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Best Time Management and Productivity Books
(Updated 2022)

Sven Woltmann
Sven Woltmann
February 14, 2022

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 audio book? 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.

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 audio book? Yes, absolutely.

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 audio book? Yes.

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 audio book? 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.

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 audio book? Yes, absolutely.

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.

P.S.:

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

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 audio book? Yes, absolutely, and it is read by the author himself.

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 audio book? 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.