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Best Time Management and Productivity Books
(Updated 2023)

Sven Woltmann
Sven Woltmann
Last update: September 28, 2023

Increased productivity impresses your colleagues and superiors, boosts your career, and ultimately allows you to earn a better salary.

On this page, you'll find short reviews of the best time management books and some great books on productivity.

In keeping with the theme, I can also recommend books on understanding, building, and changing habits.

(Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Essentialism - Greg McKeown

by Greg McKeown

Link to the book at Amazon

We all have goals in life. But many do not achieve them. Most of the time, we work to help others achieve their goals. Why? Because we often fail to distinguish between what is essential to achieving our dreams and what is not. We don't decide how to use our most important resource – our time. Instead, we let others decide and fill our to-do lists for us.

We get more and more done, and we have little capacity left for our own goals.

But we can decide to change that! We have to learn to prioritize: We need to separate essentials from non-essentials. We don't have to do more things but less. Instead of dividing our energy among many different activities and making little progress in many different directions, we need to focus our energy on one activity – the one activity that will take us furthest toward our goal.

However, we can only do this if we cut back in other areas – if we say "no" to non-essential tasks.

So before we accept tasks (or set them for ourselves), we need to check whether they are essential. That is, whether they make the highest possible contribution to achieving our goals. And we need to check our to-do list(s) regularly to see if the tasks are still essential. We must rigorously eliminate those that are not.

Of course, this is easier said than done. That's why the author offers numerous practical tips and assistance. Even for situations where you can't just say "no." For example, an excellent answer to the boss's question of whether you can also take on task X is: "Gladly. What do you want me to deprioritize for that?"

You probably won't get any groundbreaking new insights from this book. You'll often think, "The author is right; that's exactly what I should do." That shows you are aware that you are not in complete control of your life. And that is precisely why you need to remind yourself regularly what is essential for you and what is not.

The book is easy to read and entertaining. It contains numerous anecdotes and encourages you to (re-)take control of your life.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely, and it is read by the author himself.

The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich

The 4-Hour Work Week - Tim Ferriss

by Tim Ferriss

Link to the book at Amazon

Working 40 hours (or more) a week for a mediocre salary? For the next decades? Putting off fulfilling your dreams until you retire?

That outlook (shared by most working adults) pushed Tim Ferriss to transform his life completely.

He reduced his work hours to four hours a week and created a free, luxurious, yet fulfilling life for himself. Four steps ("DEAL") were necessary to achieve this:

D – Defining your lifestyle not as 40-hour weeks until retirement but as a mix of work periods and mini-retirements.

E – Eliminating distractions and unimportant activities. Focus on your strengths and the 20% of activities that bring 80% of the benefits.

A – Automation: Build a business that provides you with a sustainable income sufficient to achieve your goals with as little effort as possible.

L – Liberation: As an employee, work remotely as much as possible to increase your productivity. Use the freed-up time to build your business.

Implementing all this is certainly not easy. And not everyone dreams of a life as a "digital nomad" like the author. But everyone can benefit from his insights and integrate many of the concepts into their own life plans.

The author demonstrates this with numerous stories of people who have escaped the traditional work routine and are living their dream – including families with children!

The book is humorous, entertaining, provocative, motivating, and inspiring. A recommendation for all who want to rethink their way of life and retake control of it.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time

eat that frog - brian tracy

by Brian Tracy

Link to the book at Amazon

Who hasn't experienced this: long to-do lists, both professional and private, and the expectation, especially from ourselves, to get everything done as quickly as possible? Why does this seem so hopeless to us while others succeed effortlessly?

The answer: Successful people don't try to get everything done in the first place. They set priorities and work on the most critical task first – disciplined until it is done.

The book's title, "Eat That Frog," is a metaphor for this. It comes from an American proverb that says if you eat a live frog in the morning, you've completed the most difficult task of the day.

In 21 chapters, you'll learn 21 practical techniques that should help you overcome your inner laziness and organize your to-dos and your day so that you can focus on the essential tasks and accomplish them with motivation, efficiency, and effectiveness.

The book is clearly structured, reduced to the essentials, and easy to read. The techniques are well explained, immediately applicable and helpfully summarized again at the end of the book.

If your inertia is bothering you and you're constantly getting bogged down in unimportant activities, this is the book for you. If you're an effective worker, you're probably already using some of these techniques, but you're sure to discover a new one or two.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Deep Work - Cal Newport

by Cal Newport

Link to the book at Amazon

Deep work is defined as focused, concentrated work (or learning) – without distractions such as email, social media, YouTube, or deciding what to do next.

