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unit and acceptance testing, automation, productivity

Top 10 Productivity Books

“Harry — I think I've just understood something! I've got to go to the library!”
And she sprinted away, up the stairs.
What does she understand?” said Harry distractedly, still looking around, trying to tell where the voice had come from.
“Loads more than I do,” said Ron, shaking his head.
“But why’s she got to go to the library?”
“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I'm a bit like Hermione, when in doubt I go to the library, or rather, Amazon. Over the past months, I've been diving deeper and deeper into the topic of productivity, discovering more and more books on the subject.

Here are the 10 most useful books I read so far.

This list is loosely ordered by how much I liked the books, but really you can't go wrong with any of them.

Looking at the titles, you'll see that getting stuff done is only the tip of the iceberg. The more I learn about productivity, the more I think of it as the science and art of understanding our limitations, the biases that affect our reasoning, our biological need for energy and rest, and how to work within them.

1. Deep Work, by Cal Newport.

Probably the book that had the most impact on my career. Makes a case for the value of focus for knowledge-workers, warns about the dangers of the constant distractions we put ourselves through -email, Slack, quick social media check-ins, etc.-, and provides practices and guidelines to bring back focus and make the time for deep, uninterrupted work in our days.
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.

2. Atomic Habits, by James Clear.

Defines a straightforward and practical four steps framework to adopt or give up any habit and behavior change. More than that, it shows the strategic value of investing in our habits to become a better version of ourselves.
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.

3. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.

To get things done, we need to understand what stops us from getting things done. Sorry to break it to you but our brains are not rational, at all. This book by Nobel prize winner, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, goes in depth into how our brains work and the many flaws and biases that affect them.
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.

4. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, by Scott Adams

In this fun cross between autobiography and self-help book Dilbert's creator Scott Adams shows the power of systems against goals. If you base your success on achieving goals, you'll be in a constant state of failure until you achieve the goal, assuming you'll actually do. If you adopt a system of constant learning instead, you'll be making progress every day, and even failed ventures will provide useful learning opportunities.
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.

5. Getting Things Done, by David Allen.

Not the most entertaining of books, but David Allen's GTD approach is the best I've found so far to keep track of all the things going on in my life, in and outside of work. Even if you don't end up implementing GTD, it's still worth reading about the open loops concept. By attempting to keep track of everything in our brains we overload them with worries and things to process in the subconscious, resulting in fatigue and inefficiency. The solution is to capture all the tasks in a system outside of our brains and identify the next action for each. Over time the brain will learn to have trust in the system and stop worrying.
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.

6. Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport.

Digital minimalism is a philosophy of technology, a set of rules for how to use technology to enhance our lives rather than ending up being the ones used by it. Productivity is in good part about making the most of our limited time. Technology is an incredible tool to make us more productive, but it can also be our biggest time sucker. Social media companies and infotainment websites lure us into sticking to the screen because their profit is directly proportional to the time we spend with them.
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.

7. Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.

The book makes a case for focusing on "the vital few" and happily miss out on "the trivial many", and shares technique on how to make it possible, the simplest and most effective one is saying no more often.
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.

8. So Good They Can't Ignore You, by Cal Newport.

Talent and passion are overrated. "Follow your passion" might very well be the worst career advice ever given. A much better approach, Cal Newport argues, is to commit to being constantly learning about your field, and spend time practicing deliberatly to acquire more valuable skills to use in the market place. This pursuit of mastery is ultimately what drives real job satisfaction. Achievements and progress drive passion, not the other way around.
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.

9. Thinking in Bets, by Annie Duke.

Poker champion turned business coach Annie Duke studies the mechanics of decision making, drawing from her experience playing the game, as well as her training as a behavioral psychologist. To become better decision makers, we need to be able to analyze the outcomes we obtain and identify which were due to skill and which to luck, building a learning loop to inform our next decisions. The secret is to understand and come to terms with the fact that luck plays a big role in the outcome of our decisions.
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.

10. The One Thing, by Gary Keller

There are a lot of similarities between this book and Essentialism, but this is still worth recommending because it suggests the best prioritization technique I've seen so far. Answer the question "what is the one thing I can do in time interval for your goal that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?"
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.

Bonus. The Obstacle Is The Way & Ego Is The Enemy, by Ryan Holiday

What do two books about the ancient Stoic philosophy have to do with productivity? These books changed my life. If you want to get more valuable things done with your time, you could do worse than reading about Stoicism. One of the core ideas of Stoic philosophy is that we should only focus on the things that are within our control, and accept everything else that happens to us and we can't affect. Ryan Holiday does an excellent job at contextualizing the practical advice from the Ancient Greeks and Romans to our current day, and shows how to let go of believes and desires that are getting in our way.
Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate. Amazon, Amazon non-affiliate.


I hope you'll pick up some of these books. If you do, please let me know what you think.

Please bear in mind that reading about productivity doesn't automatically make you more productive, a lesson I keep re-learning almost daily.

Knowing is only the beginning, the real challenge is in actually doing the work. These books can only give us the tools, it is then up to us to make them to good use.