This week I’m sharing 8 books I recommend and why I think they’re worth reading.
Sharing books I recommend, because as part of our lifelong learning and growth,
reading can help us be the best, most productive version of ourselves
I mentioned last week the idea that many successful people recommend setting aside an hour a day (or 5 hours a week) for learning. Lifelong learning is an important component of a meaningfully productive life. Whether learning about a job-specific skill, or generally broadening your mind and life by learning about other perspectives, it’s important.
One way to learn is by reading.
Today I’m sharing 8 books I recommend and why I think they’re worth reading. I stuck with nonfiction for this list, but I believe there is great value in reading good fiction–relaxation but also exposure to other ways of thinking. The best fiction not only entertains us but also makes us feel and think.
1. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen
This is a longtime favorite because in many ways it lays the foundation for my thoughts about and approach to productivity.
Back cover copy:
“Allen’s premise is simple: our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax. Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized can we achieve effective results and unleash our creative potential. From core principles to proven tricks, Getting Things Done will teach you to:
- Apply the “do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it” rule to get your in-box empty
- Reassess goals and stay focused in changing situations
- Plan and unstick projects
- Overcome feelings of confusion, anxiety, and being overwhelmed
- Feel fine about what you’re not doing”
That says a lot about the value of this book, which describes a bit of the philosophy behind and purpose of the GTD system, then goes into great detail about the specific actions you can take to implement it.
Some favorite quotes:
“Managing commitments well requires the implementation of basic activities and behaviors. First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection tool, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through. Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it. Third, once you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.”
“The purpose of this whole method of workflow management is not to let your brain become lax, but rather to enable it to be free to experience more elegant, productive, and creative activity. In order to earn that freedom, however, your brain must engage on some consistent basis with all your commitments and activities. You must be assured that you’re doing what you need to be doing, and that it’s OK to be not doing what you’re not doing. That facilitates the condition of being present, which is always the optimal state from which to operate. Reviewing your system on a regular basis, reflecting on the contents, and keeping it current and functional are prerequisites for that kind of clarity and stability.”
2. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear
This book is among my top 3 or 4 favorite productivity-related books because it creates a clear, straightforward, and doable path to developing habits that serve you (and explains why that matters). This is a book I’ve featured in our recurring Productive Reading series, in episode 230.
Book flap copy:
“James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results. If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves not because you don’t want to change but because you have the wrong system. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
I like how very practical the book is. It makes it very clear why habits matter, how small habits can lead to big results, and the steps required to cultivate habits that serve.
Some favorite quotes:
“Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years. We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits.”
“It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action. Whether it is losing weight, building a business, writing a book, winning a championship, or achieving any other goal, we put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement that everyone will talk about. Meanwhile, improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable–sometimes it isn’t even noticeable–but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding.”
“It doesn’t matter how successful or unsuccessful you are right now. What matters is whether your habits are putting you on the path toward success. You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”
3. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell
I first found this book on Audible and listened to it on a long car trip. I found it so fascinating I also bought a hard copy so I could re-read it and take notes. (It’s a great listen, though, when you’re traveling.)
Book flap copy:
“Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.”
The book basically explores the difficulties of communication between strangers. He uses case studies from commonly knowns events to explore the beliefs we have about our ability to read and communicate with people we don’t know–we think we’re better at it than we actually are. As the cover flap describes it, “Talking to Strangers is a classic Gladwellian intellectual adventure, a challenging and controversial excursion through history, psychology, and scandals taken straight from the news. In it, Malcolm Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, the suicide of Sylvia Plath, the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal at Penn State University, and the death of Sanda Bland–throwing our understanding of these and other stories into doubt.”
The stories in the book are fascinating, but this book is valuable because it helps us become more aware of the fallacies we might unconsciously believe about our ability to correctly evaluate the behavior and character of people we don’t know–something we all need in these contentious times. We think we can tell when someone’s lying, because (among other things) we believe that we can accurately read a person’s expression, tone of voice, and behaviors. The science he discusses in the book proves none of that is true.
Some quotes I like:
“We think we can easily see into the hearts of other people based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. [new paragraph] If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.”
“We have no choice but to talk to strangers, especially in our modern, borderless world. We aren’t living in villages anymore. . . . Yet at this most necessary of tasks we are inept. We think we can transform the stranger, without cost or sacrifice, into the familiar and the known, and we can’t. . . . Because we do not know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things go awry with strangers? We blame the stranger.”
4. Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More, by Courtney Carver
I’ve talked about this book before, because it’s a favorite that had a lot of impact on me. It was the subject of an episode of our recurring Productive Reading series, in episode 182, and the author herself was my guest on episode 169, not long before the book was released.
