19 of the Very Best Time Management and Productivity Books for 2020

Best time management and productivity books

What are the best time management and productivity books?

Like many, I find this genre fascinating because I love figuring out how to accomplish more by doing less. 

That said, if you’re new to topics like time management and getting things done, it’s difficult to know where to start.

Fear not.

I’ve read the good and bad books, so you don’t have to.

I even wrote about productivity for Forbes for several years and interviewed the authors of some top productivity books for the Become a Writer Today podcast.

Here are the best time management and productivity books available on Amazon, Audible and everywhere else today:

(Need to finish more books faster? Check out my guide to reading more often.)

Contents

1. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

David Allen is one of the most famous productivity gurus alive today and Getting Things Done (GTD) has an international following. He describes the methodology to GTD in his first book, and it has been adopted by many Fortune 500 companies.

Adoptees of his technique call themselves GTD-ers. The book is easy to read, and David breaks it up with quotes, stories and case studies.

GTD is popular in Silicon Valley with new entrepreneurs and billionaires alike. 

This productivity system will also help you with problems like overwhelm and managing complicated tasks. If you apply only one lesson from this productivity book, implement a weekly review.

As Allen writes, 

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

Sale
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
  • Audible Audiobook
  • David Allen (Author) - David Allen (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 02/23/2016 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster Audio (Publisher)

2. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Covey‘s work is more a methodology for life than just for work. His methodology covers everything from how to achieve mental and physical health to how to decide on what’s a priority and what can wait in work. It’s even possible to integrate other productivity methods into Covey‘s methodology.

This book is a rather long, involved read, but it’s always engaging and thought-provoking. It comes with a companion workbook for converts. Sadly Covey died in 2012, but his book stands as one of the most important productivity books of all time.

I particularly liked the section on conflict management and how it pays to seek win/win resolutions.

He writes,

“It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.”

Sale
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Stephen R. Covey (Author) - Stephen R. Covey (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 12/28/2003 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster Audio (Publisher)

3. Think Like da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Everyday by Michael Gelb

Michael Gelb’s hero is Leonardo da Vinci. In the first pages of this book, he describes the maestro’s life and achievements and argues why da Vinci is so significant. 

Then, Gelb goes on to outline the 7 traits of da Vinci (sensing a theme?) and provides practical tips for readers who want to think, work and act like this genius.

Gelb’s work is a more relaxed read than some books listed here, and it will particularly appeal to anyone who aspires to be more creative.

I interviewed Gelb a while ago for the Become a Writer Today podcast.

In  his book, he writes,

“Brain researchers estimate that your unconscious data base outweighs the conscious on an order exceeding ten million to one. This data base is the source of your hidden, natural genius. In other words, a part of you is much smarter than you are.”

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How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Michael J. Gelb (Author) - Doug Ordunio (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 09/14/2015 (Publication Date) - Random House Audio (Publisher)

4. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg is an accomplished New York Times journalist. His book is more an investigation into how people are driven by their habits than an explicit productivity technique or guide. 

He also relates habits to addictions like alcoholism and gambling and shows how we are driven by triggers and routine.

That said, it’s a fascinating read, and Duhigg offers a number of insights into how people can hack their habit to get more out of their life. Did I mention Duhigg is a GTD-er?

He writes,

‘The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”

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The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
  • GOOD
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Charles Duhigg (Author) - Mike Chamberlain (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 02/28/2012 (Publication Date) - Random House Audio (Publisher)

5. The Pomodoro Technique: The Advanced Time-Management System That Has Transformed How We Work by Francesco Cirillo

Of all the books here, this is by far the shortest and can be quickly read in one sitting. It’s free, and it introduces the reader to the Pomodoro technique.

This is a time management technique that breaks work into small, focused blocks or Pomodoros of about 25 minutes. These Pomodoros are separated by short breaks. Your goal is to gauge how many Pomodoros a task requires and manage the week accordingly.

The book isn’t available on Amazon, but don’t worry.

You can buy the book directly from Cirillo.

I also interviewed him recently for the Become a Writer Today podcast to ask about this productivity technique.

The Pomodoro Technique: Life Changing, Simple to Learn Time Management System, Enjoy Efficient Work Habits and Meet Deadlines
  • Publishing, Caprica (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 103 Pages - 11/26/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

6. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

This productivity book is about more than time management or taking charge of your to-do list. It’s more a holistic approach to tackling all the competing priorities and requests in your life. Basically, if you focus on what matters most to you, your family or business, you’ll achieve far more.

This book should teach you how to say no.

