If “Plan A” Doesn’t Work, Don’t Worry. The Alphabet Has 25 More Letters.

We have this idea that if our plans don’t work out, we’ve failed. And over time, it becomes not just about situations and plans failing—we start to label ourselves as failuresWhen we do that, we develop a mentality that disables us from progressing forward because we want to avoid the pain of feeling like a failure, and we automatically begin to assume we’re likely to fail at any big goal we set. 

This is why the word “failure” sucks. It is the starting point of a spiral of negative thinking that gets you absolutely nowhere. 

Here’s the thing. 

What you’re excited about most isn’t achieving some far-off end goal. It’s the idea of progress and growth that you’re after. It’s that feeling you get after a day of hard and focused work—the feeling that your day mattered, that you progressed, that you grew and helped others grow. 

Sometimes, getting so caught up in your “plan” does the opposite of what it was intended to do. You’re so busy trying to follow a specific plan in one corner, that you miss the bigger possibilities in another corner. 

Planning is important. But, equally so is flexibility. Stuff is always going to come up. You’re going to have lazy days. You’re going to get sick occassionally. There will be family and friend and work emergencies. Sometimes, you’ll just need a day off to chill out and play in the sun. 

It’s less about being set on one plan, one way of things being possible—and more about how your head, heart and gut are all working together within yourself. 

Each of those three “places” out of which you make decisions come with their own set of strengths and challenges:

  • Your head will try to be rational and safe when you should be taking big leaps and defying odds instead. But it will also keep you grounded and focused so you can implement whatever big plans you develop.
  • Your heart (i.e. crazy-ass feelings) will create strong urges in you to make impulsive decisions based on how you’re feeling in the moment (otherwise known as short-term gratification). But, it’s also the part of you that will help you connect authentically with yourself and those around you. It’s the source of giving and receiving love.
  • Your gut is just awesome. It will never lead you the wrong way. It takes practice to get really in-tune with your gut, so as not to mistake it with thoughts that stem from your head and/or heart. But once you tune in and understand what is gut and what isn’t, you’ll know exactly what you should do whenever you get a “gut feeling.” The downside to listening to your gut is that you can come across as irrational, impulsive, inconsiderate, and non-PC to others. Just remember that the reason you’re coming across that way to them is because they’re struggling with their own dramas and aren’t quite in-tune yet with their own guts. Be gentle with them and yourself. Follow your gut always anyway.

Your job is to make sure you maximize the strengths of all three, while consciously mitigating the challenges of each. 

When you are aligned within yourself, you’ll have a very different perspective on your plans—you’ll be far less attached to them, and as a result, better able to get to where you want to go regardless of what the plan ultimately looks like. 

Because the truth is, if Plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 other letters in the alphabet. 

Worry less about your plan, and more about how you’re thinking through it.

How to Keep Track of Everything in Your Head


I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time keeping track of everything in my head. And I’m pretty sure that’s because my head isn’t built to keep track of everything.

We attempt to file away every thought, idea, memory, etc. in our brains, which explains why we feel so overwhelmed sometimes. Unrecorded thoughts are like mental clutter, keeping us unfocused and anxious.

So we need to put everything resting in our brains somewhere. 

As I noted yesterday, though, to-do lists don’t work for most people. They don’t work because 1.) we try to accomplish too much in a given day, 2.) we usually underestimate how long something will take us to do, and 3.) we don’t review the lists we create often enough. 

So, what to do?

My solution is Wunderlist

After exploring the design and functionality of countless to-do list apps, Wunderlist is by far my favorite. Wunderlist is basically whatever you want it to be. You can create lists for absolutely anything. How you use it is highly personal. So, instead of telling you how to use it, I’m just going to show you how I use mine so you know how to think about using it as a tool for organization. 

Here’s what my Wunderlist looks like:


You can see all of my “lists” on the left-hand side, the contents of each list in the middle, and the notes from each piece of content on the right-hand side. You can take extensive notes on whatever you’d like (which I find myself doing often). You can also star something to mark it as important, as well as set a due date, a reminder date, and a subtask. For simplicity’s sake, I don’s use those functions very often. Instead, I use my weekly daily review to remind me of what I need to do and when. 

Let me take you through my lists: 


The four folders at the top are the ones I access most frequently. The rest are reference folders.