In the first part of the book, author Cal Newport explains why Deep Work is of crucial importance in today's world (but rarely takes place). For example, scientific evidence shows that multitasking leads not only to so-called "attention residue" (i.e., parts of the brain continue to devote their attention to the previous task) but also to long-term deterioration in the ability to concentrate.

The second part shows ways in which everyone can master this extremely productive work practice in little time (for me, it took less than 24 hours). The basic principle here is the long-term planning of uninterrupted time blocks for work, the Internet, and leisure. Depending on your personality and the type of work, these blocks can last from a few hours to several days.

This planning reduces not only context changes but also the number of decisions you have to make every day (willpower is also a limited resource). It also increases the quality of leisure time that it completely separates from work.

The book is fun to read, and I recommend it to everyone who wants to improve their work performance, get more done in less time, and ultimately have more and better quality leisure time.

The book has fundamentally improved my productivity.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

getting things done - gtd - david allen

by David Allen

Link to the book at Amazon

Almost everyone is familiar with this: our e-mail inbox is overflowing, letters and magazines are piling up on our desks (or are scattered in drawers and cupboards), something needs to be repaired in the house, and on top of that, our partner has asked us to run some errands.

Due to the seemingly unmanageable flood of tasks, we feel overwhelmed and stressed. We become unfocused and unproductive, which only adds to the stress.

In "Getting Things Done" (GTD for short), David Allen, master of personal productivity, shows us what we can do about it. With the GTD method, we can structure and order our tasks in a system outside our brain (these days, usually a few apps) in five simple and clearly defined steps.

This does not reduce the amount of work to be done, but it is no longer a burden on our minds. Through our external system, we have clarity at all times and in every situation about which task to take next. And we can then approach this task in a relaxed and considered manner – and subsequently creatively and efficiently.

The GTD method is surprisingly easy to apply in today's digital world, thanks to numerous apps and how-to videos and quickly produces visible results – in all areas of life.

I recommend reading the 2015 edition, which has been updated in light of the modern working world. And when the author nevertheless speaks of physical file folders and cabinets, I recommend smiling and translating that with folders and subfolders on your hard drive or in cloud storage.

This masterpiece is a clear recommendation for all who feel overwhelmed and overburdened by the flood of responsibilities and wish to return to a stress-free and relaxed life without having to neglect their responsibilities.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential

building a second brain - tiago forte

by Tiago Forte

Link to the book at Amazon

In today’s world, we are inundated daily with overwhelming information and data. While we may need some of this information later and sometimes take notes, we have no system to store the information in a way that we can trust to retrieve it exactly when we need it.

With “Second Brain,” productivity expert Tiago Forte presents a system for personal knowledge management (“PKM” for short) that allows us to reliably capture, organize and process ideas and notes digitally so that we can not only easily retrieve the information at any time, but also use it actively and creatively.

The author provides step-by-step instructions for building the “second brain.” He shows us precisely how we can use the CODE method (Capture, Organize, Distill, Express) and the PARA system (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archive) to bring structure to our data in such a way that it is primarily organized according to usability, i.e., that we always have the information that we currently need quickly at hand.

And we don’t have to start from scratch – we also get a simple “migration guide” to transfer our current data set into a “second brain.”

The system works independently of any particular software. We can continue to work with what we are used to (although it doesn’t hurt to think outside the box – for this, the author provides an overview of numerous PKM tools on his website).

“Building a Second Brain” is a convenient and helpful guide to building a functional PKM system. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to regain and keep track of their digital information – and use it to its full potential.

By the way, the system combines well with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

The 80/20 Principle: Achieve More with Less

The 80/20 Principle - Richard Koch

by Robert Koch

Link to the book at Amazon

More than 100 years ago, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noted that 80% of the land was owned by only 20% of the population.

From this, the 80/20 rule was derived: 80% of success results from 20% of the effort.

In "The 80/20 Principle," Robert Koch shows that this principle is universally applicable – in all areas of business and private life.

For example, 80% of a company's revenue is generated by only 20% of its customers. 80% of employees do 20% of the work. 80% of our time is spent with 20% of our friends. And 80% of the time we wear 20% of our clothes.

If we learn to recognize the 80/20 principle, we can focus on what truly matters. This way, we can accomplish much more with less effort and time – in all areas of life:

Companies should focus on where their core competence lies and outsource everything else.

The same applies to our careers. We should do what we do best (and what we enjoy doing) and continuously improve our competencies in it (keyword: T- or Pi-shaped).

In our personal lives, we should recognize those few times and events that lead to our greatest joy, use those times intensively, and actively cultivate our happiness.