As you’d expect from a book about the essentials, it’s a concise, quick read.

He writes,

“Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload.”

Sale
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Greg McKeown (Author) - Greg McKeown (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 04/15/2014 (Publication Date) - Random House Audio (Publisher)

7. The One ThingThe Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Keller’s book pairs nicely with McKeown’s. It’s a high-level productivity book and a New York Times bestseller

The book is all about eliminating distractions and focusing on a single priority or project. Keller makes a bold case for how having less will enable you to get more. 

This is a another short, concise productivity book that you can probably finish in one or two sittings.

He writes,

“It is not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it is that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.”

Sale
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Gary Keller (Author) - Timothy Miller, Claire Hamilton (Narrators)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/08/2013 (Publication Date) - Rellek Publishing Partners, Ltd. (Publisher)

8. The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More With Less by Richard Koch

The 80/20 principle says that 80 percent of meaningful results in any area come from 20 percent of our activities. It’s one thing to understand that principle, it’s quite another to apply it to how you manage your time.

In this book, Koch explains where the principle came from and how successful people use it at work and in their businesses and personal lives.

Tim Ferriss says he keeps a copy of this book on his bookshelf face out as a reminder to focus on what matters. 

Nuff said.

Koch writes,

“There are people who want to achieve—and then there are sane people.”

Sale
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Gary Keller (Author) - Timothy Miller, Claire Hamilton (Narrators)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/08/2013 (Publication Date) - Rellek Publishing Partners, Ltd. (Publisher)

9. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

As a writer, I found this book particularly helpful. Basically, Newport makes the case for going deep into a single task or project for an extended period each day rather than jumping from one meeting or notification to the next. 

This type of work is also known as flow state, something I’ve written and researched a lot.

Newport is an academic and probably has more scope for skipping meetings, events and social media than people in other professions, but anyone can learn how to focus using some of his principles.

Read it for advice like:

“If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.”

Summary: Cal Newport's Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Ant Hive Media (Author) - Doron Alon (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 06/17/2016 (Publication Date) - Ant Hive Media (Publisher)

10. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

You don’t need to become smarter; you just need a checklist!

Gawande is a bestselling author, a researcher and a surgeon. I’m not sure how such a busy man finds time for so many types of work. 

Still, in this book he explains how and why pilots, architects, engineers and surgeons all rely on checklists to save lives. 

Then he describes how and why every one should use them. The book also covers the types of checklists entrepreneurs should use and what to put on them.

He writes,

“Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”

Sale
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Atul Gawande (Author) - John Bedford Lloyd (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 12/22/2009 (Publication Date) - Macmillan Audio (Publisher)

11. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

Before Tim Ferriss‘s The4-Hour Workweek came The E-Myth (1986). The title fooled me at first. Gerber’s book isn’t about running an online business. 

Instead, Gerber explains how business owners or entrepreneurs of all types can set up a business that runs without their intervention. 

He writes,

“If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business—you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you’re working for a lunatic!”

Sale
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Michael E. Gerber (Author) - Michael E. Gerber (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 12/26/2004 (Publication Date) - HarperAudio (Publisher)

12. The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter F. Drucker

Published way back in 1966, Drucker’s advice for executives holds true today. It’ll help a busy person accomplish more at work either as an executive or manager. The book also covers how to manage upward and master effective delegation.

Expect gems like, “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans,” and, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

This classic business book also pairs nicely with Drucker’s much shorter book published by Harvard Business Review Classics in 2008, titled Managing Oneself.

He writes,

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Peter F. Drucker (Author) - Jim Collins, Timothy Andrés Pabon (Narrators)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 01/24/2017 (Publication Date) - HarperAudio (Publisher)

13. The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling

I put off reading this book for a few years, as I thought it was a derivative of The 7 Habits of the Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Sean’s father, Stephen R. Covey.

In fact, this book is a gem of its own. 

Read it to discover why most executives and entrepreneurs set lag measures for their goals they’ve no real control over. The author also explains why it’s far better to set lead measures you can influence than lag measures that come after the fact.

The author writes, 

“If you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing.”

Sale
The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Sean Covey (Author) - Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, Jim Huling (Narrators)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 06/12/2013 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster Audio (Publisher)

14. Profit First: A Simple System to Transform Any Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine by Mike Michalowicz

Profitable business owners are sometimes surprised to find money leaves the business almost as quickly as it arrives. This book provides a system for small business owners who want to take charge of their cash and grow a business. 

If you want to stop procrastinating about your business finances, it’s a good read. I interviewed Michalowicz in 2019. He told me,

“I say, ‘How do I get the same results I’ve always had, if not better, with less money?’ And I start thinking outside the box.”