Back cover copy:
“We are often on a quest for more–be it more things, more experiences, or more professional success. For Carver, this constant striving was forced to a halt when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Stress was like gasoline on the fire of symptoms, and it became clear that she needed to root out the physical and psychological clutter that were the source of her debt and discontent. In this book, she shows us how to pursue practical minimalism so we can create more with less–more space, more time, and even more love. Carver invites us to look at the big picture, discover what’s most important to us, and reclaim lightness and ease by getting rid of excess things.”
What I love about this book is the soulful part–how she invites us to dig deep into our hearts and look at why we accumulate so much, how the physical and psychological clutter affects us, and what we really want. The book is filled with inspiration, insight, and very practical suggestions.
Some quotes I especially like:
“Sometimes you have to get rid of the things that don’t matter to let the things that do rise to the surface.”
“Getting rid of everything that doesn’t matter allows you to remember who you are. Simplicity doesn’t change who you are, it brings you back to who you are.”
“We dismiss opportunities every day by telling ourselves we can’t do it. We give in to fear. It’s good to think things through, but trust yourself to try new things too.”
“Our days are full of options and opportunity. We don’t have to do it all. We can’t do it all. We are better for it when we don’t try to do it all.”
Check out TPW182, Productive Reading, for a more in-depth discussion of this book and more of the quotes I love (or better yet, read the book!).
5. You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself, by David McRaney
This is another one I found on Audible and listened to on a long trip. I found it so interesting that I bought a paper copy of the book so I could re-read and take notes.
Back cover copy:
“Whether you’re deciding which smartphone to purchase or which politician to believe, you think you are a rational being whose every decision is based on cool, detached logic. But here’s the truth: You are not so smart. You’re just as deluded as the rest of us. You Are Not So Smart reveals that every decision we make, every thought we contemplate, and every emotion we feel comes with a story we tell ourselves to explain them. But often these stories aren’t true. By looking at the lies we habitually tell ourselves, the book answers questions like: Why can’t we seem to break that bad habit? Why are group projects always a pain? And why are first impressions so hard to overcome? Bringing together popular science and psychology with humor and wit, You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of our irrational, thoroughly human behavior.”
This one is just a great combination of entertaining, educational, and thought-provoking, encouraging the reader to consider honestly the lies she might be telling herself on a regular basis. It’s an excellent book for listening to as an audiobook. Each chapter presents a misconception most of us believe and the truth that corrects that misconception.
Some of my favorite examples:
- In the introduction: The Misconception: “You are a rational, logical being who sees the world as it really is. The Truth: You are as deluded as the rest of us, but that’s OK, it keeps you sane.”
- In the chapter called “Priming”: The Misconception: “You know when you are being influenced and how it is affecting your behavior. The Truth: You are unaware of the constant nudging you receive from ideas formed in your unconscious mind.”
- In the chapter called “Confabulation”: The Misconception: “You know when you are lying to yourself. The Truth: You are often ignorant of your motivations and create fictional narratives to explain your decisions, emotions, and history without realizing it.”
- In the chapter called “The Public Goods Game”: The Misconception: “We could create a system with no regulations where everyone would contribute to the good of society, everyone would benefit, and everyone would be happy. The Truth: Without some form of regulation, slackers and cheaters will crash economic systems because people don’t want to feel like suckers.
A fascinating read/listen. I also recommend his follow-up book, You Are Now Less Dumb.
6. The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters, by Emily Esfahani Smith
This book first caught my attention because of the subtitle: “Crafting a Life that Matters.” This resonated since so much of what we talk about on this podcast relates to making a life that matters. Interestingly, when I looked it up on Amazon, the new version shows a subtitle of “Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness”–which is also meaningful.
Book flap copy:
“Too many of us believe that the search for meaning is an esoteric pursuit–that you have to travel to a distant monastery or page through dusty volumes to discover life’s secrets. The truth is, there are untapped sources of meaning all around us–right here, right now.”
Lots of food for thought in this book, including talking about the difference between a happy life and a meaningful life. Chapter titles like “The Meaning Crisis,” “Belonging,” “Purpose,” “Transcendence,” “Growth,” and “Cultures of Meaning.”
A couple of quotes that I particularly like:
“According to psychologists, when people say their lives have meaning, it’s because three conditions have been satisfied: they evaluate their lives as significant and worthwhile–as part of something bigger; they believe their lives make sense; and they feel their lives are driven by a sense of purpose.”
“There are sources of meaning all around us, and by tapping into them, we can all lead richer and more satisfying lives–and help others do the same.”
She also quotes philosopher John Stuart Mill: “Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.”
7. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg
Another book I found meaningful enough to feature in our Productive Reading series (episode 147), this one is a fascinating look at the science behind habits and their impact.
Back cover copy:
“In The Power of Habit, award-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to the sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work.”