I can genuinely recommend this book to everyone. It is rare to find so many good tips for a successful and happy life in such a condensed form.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, and it is narrated by the author himself.

Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day

make time - jake knapp john zeratsky

by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

Link to the book at Amazon

In today’s high-tech world, we live in a vicious cycle of constant busyness – caused by endless to-do lists and other people’s priorities thrust upon us through emails and meeting invitations – and the reward for our exhaustion in the form of always-on, virtually endless sources of information and entertainment (social media, news, video streaming).

In “Make Time,” Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky show how we can take back control of our lives and find time for those activities that matter to us and fulfill us.

And we can do that without completely changing our lifestyle! The authors present 87 simple tactics in productivity, nutrition, and exercise – all of which are slight changes in our daily lives that significantly impact our ability to focus, be effective, and have energy.

My personal favorites are:

  • No coffee before 9:30 a.m. or after 2:30 p.m.
  • Disable all notifications and your news stream.
  • Log out of all social media and streaming services in the evening so you don’t get sucked back in as easily the next day.

The authors have tried all the tactics on themselves over the years and describe their experiences with them quite entertainingly. What’s interesting is that the two authors don’t always agree. Ultimately, they acknowledge that everyone is individual and must find their own combination of tactics that work.

The book is entertaining and easy to read. Each tactic is easy to implement on its own. There is something here for everyone!

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, and it is narrated by the authors themselves.

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

The ONE Thing - Gary Keller

by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Link to the book at Amazon

The core message of this book is: Concentrate on one thing – it is this one thing that produces extraordinary results.

Most people divide their attention between many ideas and tasks to achieve as many goals as possible. However, in this way, you can achieve these results only moderately well. In order to have massive success, it is better to focus on one thing; only once you've completed it successfully, start with the next one.

A vivid example is dominos, which each knock over a 50% larger tile. If you build five rows of twelve such dominos, you can knock over five dominos that are about five meters high. However, if you make a row of 60 dominos, the 57th will be higher than the moon is away from the earth!

Away from this abstract example, it has been scientifically proven that the human brain is not well suited for multitasking. When switching to another task, a so-called "attention residual" remains, so that after each task switch, it takes a while to focus on the new task.

To achieve high goals, consistently eliminate all unimportant things from your life and prioritize the remaining ones by asking, "What is the ONE thing I can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?" Schedule daily time blocks where you work continuously on this one thing.

This process is not only applicable to professional life but all areas of our life. A recommendation for everyone who has the feeling of being stuck in multitasking and not being able to concentrate on the really important things.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

Indistractible - Nir Eyal

by Nir Eyal

Link to the book at Amazon

In a world filled with distractions from colleagues, email, group chat, and social media, we struggle to focus on our priorities for extended periods, get less and less done, and neglect personal relationships with family and friends.

In "Indistractable," product designer and consumer psychology expert Nir Eyal teaches us strategies to resist and eliminate distractions, gain focus on what matters most, and fight technology addiction. So we can ultimately be more productive and have more time for ourselves, our friends, and our family again.

These strategies include, for example, recognizing internal triggers for disruption (like the urge to look at your phone) – and not suppressing them, but understanding and learning to live with them.

On the other hand, external triggers for disruptions should be switched off as far as possible, for example, by deactivating push notifications, unsubscribing from unread newsletters, and uninstalling distracting apps.

Another strategy is so-called "pacts." In an "effort pact," you raise the hurdle for unwanted activity, for example, by putting your phone in the next room while you work or sleep. In an "identity pact," one sees oneself as a person with specific characteristics, such as a parent who gives unlimited attention to their children.

In addition to strategies for one's own indistractability, the book provides tips for promoting indistractability in children and partnerships.

The book is very well structured and easy to read. The concrete strategies are well described, immediately implementable, and very helpful.

A recommendation for anyone who wants to be less distracted and take back control of their life.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely, and it is read by the author himself.

The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy

the productivity project - chris bailey

by Chris Bailey

Link to the book at Amazon

Chris Bailey spent a year experimenting with every imaginable technique to increase his productivity. He wanted to find out which methods work – and which don’t. He tried waking up at 5:30 AM, lived in isolation for days, gave up coffee, and experimented with weekly working hours ranging from 20 to 90 hours.

He shares the findings of these and numerous other experiments in his book, The Productivity Project.

