realized that this is me! I approached my blog that way. When I didn’t have instant success, I thought I wasn’t good at it, and waffled about continuing. Now, of course, I know that like most things, it’s something you can improve on. Most importantly for me, I realized that I had a pass/fail mindset about the curriculum I’m writing. I was wondering if I would be good at it or not. That set me up to procrastinate. Now I’m approaching it as something that will be challenging at first, but that I will grow into.
I believe you’ll gain insights in your procrastination and how to stop, too.
I listened to this book via Audible when I was on vacation and it was just what I needed. While it is geared toward creatives (and is rated PG for language), I found the admonitions to unplug and give myself time to think incredibly valuable.
The book does offer good ideas for building routines as well. But I do pretty well at that already. What I don’t do as well at is giving myself margin. As a result of reading the book, I plan to take Sundays off and unplug. That may be challenging at first, but I’ll grow into it. It’s not a pass/fail, right?
What productivity books did you read last year that you recommend?
You may enjoy the other 5 Day Hopscotch posts from iHomeschool Network bloggers. Check them out!
Francis Wade, author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, guest posts today. If you missed his post on Why College Students and CEOs Manage Time the Same Way, be sure to give it a read.
When you are someone who is already more productive than most people you know, how can you still make improvements?
At first it may seem to be an easy question to answer: just browse the Internet, pick out a bunch of websites or books and find some tips, tricks and shortcuts. Try a bunch of them and see what works.
If you are someone who has lots of time on your hands, this approach might bear some fruit. In times past, when there were only one or two credible resources available, you had no choice. Now, however, you have a plethora of advice at your fingertips, but no way to choose between different sources. Therefore, you waste a lot of time in your attempts to get just a little bit better.
Is there a better way?
There is. Just look at the way top athletes learn. They don’t chase after trivial bits of advice from everyone they meet — that’s a recipe for disaster, or at the very least, permanent distraction. Instead they find ways to focus their energies on precise behavior changes, in small doses.
Michael Jordan put it well. “My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”
He was fortunate: he had others around him like teammates, coaches and opposing players who helped him find potential areas of growth. You probably aren’t as lucky. In the workplace, as in everyday life, there remain few clear cut measures of success and few people who can give clear feedback. Instead, you need a way to assess yourself and provide you with the same edge that Michael Jordan had at the height of his days in the NBA.
Your Time Management Autobiography
If you have ever read a time management book or sat in a productivity workshop you probably found yourself discarding many of the specific practices and habits the author/instructor recommended. Others may have seemed to be in love with them all, but some struck you as unnecessary for your situation. Why the difference?
It’s because each of us has an individual time management autobiography which has brought us to this point place in time.
Your biography started at the age you learned to tell time, which for most people happens before 10 years old. You were probably taught that time was a real substance that needed to be learned and understood.
Once you mastered the concept, it didn’t take long for you to create what are called “time demands” — internal, individual commitments to complete actions in the future. They are psychological constructs, according to academics Dr. Wendy Wood and Judith Oullette who labeled them “conscious intentions.” With MacGyver-like ingenuity, you didn’t stop there — you also taught yourself how to deal with time demands each day.
Unfortunately, these two life-changing events go unnoticed by most of us. As important as they are to our future success in life, we usually can’t recall either when we discovered time or started manipulating time demands.
However, once you started creating time demands, you exerted a supreme effort to keep them alive long enough to get the prescribed actions done. If you are like most people, the first thing you tried was your memory. Over time, you were forced by its limits to use other devices. For example, the chances are good that if you are reading a blog post such as this one on Psychowith6.com, you taught yourself to use a To-Do list, either written on paper or kept on an electronic device.
The transition you made was typical: the research shows that as time demands increase, over time we progress through a number of turning points. The first was the decision to use memory (rather than rely on chance), while the second was to replace memory use with a To-Do list. Perhaps you have also reached the third: the use of multiple lists rather than a single list. Some have even reached a fourth: they tend to be time-starved and use a detailed schedule, without any To-Do lists at all.