  • Technori Tasks: work-related tasks/small projects to work on
  • Technori Content: work-related content ideas to pursue/assign
  • Melissa’s Tasks: personal tasks/small projects to work on
  • Melissa’s Content: personal blog content ideas to pursue/assign
  • 2013 Goals: my list of sub-goals (related to my big goal) I want to accomplish this year. I also include one-off goals unrelated to my 1-2 big goals (i.e. run a half marathon, travel to a new country, etc.)
  • Do Daily: all reoccurring tasks I must do on a daily basis
  • Do Weekly: all reoccurring tasks I must do on a weekly basis
  • Do Monthly: all reoccurring tasks I must do on a monthly basis
  • The rest of the folders are batch tasks I’ve assigned to each day of the week. More about batch tasks tomorrow. 

My two “Tasks” lists serve as traditional to-do lists, but I don’t reference them every day. I use them as a place to dump my ideas/to-dos/follow-ups and get them out of my head, but I only review them during my weekly review (unless it’s urgent—in which case, I put it on my calendar for that week immediately or I Boomerang it if I get a request via email). 

I broke out “content” because I think about content a lot, so it makes sense for me to keep them separate from my primary to-accomplish lists. 

The rest of the folders help me mentally wrap my head around everything that needs to get done, and when. 

Essentially, my Wunderlist is optimized for brain dumping my ideas and prepping for a weekly review. I do not believe that reading off an endless list of to-dos every single day and trying to pluck a bunch of things out of it is effective. It’s just overwhelming and a time waster. 

Instead, what I do is use my weekly review to go through all of my to-do lists and:

  1. Choose the next 10 tasks/small projects I want to set into motion or finish during the upcoming week. These are separate from the tasks related to my big goals, which are in a separate goals worksheet (I also reference this during my weekly review). 
  2. Review list of all batch tasks I need to process during the upcoming week. I then review my calendar to make sure I will have time to get everything done during its allotted batch task day. If I have to schedule a meeting or something urgent comes up during a designated batch task time, I leave a chunk of time at the end of the week to play catch-up (this is almost always necessary, and setting time aside to catch-up is a great way to not overpack my schedule each week). 
  3. Review annual goals weekly. I review my annual goals each week to make sure I feel like I’m on track. If I’m not, I come up with a solution based on the roadblocks and/or procrastination triggers I’m facing to help autocorrect the situation and inch toward accomplishing my goals. 

That’s pretty much it. I find that the simpler a system you have, the more likely you are to stick to it. Knowing I have a place to jot down to-dos keeps me from feeling mentally scattered. But, only checking it once a week during my weekly review keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by a growing list of to-dos.


Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (and What to Do Instead)

It’s extremely easy to lose track of your goals without even realizing it.
Earlier this week, I talked about:
Even if you implement the to-dos in the above articles—even if your system is perfect—you’ll still falter along the way if you don’t take the time to review how you’re performing. I recently stumbled upon the daily schedule Benjamin Franklin kept:

Woah! Dude was super reflective. 
He started the day by asking himself, “What good will I do today?,” and ended the day by asking, “What good have I done today?”. He also took time at the beginning, middle, and end of each day for examining and reflecting on his work. One of the most prolific and accomplished people ever took the time to reflect, plan, and organize at least three times a day. 
This astounds me. 
I don’t know anyone who reflects this much. Honestly, no one. And I’m starting to think that’s a big part of the reason so few of us are feeling like we’re living lives at the perfect level of productivity and achievement we desire. We aren’t measuring success. We aren’t reviewing results or assessing the data. 
Every moment is a data point—and yet, none of us take time to track and reflect on those data points. Reviewing and goal setting are things people do at the very beginning and end of a year, and not so much in the bulk of the middle. The problem is we’re missing incredible opportunities to learn, iterate, and grow. 
So, even if you’ve got a perfect system and you know exactly what you want to achieve, none of it really matters if you’re not reviewing your successes, failures, triggers, and habits frequently.
The remedy for that is the very powerful and important weekly review. I do my weekly review every Sunday, late in the afternoon (before I get too tired). Leo Babauta wrote a few fantastic (and simple) articles on weekly reviews:
Those two links above give you a pretty good overview of how to conduct a weekly review. The basic steps for my personal weekly review are as follows:
  1. Find a one-hour time block you can commit to each week. Babauta suggests a Monday or Friday, but I think weekends work best. Less stressful.
  2. Plan to not miss a single weekly review. It’ll throw you off for the week ahead, and before you know it, your goals will be a hot mess. 
  3.  Fill out my weekly review form. Here’s the one I created for myself:


In case you have a hard time reading the categories above…


The lines in grey comprise the bulk of the weekly review. Most of them are self-explanatory, but I’ll get into how I use Wunderlist tomorrow, because it’s important (a to-do list manager, but I utilize mine very differently than a normal to-do list). 