The fact is, everyone has the same amount of time. What sets productive people apart is their ability to manage their energy and attention better than others. Here are a few tips on how you can achieve that too:

  • First and foremost, be aware of what is important to you in life and why. Based on that, define your goals and priorities.
  • Eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, and take regular breaks.
  • Work on only one thing at a time – the human brain is not designed for multitasking.
  • Give meditation a try.
  • Figure out when you have the most energy during the day. That’s your “biological prime time.” Allocate important tasks to those periods.
  • Keep anything that could distract you out of reach, requiring at least 20 seconds to get it back. This way, for example, you can break the habit of regularly reaching for your smartphone at work.
  • Don’t plan what you want to do in a day, but rather what you want to have accomplished by the end of the day.

The author debunks other so-called “productivity hacks” as myths. For example, it’s not beneficial (in fact, it’s counterproductive) to wake up at 5:30 AM every day if you’re a biological evening type.

The book is easy to read and highly entertaining due to the personal stories included. Each chapter ends with a mini-challenge encouraging immediate experimentation with the presented practices. This way, everyone can determine which strategies work best and ultimately develop an individual productivity system. A recommendation for all productivity enthusiasts.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, and it is narrated by the author himself.

Hyperfocus: How to Manage Your Attention in a World of Distraction

Hyperfocus - Chris Bailey

by Chris Bailey

Link to the book at Amazon

How can we become more productive without working even more than we already do? Or the other way around: How can we be just as productive as before with less work?

Productivity expert and best-selling author of “The Productivity Project,” Chris Bailey, provides an answer in his second book, “Hyperfocus”: We need to better manage our most powerful resource – our attention.

For one thing, we must direct it to our most important task and solve it with complete concentration (“hyperfocus”). The author provides numerous strategies for both identifying the most crucial task and working with focus, such as

  • classifying planned and executed activities into necessary, purposeful, unnecessary, and distracting tasks,
  • designing an ergonomic workplace,
  • dividing the working day according to personal energy levels,
  • installing apps that free us from distractions, such as social media.

In other moments, we should consciously let our attention wander (“scatterfocus”). That allows us to recover from periods of hyperfocus and let our brains be creative, linking ideas and developing new ones.

Sufficient sleep and exercise, a healthy diet, and meditation also help us control our attention better.

The book is full of practical tips suitable for everyday use, which you can best try out for yourself and put together into a personal concept. The book is easy to read and a recommendation for anyone who wants to do more of what is important to them in a world full of distractions.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, and it is narrated by the author himself.

Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity

smarter faster better - charles duhigg

by Charles Duhigg

Link to the book at Amazon

In his second bestseller, Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of "The Power of Habit," provides a comprehensive overview of how people, teams, and organizations can achieve extraordinary feats - from producing a successful television show to the FBI's solving of a mysterious hijacking to the successful emergency landing of a badly damaged and nearly unmaneuverable Airbus A380 with 440 passengers on board.

Duhigg attributes such feats to eight key concepts he has researched extensively and supports with compelling case studies. The concepts include motivation through freedom of choice, psychological safety in teams, the formation of mental models, and SMART goal setting.

There are no new or surprising insights among them – but numerous entertaining and compelling stories to illustrate them. And it is these stories combined with Duhigg's writing style that make the book so worth reading.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

scrum the art of doing twice the work in half the time - jeff sutherland

by Jeff Sutherland

Link to the book at Amazon

I don’t need to explain what Scrum is and what problems it solves on a developer blog. Anyone who has ever had to work with the waterfall model (the older among us will remember) has experienced firsthand how complex software projects can be brought to success many times faster with it.

An introduction to the Scrum process is not the purpose of this book. Instead, Scrum creator Jeff Sutherland talks about the history of Scrum, why Scrum works, the backgrounds of the various Scrum artifacts, roles, and events, and how complex projects can be managed with Scrum outside of software development.

What I personally was not aware of is how much Scrum focuses on the satisfaction of team members. Sutherland reports on studies that show that Scrum teams are more productive the more satisfied they were in previous sprints. That’s precisely why retrospectives are an essential, not to be underestimated part.

The areas where Scrum is used today are diverse: from car design to educational projects in schools, to reporting in the Middle East, and combating poverty in the Third World.

Numerous case studies and anecdotes make the book an entertaining read. My criticisms are that the author often tends to self-aggrandizement and does not show a single scenario in which Scrum does not work.

Nevertheless, the book is worth reading and a recommendation for anyone who is interested not only in the “how” but also in the “why” - the history and philosophy behind Scrum.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

When - Daniel H. Pink

by Daniel H. Pink

Link to the book at Amazon

Many how-to books tell us what we should do. In "When," bestselling author Daniel Pink explains when we should do certain things.

