These are the five books that I go back to over and over again anytime I need a refresher on habits, energy, attention, recharge – and of course, time management.
If you’ve been listening to the show for a while, you’ll recognize some of these titles because they’ve served as the inspiration and foundation for many episodes. Whether you love to read, or love to listen to books through a service like Audible, or you like to skim, scan and take what you need – Cliff’s Notes style – I can almost guarantee that at least of these books will change your life – maybe even all of them!
Keep reading to find out
The number one, most recommended book on my shelf
My favorite author on all things time and living for what matters
The book that gave me the lightbulb moment and inspired my entire coaching process
Plus – I slip in a few extra recommendations because let’s be honest, I had a really hard time just choosing 5 books
01. The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
Anytime someone asks me for a book recommendation. Whether they’re climbing the career ladder, heading for college graduation, starting their own business or a veteran in their field – the first book on my list is my number one suggestion. In fact, I’ve mailed a copy of this book to more people that I can count at this point because it was such a game changer for me.
The book in the number one spot on my list is The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.
This book is all about the power of focus, and not just short term,”Don’t get distracted while working on a report at your computer for the next thirty minutes” kind of focus. Gary and Jay dive into choosing a focus for your life – your life’s work – and give they give you the tools, examples and inspiration to help you break that big picture focus into smaller and smaller parts.
If you’ve ever had a moment of panic – where you can’t decide what to do next. You know, we’ve all been there – we’ve got 30 minutes and we don’t know whether to respond to email, file paperwork, scroll social media, make a phone call or wash our hair. So we spend 25 minutes trying to decide and then run out of time to do anything worthwhile.
The One Thing introduces something called The Focusing Question – which I’ve used in my time management coaching with both my one-on-one clients and my summer group coaching program, Take Back Your Life. And it’s the perfect weapon against that confusion about what to do next.
It goes like this:
What is the one thing, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
One more time – What is the one thing, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
I love the focusing question, because it requires you to focus in on one thing, just one – that will make everything else on your list of possibilities easier to do or deal with, or completely cross multiple other things off your list.
For example – one of the women inside Take Back Your Life, Maddie, asked herself the focusing question when it came to knowing what to do first in her business. She was transitioning from a full time job with a side hustle, to going full time in her business. She realized, that her overflowing and disorganized email inbox was the one thing holding her back from making progress in every other area – so her very first big move as a full time business owner was to hire an email assistant to manage her inbox! Just one, simple question – with one, focused answer has paved the way growth and success in her business.
So yes – The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan is number one on my list, and my top recommendation. This is actually one of the few books that I’ve read cover to cover more than once, and I’ve even listened to it on Audible in my career when I felt like I needed some motivation to reconnect with my focus.
And like I mentioned in the intro, I’ve put together a book report style summary of The One Thing. Now, my summary definitely isn’t a substitute for reading the book, but it’s a good collection of my biggest takeaways from the times I’ve read (or listened to) The One Thing in the past.
02. Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life
Next on the list is Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin.
You might know Gretchen Rubin from her book, The Happiness Project which came out in 2009, or the podcast she hosts with her sister Elizabeth – The Happier Podcast.
The Happiness Project was actually my introduction to Gretchen. Back in 2014/2015-ish I was going through a bit of a valley in my life and career, and I didn’t feel all that happy on a regular basis. This is when the crisis communications life was just starting to get to me. So in search of some happiness, I asked for The Happiness Project for Christmas – and it was gifted to me from my husband Scott.
In that book, Gretchen spends a year doing different happiness experiments and writes about what happened.
Truth be told, it took me forever to get through The Happiness Project – about a year, actually. I got kind of bored with it, and I also didn’t have very good reading habits at the time. I was way more into scrolling my phone until my eyes crossed and I fell asleep.
But – The Happiness Project lead me to The Happier Podcast. And The Happier Podcast is where I learned about Better than Before.
So here’s why this book makes the list of my ride or dies.
Better Than Before is all about habits. Habits impact every single part of our lives. And if you want to improve your life, unlocking your best method for starting and sticking to habits is key.
Better Than Before dives into different types of habits we should pursue, and it examines tons of different methods for starting and sticking to habits – based on your personality, because let’s face it – we’re all different, and different methods work for different people.
Reading this book is when I first started to grasp that one-size-fits-all solutions rarely work – with habits, with weight loss or diets, with time management. Knowing yourself, your personality and your preferences is the key to success.
And speaking of personality, Better Than Before is also the book where Gretchen introduces her Four Tendencies framework. Basically – she found while writing The Happiness Project, that some people can just make the decision to do something, and then do it. But for others, it’s not quite as simple. That took her on a path to figure out how we respond to expectations, both internal and external – and she identified four different personality types, or tendencies that speak to how we respond to expectations. Those are the Obliger, the Rebel, the Upholder and the Questioner.
If you know anything about the tendencies, I’ll tell you that I’m 100% a Questioner, and if you’re not familiar with the tendencies, well then go pick up Better Than Before, dive in and find out which one you are because knowing your tendency is a game changer for finding the best strategies that will help you stick to things you start.
There’s even a quiz on her website that can help you figure out your tendency, but I don’t think it’s super accurate, which – turns out – is a very Questioner thing to say. I’ve found several people whose results said one thing, but later realized that they’re another type entirely.
03. The Productivity Project
The third book on my favorites list is The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey.
