Top 10 productivity books you must read in 2021
When you think about improving your productivity, you probably don’t think of sitting down to read a book.
However: That actually might be one of the best things you can do. Reading is an easy way to learn some of the best tips, tricks, and tools about productivity that you can apply to your everyday life.
If you’re looking for a good book recommendation on this topic you can read (or listen to!) in your down time–you’re in the right place.
We’ve got a list of 10 books that will help you get the most out of your days.
Why productivity books are a good idea
Before we get into the actual book recommendations, let’s quickly go over why productivity books are a good idea in the first place (and the reality of modern adults’ reading habits.)
It turns out that book consumption among US-based adults is fairly low these days. In fact, Pew Research shows that about 26% of Americans admit to not having read even a part of a book within the past year.
That said, if you can make time to read even one book this year, a title that’s focused on productivity is a good choice, as it’ll help make you more effective at work and in your daily life. Plus: They’re often easy to digest, tactical, and provide actionable tips and tricks you can apply right away.
Overall, reading productivity-focused books is a smart time investment, but it has a mental health benefit, too: A study conducted at the University of Sussex revealed that reading reduces stress by 68%. Not bad, right?
Next, let’s look at some specific titles that’ll help you get on the path to maximum productivity based on your needs.
Top productivity books: Find the right book for your needs
These 10 books are a great shortlist if your looking for productivity advice around a variety of needs and issues. Be sure to look at the descriptions and “Read if” sections to find the one that’s right for you.
1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
This book was originally published back in 1989 and has sold more than 25 million copies since its release. Its focus is an approach that pivots on aligning with your “character ethic”, which happens by forming a series of seven habits. These habits allow the reader to move from dependence to interdependence for maximum effectiveness in life. It’s a good high-level productivity read if you’re more into long-term behavior modification rather than quick hacks and tricks.
Quote: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Read if: You are into gurus with life-changing insights–even if they are a bit full of themselves.
2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Newport’s Deep Work is a book that focuses on eliminating the clutter, noise, and distraction of the modern world so you can focus on deep, productive work. This is especially difficult in a world of technology (think buzzing phones, never-ending notifications, and a flooded email inbox.) If you need to simplify and get rid of the things in the way of your deep work, this book is for you.
Quote: “Less mental clutter means more mental resources available for deep thinking.”
Read if: You need help getting into deep work, which allows you to focus without distraction on a difficult or demanding task.
3. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
This book was crafted for the business crowd and has spawned a whole offshoot of seminars, courses, and workbooks that people around the world swear by. With tips and principles around organization, prioritization, and clear goal-setting, this book also shares some meaningful insight into how to include relaxation as part of the big-picture strategy.
Quote: “If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”
Read if: You need help overcoming feelings of confusion, anxiety, and overwhelm at work.
4. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
Essentialism is a book for the person feeling frazzled by having too much to do and not enough time. The Amazon description sums this approach up nicely: “Essentialism is not a time management strategy or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.”
Quote: “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
Read if: You’re looking for a strategy to help you figure out what is absolutely essential so you can be as productive as possible doing the things that matter most.
5. Zen to Done by Leo Babauta
If you want an ultra-simple productivity system, look no further. This book is the “Art of Tidying Up” …but for your workday. Focusing on habits and structure, you’ll learn how to become more mindful and at peace with what’s on your to-do list so you can logically and thoughtfully tackle your work.
Quote: “Keep it simple, and focus on what you have to do right now, not on playing with your system or your tools.”
Read if: You want to get your life organized and actually executing the things on your to-do list and changing your existing habits.
6. Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
More than 25,000 professionals use the ideas outlined in this book to have more productive workdays. It teaches you how to: Filter your tasks and commitments, cut out the nonessentials, eliminate interruptions and distractions, and set boundaries that protect your focus and drive results. If you want a simple, no-nonsense approach to productivity with only three steps, this is the right book for you.
Quote: “True productivity is about doing more of what is in your desire zone and less of everything else.”
Read if: You need help discerning what’s important (and what’s not) in your day-to-day life. This book will help you gain clarity and direction around how to better prioritize your work.
7. How to be a Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More and Love What You Do by Graham Allcott
Written by one of the UK’s foremost productivity experts, this book is all about making the most of your attention, beating procrastination, and learning to work smarter–not harder. By reading it, you’ll gain tactics for guarding your time (and will teach you how to be ruthless, if needed) as well as insights into how to stay calm and work with a clear mind.
Quote: “The trouble is, the modern work paradigm gives us so little sense of completion or clear space that it feels like we’re constantly straining to see the light at the end of a long, long tunnel.”
Read if: You’re looking for a fun, accessible guide to productivity that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
8. Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert Pozen
Written by a Harvard Business professor who also balanced a full-time chairman role for a global financial-services firm, this book is all about learning how to maintain laser focus to get the most done in the least amount of time. One of the key principles to this book is the idea that you have to make a critical shift in your mindset from hours worked to results produced if you want to be fully efficient and effective.
Quote: “If a project looks as though it may fail, make sure to give your boss plenty of advance warning. Bosses don’t want to be surprised by long delays or major blow-ups. It is bad enough if they occur; it’s even worse if they occur without prior warning to the boss. With advance notice of a serious problem, your boss may be able to revise the project goals, reshuffle its resources, or come up with a brilliant solution. At the very least, your boss won’t make promises to his or her superiors that cannot be kept.”
Read if: You want practical advice from someone who understands both the classroom and at-work context of being productive (and still maintaining a healthy family life.)
9. Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
Written by the founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the most important private companies in the United States, this book is all about the unconventional principles he’s developed, refined, and used over the past 40 years in business and in life. If you want to get more familiar with terms like “radical honesty” and “radical transparency” (with no BS!) this is simple and easy to read book that’ll hit all the important notes for you.
Quote: “Time is like a river that carries us forward into encounters with reality that require us to make decisions. We can’t stop our movement down this river and we can’t avoid those encounters. We can only approach them in the best possible way.”
Read if: You want to learn from a seasoned entrepreneur who has an unconventional (and maybe controversial?) approach to being productive.
10. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland
You may have heard of the term “scrum” in the management world–it’s based on the rugby formation in which the entire team locks its arms to gain control of the ball. In the business environment, this term (and the idea behind it) is all about spotting what is wrong with the way we currently do work. The author of this book coined the term, and shares his (sometimes blunt) ideas on how to eliminate it from your workday for maximum productivity.
Quote: “Multitasking Makes You Stupid. Doing more than one thing at a time makes you slower and worse at both tasks. Don’t do it. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, you’re wrong—it does.”
Read if: You don’t want any fluff and want a straight-talker who can tell you how to maximize your day with less overall friction.
Productivity books will set you free
You have a spare 15 minutes every day, right? Grab one of these books off Amazon or at your local bookstore (or library!) and make it a goal to work through one. You’ll be ahead of the curve–and might even learn some tactics that revolutionize your workday while you do it.