The reflection questions are also great. They are a way for you to stop and soak in how the past week was for you—along with setting intentions for the week ahead. You can tailor this weekly review to work for you, but this is a comprehensive template for you to work off of if you need a place to start. 

The weekly review is one of my favorite times of the week. I haven’t been doing it for too long, but I’ve seen a huge difference in how I spend my time when I actually review what I’ve done and plan for what I want to accomplish in the week ahead. 

Happy weekly reviewing!

Why You’re Not As Productive As You Want to Be (and What to Do About It)


I seriously geek out about life hacking. I am all about discovering and implementing ways to save time and optimize life so that I’ve got as much time as possible to pursue what really matters. 

If you’re struggling right now with time management and are looking for a simpler, more effective system, I’ve got one for you.

This week, I’m going to take you through some of the best, most effective life hacking tips I’ve learned over the past year. I’ll cover:

  • Tuesday: The fail-proof goal-setting method
  • Wednesday:  Why to-do lists don’t work (and the better alternative)
  • Thursday: The magic of batch tasking
  • Friday: Creating a schedule that reflects your values
  • Saturday: Identifying un-productivity triggers—and how to eradicate them
But before I dive into any of the topics above, let’s lay some more groundwork. I’m convinced there are two major reasons why people don’t create and follow systems that work:
Problem #1: Most people have no idea how they’re spending their time.
It’s the same thing with a diet. A ton of people track their diets. Why? Because you’re a lot more likely to intake fewer calories and eat less crap if you’re tracking exactly what you’re eating.
Well, the same is true for tracking how you spend your time…except pretty much nobody does it. And everyone really should—at least quarterly. We all have a sense of how and why we’re being unproductive (i.e.too much time on social media, in email, getting ready in the morning, browsing the web, in meetings, etc.). But, I promise you, unless you’re already super productive (in which case, I don’t know why you’re still reading this), you will be shocked by how much time you’re actually wasting on stuff that isn’t really important. So, here’s the first thing I want you to do:
Solution #1: For the next 7 days, assess how you’re spending your time.
Here’s the sheet I use to keep track of my schedule. I like this one, mostly because it’s colorful. :-) You can find the original PDF here. Print out 7 copies—one for each day.
A few tweaks I make to the spreadsheet:
  • I don’t really use the “I must do” or “I must contact” sections on the left-hand side, but feel free to use them if they’re helpful to you.
  • I turn the “Notes” section into a “Triggers” section.

So, what are “triggers”?

Triggers are basically anything that causes you to switch from doing something productive (and single-tasking), to doing something less productive or off-task. Examples: If I’m editing an article and a thought pops into my head that I need to look for a new iPad cover, that thought bubble is a trigger for me. If I’m batch-tasking my emails and a colleague leans over to start a conversation, that colleague is a trigger.
Triggers can range from a thought to a phone call, an email to a link in an article you’re reading. As you record your days for one week, get in the habit of recognizing triggers, and be as specific as possible when you record what they are. We’ll get back to your triggers on Saturday and help you figure out how to eradicate them. 
As you record your week, here are a few good tools for keeping you focused and energized:
  • Pomodoro Technique - helps you work in bursts of 25 minutes, with a mandatory 5 minute break. You can adjust the timeframes, but this technique is essentially supposed to help you sustain your energy all day. 
  • Rescue Time - everyone from Neil Patel to Tim Ferriss raves about this, but the really useful version costs money. If you’re willing to invest, it’s a great tool.
  • Task Timer - This is a Chrome plug-in. I use it to help me determine how long it’s really taking me to do batch tasks and MITs (more on these later in the week).

WARNING:A quick word of warning about tracking your time. It’s very easy to forget to track things in detail. I’d set a recurring reminder on your calendar every hour so you can take 2-3 minutes to track what you’ve done for the past hour. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in a task, not record what you did for 3-4 hours at a time, and your data won’t be that detailed or useful.

So use a calendar reminder every hour for the next week! I promise, it’s not as annoying as it sounds.

Problem #2: We don’t take enough time to assess results and figure out how to do more of what’s working. 