Sale
Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Mike Michalowicz (Author) - Mike Michalowicz (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 02/21/2017 (Publication Date) - Gildan Media, LLC (Publisher)

15. Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen

To be honest, any Jim Collins title belongs in a list like this. He excels at profiling large companies and the decision makers behind them. 

Some of the companies profiled in his older book From Good to Great (2001) have since disappeared, making this title more relevant today. If you’re serious about running a larger business, Collins’ books are required reading.

This book also pairs nicely with Collins’ more recent written study of about 30 pages titled Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great (2019), which also applies to creative work.

Expect gems like,

 “When you marry operating excellence with innovation, you multiply the value of your creativity.”

Sale
Great by Choice
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Jim Collins (Author) - Jim Collins (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/11/2011 (Publication Date) - HarperAudio (Publisher)

16. Atomic Habits by James Clear

You are what you do. 

Clear explains how cultivating the right small daily habits can change a person’s life. 

must-read, this book covers many areas including health, fitness, time management and procrastination. Clear also explains how to overcome mental blocks you may have about forming more effective, productive habits.

And he walks through how to break bad ones, like working too much.

If you want to learn more about his approach, you may enjoy my interview with Clear for the Become a Writer Today podcast.

He writes,

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”

Sale
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
  • Audible Audiobook
  • James Clear (Author) - James Clear (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/16/2018 (Publication Date) - Penguin Audio (Publisher)

17. The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta writes over at Zen Habits about topics like Zen, Buddhism, meditation, creativity, procrastination and other popular self-help topics. 

He’s also written a number of popular productivity books including this one.

Perhaps I should say he’s an anti-productivity author because he often argues for accepting discomfort and doing less rather than more. 

His writing style is warm and friendly and will appeal to anyone looking for a book that’s more about mindset than getting a big corporate promotion.  

Like Clear, Leo spends a lot time focused on building good habits and mastering self-doubt

He writes,

“Doing a huge number of things doesn’t mean you’re getting anything meaningful done.”

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential...in Business and in Life
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Babauta, Leo (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 204 Pages - 12/24/2008 (Publication Date) - Hachette Books (Publisher)

18. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

This productivity book is one of the most popular bestsellers from recent years and Ferriss’ first title. Personally, I prefer his later New York Times bestseller Tools of Titans. 

This book is still a good read if you want to master areas like time management, outsourcing and effective goal setting

It will also help you solve problems like earning more money and automating business and personal systems.  

Some of the tactics are dated as it came out in 2007. However, this book’s principles will still help you accomplish more in less time.

He writes,

“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. Doing a huge number of things doesn’t mean you’re getting anything meaningful done.”

Sale
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Expanded and Updated)
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Timothy Ferriss (Author) - Ray Porter (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 12/28/2008 (Publication Date) - Blackstone Audio, Inc. (Publisher)

19. Eat that Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy

Eighteenth-century French writer Nicolas Chamfort reportedly said, “Swallow a toad in the morning if you want to encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.” A version of this quote was later attributed to Mark Twain. 

Whoever said it, the tenet of this book is simple: Complete your most important task first thing. The rest of the day will feel a lot easier.

Expect time management advice from this book like:

“If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first. This is another way of saying that if you have two important tasks before you, start with the biggest, hardest, and most important task first.”

Sale
Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
  • BERRETT KOEHLER
  • Tracy, Brian (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 144 Pages - 04/17/2017 (Publication Date) - Berrett-Koehler Publishers (Publisher)

The Final Word on the Best Productivity Books and the Best Time Management Books

The genre of productivity is a crowded one. That said, many of the principles from these books are timeless. You don’t need any fancy productivity software to get things done either. 

If you want to become a productive person

Consider your personal values regularly. Capture ideas and actions in one place. Ask what’s most important on your to-do list each day. 

Focus on putting first things first each day. Cultivate the right habits. Review what worked once a week, month or quarter. Learn from failure.

Oh, and don’t forget to celebrate your achievements.

If you need help applying any of these principles, these productivity book recommendations can help.

As will taking massive action. 

How can a book improve productivity?

A book can improve your productivity if you take notes and then massive action. Once you’ve finished reading the book, review your notes and consider what problem you want to solve. Then, immediately apply a lesson or strategy from the book.

Is reading a book productive? 

Reading a book is productive to a point. However, it can easily turn into a type of procrastination. You’ll learn more by reading a book and then trying a strategy from the book in question. Use what works and discard the rest.

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