19 Books That Are Guaranteed to Make You More Productive

Being productive isn’t innate – it’s a habit, and you can learn it

Jack Shepherd
Oct 24 · 8 min read
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Photo: Jack Shepherd/Pexels

those days (or weeks) when you feel like you’ve been incredibly busy with nothing to show for it, it’s helpful to remember that you’re not alone. Everyone is affected by procrastination, writer’s block, and the fear and anxiety that can keep you fixating on unimportant things you can control (like checking your email or cleaning your desk) instead of the essential work that you genuinely want to get done but don’t quite know how to start.

Fortunately, there’s help for all of us. This list is a mix of books that provide insights into specific productivity systems, books that will inspire and motivate you to overcome creative roadblocks, and books that may not be directly about productivity but nonetheless have something useful to teach you about how to get from nowhere to finished and learn something along the way. Each in its own way is an invaluable resource for rethinking your approach to your habits, your work, and your creative expression.

Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott)

The story that gives this book its title is also an excellent summary of the good habits you’ll learn by reading it: When Anne Lamott’s brother realized he only had a day to finish a report on birds that he’d put off for months, he was overwhelmed by the immensity of the task. Then, their father sat him down and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” The humane, practical, and wise advice in this book for writers will give you a new lease on life when it comes to approaching and managing difficult tasks.

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Deep Work (Cal Newport)

In a world of social media distractions, many of us are in danger of losing the skill of becoming fully immersed in our work or reading. Cal Newport’s fascinating book makes a compelling argument that there is no good substitute for the productivity that comes from this type of “Deep Work,” and it provides clear, actionable steps you can take to bring it back into your life.

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The Willpower Instinct (Kelly McGonigal)

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal explodes the myth that willpower is a virtue that some people have and some people don’t. In this insightful and meticulously researched book, she explores what exactly willpower is, how it can help you, and what you can do to get more of it. And the best news of all is that the more you use your willpower, the easier it gets.

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Creativity (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is most famous for his concept of “flow,” the mental state that occurs when you are totally, satisfyingly, and fruitfully immersed in a task, and this book helpfully examines the relationship of “flow” states to the creative process. While it’s not a productivity book in the same way as some of the others on this list, it’s an immensely helpful tool for understanding how to effectively apply yourself to creative work.

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Art & Fear (David Bayles and Ted Orland)

Another book that is more a tool for understanding your own creative process than it is a prescription for a new productivity system, Art & Fear is certain to completely change how you think about your work. With piercing insights about the pitfalls and stumbling blocks that befall every creative endeavor, this book will motivate you to push past the roadblocks even when the destination seems impossibly far away.

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Getting Things Done (David Allen)

If you’re someone who could benefit from a better system, look no further than Getting Things Done—the one system to rule them all. Getting Things Done (or GTD, as its loyal army of practitioners call it) is a practical, easy to follow, and stunningly effective way of prioritizing, organizing, and ticking every meaningful item off your (new and improved) to-do list.

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The War of Art (Steven Pressfield)

Making something—whether it’s a project for work, something creative you’re doing in your free time, or a once-in-a-generation artistic masterpiece—is a battle. This fantastically motivating book takes that metaphor as a jumping-off point for a thoughtful, affirming, and genuinely useful exploration of the forces that stand in the way of your productivity and how you can be better at overcoming them.

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Thinking Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman)

This isn’t a productivity or a self-help book, but it is certain to completely change the way you think about thinking. Full of transformative insights from a Nobel Prize-winning economist, Thinking Fast and Slow will make you reevaluate how you approach decision-making, attention, and analysis.

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The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)

One of the fastest ways to become more productive and successful is to gain an understanding of how habits work. From there, you can learn to develop better habits and break bad ones, unlocking potential you never knew you had. This in-depth exploration of the unexamined habits that help and hinder our productivity is as fascinating as it is useful.

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The Pomodoro Technique (Francisco Cirillo)

Francisco Cirillo’s famous Pomodoro Technique (working in 25-minute increments with 5 minute breaks) is easy to understand but hard to implement. This book will help you make one of the world’s most effective productivity techniques part of your daily life.

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The Now Habit (Neil Fiore)

Understanding the causes of procrastination and recognizing that it is a coping mechanism for the anxiety that comes from starting a project is the first step to overcoming it. Psychologist Neil Fiore’s classic book about the sources of procrastination and perfectionism provides you with a powerful system to help you do productive work and, more importantly, play.

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The One Thing (Gary Keller)

The message of this book is as simple as it is profound: Do one thing at a time. With The One Thing, you can learn to stay focused on what truly matters to you in different areas of your life and make the happy transition into a mindset where you’re getting things done instead of worrying about them.

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Atomic Habits (James Clear)

Small but essential changes in how you work and live have the power to build on themselves into powerful results. A big, breakthrough moment is often the result of these little habits compounding over time and finally bearing fruit. This remarkable book will help you re-evaluate the little things you do that can lead to big changes down the line.

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The Art of Game Design (Jesse Schell)

I’m willing to bet this is the first time this book has appeared on a list of productivity books, and that’s because it is most decidedly not a productivity book. It’s a game design book! But the insights into what makes good games work (and bad games fail) contained in this enlightening read are completely accessible to non-experts, and they will challenge you to see the world from the perspective of a game designer, which means thinking better and smarter about how to maintain your interest, focus, and creativity in the face of any task you set your mind to.

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Eat That Frog! (Brian Tracy)

Here are proven strategies for effective time management and procrastination-avoidance along with timeless advice for how to approach the core insight that gives this book its name: Do the one task you’re most concerned about first thing, and everything else will follow.

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Essentialism (Greg McKeown)

Once you’ve learned how to distinguish between what’s essential and what’s just a distraction, the next step is figuring out how to stay focused on the former while saying an emphatic “no” to the latter. The lessons in this book will help you cut down on those miserable days when you’re somehow incredibly “busy” without ever being productive.

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Daily Rituals (Mason Currey)

As useful as productivity systems like Getting Things Done or the Pomodoro technique can be, it’s important to remember that different strategies work for different people. This book about the daily rituals of various great artists opens a window onto a range of possibilities for approaching work, from the buttoned-up and systematic to the playful and chaotic.

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The Productivity Project (Chris Bailey)

An overview of multiple different approaches to productivity from an interesting perspective: The author spent a year trying numerous productivity-based experiments on himself to see what worked and what didn’t. This book has plenty of useful tips and tools, but it also has the potential to change the way you approach productivity itself.

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Why We Sleep (Matthew Walker)

No matter what anyone tells you, you can’t work well if you don’t sleep well. This book about a central aspect of our lives that is too easily neglected shows how sleep (or the lack of it) can affect everything that you do, and how you can change the way you sleep in order to learn better, work better, and be more creative.

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Jack Shepherd

Written by

Formerly editorial director @BuzzFeed. Currently editor @Tenderly and writer at large. Email: JackAShepherd at gmail

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +729K people. Follow to join our community.

Jack Shepherd

Written by

Formerly editorial director @BuzzFeed. Currently editor @Tenderly and writer at large. Email: JackAShepherd at gmail

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +729K people. Follow to join our community.

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