Obviously, if we’re not even taking time to track how we’re spending our time, we’re certainly not maximizing the learnings we could get from analyzing our results and figuring out what’s driving them. So that’s the next thing I want you to do:

Solution #2: Assess your schedule for the week. 
Once you’ve got an entire week’s worth of data on how you spent your time, put your tasks into different activity buckets (i.e. social media, checking work email, checking personal email, writing, planning, meetings, calls, travel, relaxation time, web surfing, news reading, sales calls, getting ready for work, preparing meals, etc.). Then, come up with a percentage of time spent on each activity given the number of hours you are “at work” per week. Here’s what my work assessment looked like, so you get a sense of how to put your own together: 

Though it was a slightly atypical week, quite frankly, I was still shocked by how much of my week I spent in meetings and in my inbox. Once I put this analysis together, I could very clearly see my problem areas, and then know exactly where I needed to develop more efficient systems for myself.

Finally, answer this question:
What 20% is driving 80% of your results? 
This question is based on the Pareto Principle, which states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
So, determine what 20% of your work is driving 80% of your results, and what 80% of your work is driving 20% of the results. Create a two-column chart for the highest and lowest results-driven behaviors.
The tasks under my “Most Productive” tab generated a high return on investment for me. Those are my “20%” tasks (you can tweak this number for whatever works…could be 10/90 or 30/70 for you). Later this week, we’ll talk about how to spend more time fitting your high productivity tasks into your schedule so that you have more time to do those things instead of the time-wasters that suck up 70-90% of your time.
As an aside, I know we all spend a lot of time browsing the web and consuming news, which I am going to guess is a bit of a time suck for everyone reading this. Here’s a great mini e-book from Tim Ferriss about putting yourself on a low-information diet.
Based on everything I outlined above, tomorrow, I’ll take you through a fail-proof goal-setting method.
Hope you’ll share this with anyone who could get use out of it!

5 Stellar Apps to Manage Your Crazy-Ass Inbox. I Promise, These Will Make Your Life Better.

I’m just going to preface this post by saying I honestly can’t stand email. While I think it’s a great way to connect and convey important information, it gets used inefficiently and borderline inappropriately far too often.

There isn’t a single part of our tech lives that gives us more anxiety and stress than email, other than maybe privacy concerns. Seriously, do we really need a back-and-forth chain of a dozen emails just to decide on a date for coffee? Just call me, please. Or a gazillion emails between a team to make a business decision? Basecamp that shit. It drives me nutty when email moves from important information sharing to blatant inefficiency. 

Anyway, I digress. We all have to live with it, so I’m basically building a fort of cool add-ons to make the whole process less laborious. Why? So I can spend time doing more of what I love, like creating actual stuff and building relationships offline.  

Here are the 5 apps I use to manage my crazy-ass inbox. 

1. Sparrow


I’m addicted to Sparrow, which gives you a beautifully simple, streamlined version of your inbox. It’s super lightweight and fast, there is a “quick reply” feature that streamlines the whole process of responding to emails, and I’m so much more likely to get to inbox zero while using this app. Not gonna lie, I also really like that I can color code my mail folders. It makes for a much more aesthetically pleasing email experience. It’s completely integrated with Gmail—and while you can hack the Gmail experience to hyper-optimize it, there’s something awesome and non-distracting to me about Sparrow that just makes me feel better about spending time in my inbox.

The one thing I love most about Sparrow is that I can seamlessly unify all of my inboxes, which is absolutely ideal for the sake of efficiency. It’s a lot harder to do that in Gmail unless you have two windows open or forward all of your mail to one account. 

However, I am vacillating back and forth between Sparrow and Gmail now. To be honest, I’m having a hard time deciding if I should start transitioning back to the Gmail interface completely. For one thing, Sparrow just got acquired by Gmail…so I have a feeling the product will cease to improve in the long-term future. For another, some of the apps on the market now integrate beautifully with Gmail - namely, the next two below on this list, which are incredible.

2. Rapportive


These are like contact profiles built right into your inbox - pretty rad. When you’re emailing with someone you just met, Rapportive will often show you that person’s picture, title, location, tweet stream, and social media profile links so you can connect with him or her seamlessly on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Skype, Tumblr, etc. You can also add your own personal notes so you’ll always remember how you met people on the fringes of your personal and business networks. 


Holy game changer!

You know why it’s so easy to get sucked into your inbox for five hours? Because once you get rid of an email, two more pop up. So, it’s hard not to pay attention to all of the new emails coming in. Enter: INBOX PAUSE, my new hero and possibly the best Gmail-integrated app, like, ever. 


Essentially, when you integrate INBOX PAUSE, a button appears in your inbox that allows you to pause incoming mail from showing up in your inbox for as long as you’d like. It even sends an email to people while your inbox is paused letting people know it is—so if something is urgent, they should reach you another way. Kinda like a super short, daily version of an official “Out of Office” message. You can focus on getting the emails answered that are already in your inbox without being distracted by the new ones coming in. Talk about efficiency and reducing anxiety! I’m a happier girl because of this app.  

