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12 BOOKS for Productivity and Self-improvement you Must Read

I don't think this will surprise anyone, but I was the type of kid who brought home stacks and stacks of books from the library every week. My parents were always telling me to stop reading because they said I would ruin my eyesight, thankfully I didn't, and on top of that, I think I turned out better because of all that reading.


I kind of lost my passion for reading a little bit in high school because it was like, with all this assigned reading, why would I want to do even more reading on top of that? But good news! I would say 2023 has been one of my best years for reading in a while. I thought why not write a dedicated blog on book recommendations, so here it is!


These are some of my favorite non-fiction books that I've read that fall into the category of self-improvement and lifestyle, which is mainly what I read these days. I'm sure there are books I forgot to add to this list, it's just the ones that I've read most recently that stand out the most in my memory.


I've also been re-reading books, I read somewhere that every time you read a book, the message that you need most at that point in your life is what will stand out to you most, that means you don't have to worry about absorbing everything the first time that you read it, because not everything will be relevant to your life situation.


Just focus on whichever pieces of advice resonate with you the most. These are 12 books that I've loved that have had some impact on my life. I've tried to organize these into categories like mindset and business, but it's really hard because they cross over so much, we're going to start with the category of productivity.



Books for Productivity and Self-Improvement
Books for Productivity and Self-Improvement



1) The classic 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss


I feel like this book is like the poster child of the productivity genre, they mentioned it in an episode of The Office. "I emailed you about it. I'm not checking email until lunch. 4-Hour Workweek." An awesome read. Though it was unexpected, still it was like different parts of my life were colliding.

What Darryl is talking about in that scene is the technique of limiting checking your emails to certain times of the day instead of checking them as soon as you get them and allowing them to distract you throughout the entire day. I think that one technique is pretty representative of what the entire book is about, some of it is very specific on "How do you start a business that requires very little of your time?"

Some of it is "How do you negotiate your current job so that you can work remotely and spend as little time as possible working?" Overall it is solid productivity advice that everyone can implement.

One of my favorite takeaways from the book was Tim Ferriss's 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule states that 80% of results come from 20% of causes, so 20% of your activities yield 80% of your results.


  • This can apply to many areas of life because rarely are all of our efforts in one area equally as lucrative, for example, which 20% of your work is earning you 80% of your income?

  • Which 20% of your studying is getting you 80% of your knowledge?

  • You can even apply it to relationships like spending time with 20% of people yields you 80% percent of your value.

Even if you have no intention of quitting your job, starting a business, or moving to another country, I think we can all benefit from taking this kind of perspective of our lives and just striving to be more effective in everything that we do. 2) The Power of a Positive No by William Ury This book is fantastic for all of us who have trouble saying ‘NO’, I see you over-committing yourselves and stretching yourself too thin. I struggle a lot with that's why I picked up this book.

The thing about saying no is that not only can it be scary, but if you do it wrong it can end badly. People can get angry, and resentful feelings can go unshared. This book breaks down the process of saying no positively. Instead of saying "no'', this is the process that he proposes. First, you have to say ‘YES’ to your core values and your beliefs -

  • What is most important to you?

  • What do you have to make time for?

  • What is it that you just won't budge on?

Then you firmly say no to whatever is being asked of you, using your initial "YES" as your reasoning and your reinforcement. And then finally you suggest an alternative that would be beneficial to both parties, this process is: Yes. No. Yes?

He gives a lot of helpful examples in this book that range from everyday situations like, this guy is a world-leading negotiator so he has been an adviser to governments, a mediator in ethnic wars, and so you can see how these basic principles that he talks about really apply all across the board in all range of situations. 3) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey I work. You started the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens a couple of years ago, but the habits are all the same, it's just the explanations that are a little different. Whether you want to be an effective teen an adult, or a person of any age, I recommend this book.

Each of the habits builds one to one another, you go from habit one, "be proactive" which is about knowing that you have the power to choose and that you are responsible for the choices that you make in your life, all the way up to habit 7 which is "sharpening the saw".

After you've built the rest of these habits, how do you take care of yourself and energize yourself to make sure that you don't burn out? One of the things that stuck with me most from this book was part of habit 3 which is "put first things first", where it gave an analogy of designing your schedule being similar to filling a jar with rocks and gravel.

The idea here is if someone gave you a jar, a bunch of big rocks, a bunch of gravel, and then some sand, and they said, fit all of that into the jet decide if you started with the sand and then the gravel and then you tried to fit the big rocks on top, you would run out of room.

But if you put the big rocks in first, and then the gravel, and then the sand, the gravel, and the sand will kind of fit in the spaces between the big rocks and you'll be able to fit everything into the jar. How does this relate to productivity?

In your life, your priorities are your big rocks, such as your important relationships, work projects, and time that you spend working on yourself. If you don't put that in your schedule first, your day will get filled up by emails, chores, and other little time-wasting activities and you'll run out of room.

What you have to do is start by scheduling chunks of productive, uninterrupted time, and then fill in the rest of the little tasks around those. 4) The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins The 5-Second rule states that if you have then the instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it.

The thing about exercising self-discipline is that the longer you wait, the harder it'll get. The more time you spend negotiating with yourself, trying to get out of doing the thing, the more you'll be like okay, yeah, maybe it's not worth doing the difficult thing. The book explains how we have to follow our gut instinct because our gut often guides us in the right direction.

Like when we think, the weather is nice, maybe I should go for a walk today and get some exercise, or if you're at a conference and you think, maybe I should introduce myself to that person standing over there.

If you allow yourself to negotiate and make excuses, then you might end up just being like "Eh I'll just stay home and watch TV today, it's not worth going outside" or " Eh, I'm just too nervous to go talk to them" you just have to count 5 4 3 2 1 and start physically moving, like moving towards the closet to get a jacket to go outside, or moving towards the person that you want to introduce yourself to.