These turning points — the moments when we decided to switch methods — are an all-important part of our biography. Dr. Key Dismukes and others have shown that we commit fewer errors when we switch to the right technique at the right time: the one that happens to match the volume of time demands we are trying to process daily. Stress occurs when there is a mismatch, and we experience persistent failures.
Now, see if you can fill in some holes in your time management biography. Which tools do you use to manage time demands? Which ones predominate? When did you hit some of these turning points and start to change your habits? What habits, practices and rituals did you unlearn, then learn?
These aren’t easy questions to answer because we hardly noticed them happening, but your answer provides a beginning — an understanding of how you came to do what you do, and why.
Your Current Profile
Your history has brought you to this moment, the time when you are using a particular set of habits, practices and rituals developed over time. It’s responsible for every single one of your achievements. However, if you are experiencing time-stress, the answer probably doesn’t lie in tips and tricks randomly tweeted out into cyberspace.
A better place to start is with an important part of your biography — your current day assessment. For example, in 2008, Dr. Lydia Liu and her team of researchers gave one of the few self-assessments for adolescents to over 800 seventh-grade students. They found that they were well on the way to developing their own system which, in general, was less sophisticated than those being used by college students — a great piece of information to have for a parent who is guiding their kid’s development.
In my book, Perfect Time-Based Productivity, I also provide a self-assessment covering over 40 critical skills that, like Dr. Liu’s work, results in a personal profile. This profile is the end-product of your autobiography, but you don’t need to know the details of each turning point to develop it — it’s just better if you have that knowledge as you can understand why you possess certain behaviors and not others.
These are just two methods. You can also keep a detailed diary of your behaviors, tracking repetitive errors as they occur. Hiring a coach who can tell you what your developmental needs are is another. You can also develop your own assessment. In my book, I share the methodology I use so that you can create an assessment based on any best-practice whenever you want.
The result is the same whichever path you take: an in-depth understanding of your current skills which reveals the most obvious gaps. A good assessment may reveal the fact I found in hundreds of self-assessments delivered during training; most of us had no formal training in time management during our adolescent years. The result is predictable: unorthodox profiles that owe more to Rube Goldberg than scientific research. Dr. Liu makes the point: figuring out this piece of our autobiography is critical if we want to be effective in the future.
Your Future Biography
In my book I tell the story of a fictitious CEO named Rebecca. She made the switch from one technique to another in response to increasing responsibilities, first at school and then in her career. She had help along the way, but the transitions were still difficult to undertake because our ingrained habits, practices and rituals are unlearned slowly.
Advancement up the corporate ladder is one guarantee of greater time demands. Others include having children, getting married, undertaking a degree part-time and taking care of an ailing parent. All of us who have swapped a feature-phone for a smartphone know that technology also changes the way you deal with time demands. In all these examples, the outcome is the same — you need to upgrade your methods.
Fortunately, if you have completed your autobiography you know exactly where to start. Your self-knowledge sets you apart from others who feel the need to change, but only have random tips, tricks and shortcuts to choose from. Their job is much harder — and it takes a much longer time.
Armed with your autobiography, however, you can ignore irrelevant advice, snazzy technology upgrades and silly shortcuts that have nothing to do with your needs. As opposed to chasing down trivial recommendations and advertisements, you can commit yourself to making slow, steady progress — the kind that’s unfashionable, but ultimately works.
In this way you can write your future biography — one in which you improved your skills at will with the awareness, intuition and skills of an adult. This gives you a way to keep your peace of mind regardless of the challenges life might bring.
Dismukes, R. (n.d.). Prospective Memory in Workplace and Everyday Situations. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 215-220.
Liu, O. L., Rijmen, F., Maccann, C., & Roberts, R. (2009). The assessment of time management in middle-school students. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(3), 174-179
Ouellette, J., & Wood, W. (1998). Habits and Intention in Everyday Life: The Multiple Processes by Which Past Behavior Predicts Future Behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 124(1), 54-74.