The first part is about the daily rhythm. The natural, biological rhythm is not the same for all people. There are early risers ("larks"), late risers ("owls"), and "normal types." This so-called chronotype influences our mood, when we are exceptionally creative, when we are good at analytical thinking, and when our physical performance is at its highest.

If we know our chronotype (which we can easily find out using online tests), we can use this information to divide our work optimally (e.g., analytical work in the morning, creative in the afternoon), make important decisions at the optimal time, and exercise when we are physically fittest.

The author is aware that not everyone can freely divide their day. He offers valuable tips on coping when personal rhythms do not coincide with those set by the employer or society.

The second part is about beginnings and endings – of projects, jobs, relationships, and life as a whole. When is the right time to quit a job, start a business or get married? Why is a fresh start often the best option? Why do people have midlife crises, and how come most people complete their first marathon at 29, 39, 49, or 59?

The book is easy to read and entertaining. It contains plenty of practical advice to apply the lessons learned to our own lives ("time hacks") – to help us sleep better and make us healthier, more productive, and happier.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, and it is read by the author himself.


If you want to learn more about chronotypes and an alternative classification, I recommend "The Power of When" by Dr. Michael Breus.

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

The Effective Executive - Peter Drucker

by Peter F. Drucker

Link to the book at Amazon

In this classic, Peter Drucker, "pioneer of modern management theory," explains how to become an effective manager, develop the strengths of your employees and thus lead your company to success.

Then why did I put the book under "Productivity"?

The focus is on how to achieve more productivity and effectiveness through self-management. In my opinion an essential skill that is not only relevant for managers.

The core element of effectiveness is: Be clear about your priorities and focus your time, energy and resources on what isessential; say "no" to everything else.

Effectiveness is not innate. Anyone can learn it. And this is exactly what the book offers step-by-step instructions for:

  1. Measure – in detail – when you spend how much time on what. You will be shocked when you realize how much time you waste daily on irrelevant activities.
  2. Focus on the relevant activities and eliminate those you do not want to do.
  3. Consolidate your time: Reserve at least one uninterrupted time block of two hours each day and work concentrated on one topic during this time.

Despite its age of more than 50 years, the book is still topical, as the author recognized the transition to the information age already back in 1967.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely.

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

Rest - Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Link to the book at Amazon

In today's work environment, success is commonly defined by the number of hours worked. Overtime and overwork are the rule rather than the exception. Breaks are seen as contradictory to productive work.

But being super busy (or pretending to be, e.g., sending emails at night) is anything but productive.

Most people are only capable of concentrated, creative work for a limited time each day.

Top performance only becomes possible when breaks are integrated into the day as an essential part of work.

The brain needs rest – especially in creative professions – to process absorbed information, establish new connections, and let new ideas develop. Often, the subconscious (more precisely: the default mode network – DMN) solves problems for which we were unable to find a solution outside the rest period.

The DMN works best during active breaks. Activities such as playing an instrument, painting, sailing, climbing keep the brain busy, and they train skills that are also relevant in professional life.

Moderate physical activity, such as walking, also increases and maintains creativity.

The book is based on scientific research and is enriched with numerous exciting anecdotes about successful historical figures.

It contains numerous tips, much of which (like long walks during work hours) are geared more toward the self-employed and entrepreneurs. Employees in today's work environment will find these impractical until also employers consider breaks a relevant part of work.

The book is entertaining, insightful, and written understandably – all in all, well worth reading.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely.

The Power of When: Learn the Best Time to do Everything

The Power of When - Michael Breus

by Michael Breus, PhD

Link to the book at Amazon

Is there a right time to sleep, eat, study, or talk to the boss? Interestingly, there is, but it varies from person to person. It depends on our (or – in the case of the conversation with the boss – also on their) so-called "chronotype."

"The Power Of When" is about recognizing our chronotype (with the help of several multiple-choice tests) and, based on that, planning the activities of our day – from eating and drinking alcohol to doctor's appointments and taking medication to concentrated work, vacation and wedding planning, to meditation, sports, and sex – according to our biological rhythm.

This part of the book is very factual, reads like a reference book, and is tedious to read. Especially if you don't manage to assign yourself to one of the four chronotypes unambiguously, as is the case with me and many other readers (according to their comments on the Internet).

As the book progresses, it gets a little more interesting when it talks about the importance of a consistent sleep schedule and how sleeping late, caffeine and alcohol affect our bodies and sleep.

It is beneficial to recognize the chronotypes of our partners and our children. This way, you can better understand and respond to their particularities.

Suitable as an audiobook? Due to the lengthy explanations of when which actions are best for which chronotype, I would rather recommend it in the print version. This way, one can focus on those areas that apply to the identified chronotype.