Using case studies to illustrate and explain the principles research has identified, the author paints a fascinating picture of the crucial role of habits in our individual and corporate lives, and the science of how they are formed and changed.
Some of my favorite quotes:
“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain requires less room, which makes for smaller head, which makes childbirth easier and therefore causes fewer infant and mother deaths. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and, eventually, airplanes and video games.”
“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize–they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”
8. Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff, by Myquillyn Smith
This is a pretty book with lots of inspiration for those who want to make a home that’s a comfortable, welcoming haven for yourself and those you care about. Although it’s available on Kindle and audiobook, this is one I’d recommend buying the hardcover of, because it’s just such a pretty book.
Back cover copy:
“You want a beautiful, simple, cozy, and inviting home without spending more money for more stuff. Stylist and bestselling author Myquillyn Smith guides you step by step in making purposeful design decisions for your home. Starting with what you already have, you’ll discover the tools to create a home you’re proud of in a way that honors your priorities, budget, and style. . . Written for the hands-on woman who’d rather move her own furniture than hire a designer, Cozy Minimalist Home offers the guidance you need to finish every room of your house. A Cozy Minimalist home goes beyond pretty and sets the stage for connection, relationship, and rest.”
The book starts with an explanation of the genesis of the “Cozy Minimalist” concept and the benefits of the approach and goes into practical ideas for implementing it in a way that suits your own style. Lots of photos for inspiration.
Some of my favorite quotes:
“Recent scientific research has shown that the level of cortisol–a stress-response hormone–rises in women when we are faced with the excess stuff in our homes. It’s fascinating. The study reveals that this level doesn’t change in men, only in women. Yep, clutter and chaos cause us to feel actual anxiety, stress, and even depression.”
In talking about the balance of cozy and minimalism, she says:
“I want to live in a world where there is room for plenty. Where meaningful collections are admired and loved and passed down through generations, where parties have oodles of hors d’oeuvres and piles of fruit and cheese on the platter. Where there is more than enough room for me to find a seat and get comfortable, and where I, in turn, share our abundance with others. But I also love the invitation that a cleared-off surface offers, the freedom not to have to hang something on every wall just because it’s blank, the discipline to know when to stop, and the reality that living with less makes my life so much easier. I wanted to remove distractions so I could truly see and, ultimately, so I could truly live.”
“You don’t have to be ‘designery’ to finally make those design decisions for your home. Creating a home with a style you love isn’t a result of some magical creative gene that you weren’t born with. It’s just a willingness to make informed decisions in the right order with a goal in mind. If you can make decisions, you can create a pretty house that isn’t overwhelming. Creating a home you love is simply about deciding what to focus on and then giving yourself permission to stop worrying about the rest.”
Books I’m reading now:
- The 7-Minute Productivity Solution: How to Manage Your Schedule, Overcome Distraction, and Achieve the Results You Want, by John Brandon. This was sent to me by the publisher to read/review. Just started, so I’ll let you know what I think.
- Taking Roots at Home: 3 in 1 Recipes for a Simpler and More Purposeful Life, by Erika Pitstick. Again, sent to me by the publisher. I just started, have flipped through and seen some intriguing ideas and recipes for made-from-scratch foods and household products.
- Fiction: Beauteous, by Tamara Leigh (a continuation of her “Age of Honor” clean medieval romance series). I love her novels because they feature interesting historical settings inhabited by characters dealing with true-to-life struggles and generally happy endings.
For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, the season is turning from summer to fall and then to winter, when instead of outdoor activities there might be time to curl up on the couch with a good book. And for those of us in the southern hemisphere, maybe you’re looking for a book to take along to the beach or on the plane as you head out on a summer trip. Along with the other books we’ve discussed in the Productive Reading series, these are a few books I recommend if you’re looking for ideas, information, motivation, or inspiration as you make your life that matters.
What do you think?
What book or books do you recommend for the rest of us to read? Post your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Links
- TPW147 – Productive Reading: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- TPW169 – Voluntary Simplicity, with Courtney Carver
- TPW182 – Productive Reading: Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver
- TPW230 – Productive Reading: Atomic Habits by James Clear
8 Books I Recommend
- Getting Things Done, by David Allen
- Atomic Habits, by James Clear
- Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell
- Soulful Simplicity, by Courtney Carver
- You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney
- The Power of Meaning, by Emily Esfahani Smith
- The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
- Cozy Minimalist Home, by Myquillyn Smith
Books I’m reading now
- The 7-Minute Productivity Solution: How to Manage Your Schedule, Overcome Distraction, and Achieve the Results You Want, by John Brandon
- Taking Roots at Home: 3 in 1 Recipes for a Simpler and More Purposeful Life, by Erika Pitstick
- Beauteous, by Tamara Leigh
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