The next category is for books about mindset, I feel like the productivity category was more about specific techniques to help you be more effective. This category is about changing your perspective of the world and gaining confidence. 5) You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero I had heard a lot about this book before I finally read it and I was not prepared for how inspirational and motivational it would be. Her writing voice is just entertaining and engaging, and for some people, it might be too much but I liked it.

There is a part of this book where she refers to depression basically as something that you can choose to not have, she says "If you're depressed, just act like someone who isn't depressed" which is a problem attaching to say and there were a lot of justifiably angry reviews of the book because of that, but I think the rest of the book has a lot of value in building your confidence and changing your beliefs about what you're capable of and what you deserve. 6) The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein When I was brainstorming this blog and trying to describe each book in just one sentence, for this book I wrote "Each challenge is like an assignment we always have the power to choose love over fear".

There are a lot of chapters in this book that kind of cover different steps and aspects of learning to trust in the universe but I would say that the overarching message, is just to choose love. Since reading this book I find myself repeating its messages to myself throughout the day like it has changed my everyday outlook on life so much.

Every time I start to get frustrated or annoyed about something, I tell myself to choose love, to choose to look at the good side of things, and to thank the universe for everything that I have.

As I'm working, when I take a break I'll just be like "Thank you Universe for allowing me to create this and to share this with the world and help people" or if I'm with friends and family I'll think

"Thank you, Universe for giving me the time to spend with loved ones".

I think these books make spirituality accessible I resonated with this perspective of there being a universal power in the world. 7) Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert Also, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, is another of my favorites, but it just didn’t fit into the theme of this blog. This book is all about the creative journey and how to stop holding yourself back if you want to pursue something creative. I think my favorite part of this book was where it talked about the "sh*t sandwich".

The sh*t sandwich is the parts of a career that you don't like because there will never be a perfect job, there will always be some parts of it that you don't enjoy, and you have to decide what you're willing to put up with me still.

Business:

8) You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero, This should sound familiar. This book is very similar in tone to You Are a Badass but it focuses specifically on making money. It's less about the practical steps of setting up a business and more about the mindset that you need to invite abundance into your life and gain the confidence to know that you can earn money.

When you read a book like this I think it's really important to do all of the exercises that it tells you to do, there's a bunch of questions to think about and prompts to answer at the end of each chapter, and the first time that I read this book I skipped over all of that.

I just wanted to read the book quickly, but I'm reading it for the second time and answering everything, which is taking quite a while but you get so much more out of the book if you take the time to apply it to your own life and think about all the concepts that you're learning about. 9) She Means Business by Carrie Green

The first part of this book covers the mindset that you need to start a business. Clearing away your doubts, clarifying your vision, getting excited about your dream, and then parts two and three get down into the nitty-gritty of the business.

It goes over how to write a mission statement, define your audience, create content, promote yourself, find mentors, and build a team of people. It's good and it feels relatable because it's written in a really friendly and encouraging way.

It makes you feel like you can achieve what you wish to. If you want to start a business, especially an online one, I feel like the advice is particularly applicable to online businesses, this is the book for you. 10) Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

I did not even have this on my to-read list. As a woman who's like starting her career, I guess, this brought up so many points that I had not even considered about confidence and leadership and the kinds of obstacles that women face in the workplace.

I did take some notes on key points like the fact that parents, children, and marriages can all flourish when both parents have a world for more careers, sharing finance, feel and childcare responsibilities leads to less guilt.

I was super impressed by how much research she had backing up her points but it was also paired with a lot of personal stories that I found fascinating because, I mean, she's the CEO of Facebook, she's successful, and to read about how she got there is just cool.

The final category is kind of a catch-all category, but I just named it the life category 11) The Defining Decade by Meg Jay In case you’re wondering, the defining decade she's referring to here is between ages 20 and 30. I picked up this book because a couple of people had recommended it and also because I was a little nervous about the fact that I'm turning 22 at the end of this year.

The book is divided into three sections: work, love, and brain and body. I think my biggest takeaway from the work section was the importance of weak ties and how it is your weak ties rather than your close friends that will open up the doors for you and help you to grow the most.

The section on love busted a lot of myths for me regarding marrying young and the corresponding divorce rates, and also how moving in with someone isn't necessarily a good test for marriage, that was interesting, I thought. The brain and body section talked about how it's normal to lack confidence in our careers at this point in our lives because we just simply don't have a lot of experience.

It also talked about not waiting too long to have kids and that was something I hadn't thought about, and it was just very eye-opening and honestly scary. Overall this book just really drills it into you that your 20’se when you make your most important life-changing decisions.

Rather than scaring me, that message comforted me because it was really exciting to think that I was just at the beginning of my life and there was still so much room for possibility. I would recommend this book if you’re in your 20s but even earlier than that, I would say like 17 through your 20s.

12) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo This is a classic. It was exciting to see this book start to get popular because I feel like it was floating around the self-improvement sphere for a while before it blew up and now the fact that everyone knows her name is just, it's cool to see.

I love the whole tone of this book because you can tell how passionate she is about what she does and how she spent her entire life honing and perfecting these tidying techniques.

I think she does a fantastic job of putting into words what we already intuitively know about the way that our living spaces affect how we feel. I read this after decluttering my room and it did not make me declutter my room again, but it motivated me to keep it decluttered and kind of clarified my "why" behind keeping my room neat.

Wrap up:

Those are all of my favorite recommendations, I do also read fiction books but I don’t know what I would recommend out of those, I just like escaping into another world for a little while. More exciting recommendations are coming.

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