Similar to The Happiness Project, this is another one of those books where someone does an experiment for a year and writes about it.
So – in The Productivity Project, Chris Bailey spends a year test driving a number of different popular productivity hacks to find out what actually works. Everything from basic time blocking and task batching, to drinking more water, taking naps, strategically using caffeine, waking up at 5AM and taking more breaks throughout the day. Basically if there’s a productivity strategy or life hack out there, Chris tried it.
And just like Better than Before opened my eyes to there being no such thing as one-size-fits-all, my biggest takeaway from The Projectivity Project is the fact that you can’t just copy and paste what works for someone else onto your life. Just because your coworker wakes up at 5AM to get a head start on the day doesn’t mean that’s a good idea for you. And if you try something and give it your best shot, but it just doesn’t work for you – that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. You’ve got to figure out what works for you – and yes, that can take some trial and error, and some time to make things stick.
One of the benefits of working with a time management coach is that I’m laser focused on finding what will probably work for you, based on your personality – and that gives you a shortcut past a lot of the trial and error phase and more clarity about how to make new habits and strategies stick long term.
I’ve also got The Productivity Project to thank for the lightbulb moment that led to creating my HEART Method of time management coaching, focusing on Habits, Energy, Attention, Recharge and Time. Chris talks a lot about energy, attention and time management, but I realized that habits and making time for recharge – rest, recreation and relationships were also key pieces to the productivity puzzle.
04. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
Ok – Book number four is When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink.
I loved this book because it explains some pretty scientific topics, and then gives simple and actionable steps that you can take to incorporate what you’ve learned into your day-to-day life.
When is the book that introduced me to biological chronotypes, which has been a game changer not only in my coaching but in giving grace to others. We’re all wired differently, and some of us are morning larks, some are night owls and some are in the middle – Third Birds.
And that means that we’re simply at our best at different times of day – so it’s not fair to expect everyone to be on the same level as you – whether that level is high or low. If you’re a total cranky pants in the morning, cut the chirpy lark some slack. That’s just who they are. And if you’re exhausted at 9PM when your owl friend is rip roaring, ready to go – be patient with them. That’s just how they’re wired.
I actually talk more in detail about biological chronotypes back in Episode 55: Rise and Shine – How to Become a Better Morning Person (Even if you hate mornings). There’s even a free printable worksheet so you can figure out which bird you are.
But not only does the book talk about these three feathered biological chronotypes, it also dives into the importance of taking breaks, getting enough rest – and gives really actionable steps for taking the breaks and getting the rest. I love me some actionable steps, yall.
05. A Laura Vanderkam Three-Way Tie!
Ok – so I basically cheated when it came to choosing book number five on the list. Book number 5 is actually three way tie between
Off The Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done written by – you guessed it, Laura Vanderkam.
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
My cousin Maria actually recommended 168 Hours to me years ago, and it definitely opened my eyes to the fact that we have so much more time than we realize. It just takes being intentional and using it well. This book was absolutely a game changer for me, and helped me see that I had so much more control over my time and that changing how you’re spending your time starts with bringing awareness to where it’s going. Laura recommends doing a time study, and tracking your time in 15 to 30 minute increments to really see how much time you’re wasting, how often you’re multitasking and how much time you’re spending with family or on self care.
Laura also recommends doing the List of 100 Dreams exercise to figure out what it is you actually want to do with your life – and I love doing this activity with my time management coaching clients. It’s always so eye opening when you force yourself to get specific about the kind of experience you want to create for yourself, and it helps change the tide of just letting life happen to you.
Click here (or the banner below) to download a printable, book report style summary of my takeaways from reading 168 Hours. It’s a great overview of the high points in 168 Hours, but definitely not as good as reading the whole book.
I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time
I Know How She Does It is very similar to 168 Hour, but it focuses on women to “quote unquote” have it all. This book opened my eyes to how “successful” women structure their time and actually “have it all” – or well, their version of “it all.”
While having it all is a tough concept to define, she analyzed hour-by-hour time logs from 1,001 days in the lives of women who make at least $100,000 a year and have at least one child.
In the Spring of 2020, I led a fellowship of graduating seniors in Public Relations at San Diego State University. Shout out to Mariah, Alexis, Chelsea and McKenna and Dr. Sweetser if you’re listening. We read this book, book club style and discussed a different section each week. Even though these graduating seniors weren’t in the professional working world yet, and they didn’t have children – or even necessarily know whether they wanted to have children someday – this book provided proof – with numbers, stats and examples – that it is possible to succeed in a demanding career – like public relations – and have a fulfilling life outside of work.
I’d recommend this book to any woman early in her career who wants to create a sustainable structure for success, or any woman more established in her career that feels like she’s drowning and must choose one or the other – career or family. It is possible to “have it all” depending on what your definition of “it all” is – and you can create your version of work life balance with flexibility instead of sticking to a rigid schedule day in and day out.
Off The Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
This book is all about embracing the opposite of the 24/7 hustle til you drop life and creating moments to savor through relationships, planning and intention.
If you’ve already read either 168 Hours or I Know How She Does It – your next read should be Off The Clock because it’s a great reminder of how important rest, recreation and relationships are to our overall life experience. It was a great reminder for me to slow down, take in the little moments, and find opportunities to plan for fun and create memorable experiences for my family, and for myself.
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