The Essential Personal Productivity Bookshelf: Ten Books That Helped Me Transform from a Lazy Slob to an Organized Parent and Professional

Every personal finance success I’ve had in my life in the last year has been an offshoot of the fact that I’ve been able to organize the chaos of my life. The management of several income streams plus the birth of a child in the past two years have made getting myself organized almost a requirement, and as I do with any other topic, I turned to what the experts had to say, and I spent several months reading mountains of personal productivity books.

Here’s the deal, people: most personal productivity books are complete rubbish. They’re either rehashes of the ideas of others, aren’t really applicable unless you already fit a certain personality profile, are applicable only to certain careers, or are simply nonsensical tripe.

In the end, I found ten books that truly changed the way I see and comprehend the world, manage my time, interact with others, and choose what to do with my efforts. This list is going to be a little different than the other ones you’ve seen; some books overlap, but some books might just have you wondering what’s inside. Here are nutshell reviews of each of them.

How to Read a BookHow to Read a Book
Mortimer Adler

Maximizing Comprehension If you’re reading this, you already know how to read, so why is this such a vital book? It assumes that you already know how to read and instead moves on to how to take that stuff you read and incorporate it into what you already know quickly and effectively. Ever noticed how some people make great connections between seemingly unrelated things? Most of them merely read quite a bit and use the techniques in this book. Because of this, I not only am able to read books more quickly, but I understand them on a deeper level.

Getting Things DoneGetting Things Done
David Allen

Productivity There’s a reason that this book has such a devoted following: it works. The title of the book says it all: if you have trouble getting things done, this book will enter your life like a locomotive. I used to have difficulty getting my basic household chores done and that was before having a child. Now, I have time to really devote to building a relationship with my son, plus I had the time to start this blog and maintain it, plus actually do better with my household responsibilities. Why? Because Getting Things Done really works.

The Well-Educated MindThe Well-Educated Mind
Susan Wise-Bauer

Educational Foundations On the surface, this will seem like the most “out there” book on this list. The premise of the book is that modern education has failed us and has made it difficult for most people to have a well-rounded fundamental comprehension of the world. However, rather than trying to pitch itself as being this fundamental comprehension (as a lot of books do), this book is about how to seek it out for yourself. If you’re ever thinking about how to learn a new subject but feel really overwhelmed right off the bat, this book is great at clarifying the fundamentals of how learning actually works and how to develop a plan for teaching yourself anything, no matter how daunting.

What Color Is My Parachute?What Color Is Your Parachute?
Richard Nelson Bolles

Careers / Goals If you’re having trouble finding a career or have no idea at all what you should be doing with your life, What Color is Your Parachute? is almost miraculous in how effective it is for teaching out what you should be doing with your life – and also landing a job in that area. If you go into this book with an open mind and follow it through, it feels almost as if you’ve had wool lifted from your eyes, revealing what you really should be doing with your life. Read my detailed review of this book.

Your Money or Your LifeYour Money or Your Life
Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin

Personal Finance and Goal Setting When I first went through my financial meltdown, this book really transformed the way I dealt with money. This book teaches that your money and your life don’t have to be in opposition, which is a pretty major switch for most people who spend their time swimming upstream against the flow of money. Instead, this book is about identifying those parts of your life that are more important than money, so that money becomes merely a way to do what you want instead of a tool for accumulation and a weight holding you down from fulfilling your dreams. Read my detailed review of this book.

How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleHow To Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie

Social Anxiety This is an absolute classic that anyone who has ever felt anxiety in a social situation should read. This book does an incredibly effective job of breaking down social awkwardness and anxiety by building up the elements of interpersonal relationship a tiny piece at a time, giving the reader something to practice and work on that’s small enough to wrap your hands around. This book was basically responsible for me moving from being almost paralyzed conversing with people I didn’t know to giving a seminar to more than 500 people that ended with a standing ovation. I can’t give it more praise than that.

Good to GreatGood to Great
Jim Collins

Foundations for Success Although this is more of a business book, it is easily the best business book I’ve ever read. Even more importantly, the principles in this book can easily be applied to one’s own life in order to build the foundations for being successful in pretty much any endeavor. All it requires is viewing your life as an organization, and every principle in this book is easily applicable to your own life.

Never Eat AloneNever Eat Alone
Keith Ferrazzi

Networking This is sort of a companion to How To Win Friends and Influence People, except that this book focuses on one-on-one relationships. Rather than being a guide on how to fill up your Rolodex and maximize your “connections,” this book is about building quality relationships with as many people as possible. In other words, it takes the callousness of brazen networking and inverts it, turning it into a healthy and fulfilling way of establishing real relationships.

How To Stop Worrying and Start LivingHow To Stop Worrying and Start Living
Dale Carnegie

Stress Management This is Dale Carnegie’s lesser-known book, but I found it to actually be more powerful than How To Win Friends and Influence People. This is basically a summary of stress management techniques that in one place codifies every worthwhile stress management strateghy I’ve ever heard. Reading this book and applying the principles didn’t eliminate the stress in my life, but it turned a raging boil into a much more manageable simmer, one that I can live with on a day-to-day basis.

The Read-Aloud HandbookThe Read-Aloud Handbook
Jim Trelease

Parenting / Child Relationships This is the single most powerful, influential, and informative book I’ve ever read on parenting. On one level, it’s a very strong guide on reading to your child, but it goes far beyond that. The core of the book is actually about building a relationship with your child, one based on love and mutual understanding. Once it begins to sink in, the whole philosophy goes way beyond merely reading books to your child – it goes into building an overall healthy relationship with your child, or with any child in your life.

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