4. Captio

So, you’re standing at a party and someone reminds you to check out a new song or movie. Or, you’re on line at the grocery store and you suddenly remember that you need to follow up on a work project. You don’t want to forget about it, so you email a note to yourself. You have to: (1) open up your mail app, (2) type in your email address, (3) type in a subject line so it doesn’t give you that annoying “but you don’t have a subjeccccct” message, and then (4) send the email. 

Four steps, really? Why is it such a pain in the ass?! 


Not anymore. Captio saves your email address, and all you have to do is open up the app, type your note, and hit “send.” Ta-da! Your note will appear in your inbox automatically so that you won’t forget and can process it later. Saves you two annoying, pointless steps and about half the time. Yes, please!

5. MailChimp


When I’m meeting new people and talking about my work, they’ll sometimes ask to be added to one of our mailing lists. That’s the kind of simple thing that’s very easy to lose track of if you just “make a note” to add that person later. A missed opportunity for conversion. We use MailChimp, and the iPhone app allows me to add people to any of our different mailing lists on the spot. It gets done right away, and you avoid having to add one more thing to your to-do list. 

I’d highly recommend using MailChimp if you send out emails and newsletters to groups of people often - whether for business or personal. Plus, the monkey icon is adorable and reminds me of Curious George. A small reminder to always approach life like a curious, happy little kid. :-)

The 5 Best Productivity Tools I Use (and Why You Should, Too)

1. Evernote 

I’m in love with this notetaking and archiving software. Yes, you can take notes on it. But I didn’t really start optimizing Evernote until I began using the Web Clipper. Essentially, this tool allows you to “clip” and save various different web pages. Before I started using this, one of the biggest time wasters for me was browsing the web. I mean, there are soooo many good articles, blogs, websites, etc.! How can I not read them?! I used to either (a) read the articles on the spot, which interrupted my state of flow or (b) wait until my browser looked like this: 


Talk about cluttered and inefficient. Now, I have an “Articles to Read” folder. Whenever I stumble upon something I want to read while in the middle of something else, I just clip it, save it to this folder, and batch process my reading all at once. By the way, batch processing is one of the most effective ways you can save time and energy with your tasks; here’s a detailed example of how this technique can help you become super productive. 

You can also store pretty much anything you want to keep track of in one place: quotes, contacts, favorite sites, wish lists, recipes, inspiring people, restaurants to check out, movies to watch, places to visit…you get the point. It’s a great way to keep track of everything that inspires, informs, and supports you. You can even read your scanned in handwritten notes. And there’s a special Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine. Oh, I am SO serious. 


Evernote is like the Photoshop of productivity tools: a million different ways to optimize it that few people know about. If you want to make the most out of this tool, I’d highly recommend this “how to” Evernote Essentials book. 100 pages of organization happiness. 

Bonus: Evernote 5 is one of the most beautiful iPhone apps I’ve ever seen in my life. 

2. Wunderlist

Damn, Wunderlist is beautiful. I think it is hands down the best “to-do list” tool out there. It’s simple and intuitive without being ugly or useless. Wunderlist 2 just came out, so it’s even more beautiful than before. Clearly, these guys know a thing or two about UX design


Now, to-do lists are controversial. People say that they are pointless and no one ever actually becomes more productive by using to-do lists. That’s a load of crap and you should ignore anyone who tries to convince you that being intentional by writing down what you most want to accomplish is useless. They are lying. 

There are three big reasons to-do lists don’t work: (1) We dump everything we think we need or want to do onto them without much consideration of the value those tasks will add; (2) we don’t take time to process what’s actually on our to-do lists—so a lot of those pesky tasks just sit there for months and never get done; and (3) we add far too much to our daily lists of things to accomplish. In Leo Babauta’s book, The Power of Less, he recommends choosing just three “Most Important Tasks (MITs)” each day—the three things that take an hour or less to do and would make you feel like you had a great, productive day if you could accomplish them—and working on those without distraction as soon as possible in the day until all three things are done. 

While I’m certainly not perfect, I’ve found that setting three daily MITs and completing them right away in the morning really works for me. The rest of your day feels like a breeze and you don’t have to deal with that crappy “I-just-wasted-5-hours-of-my-day-reading-articles-and-answering-emails-and-checking-facebook” feeling. 

If you can tackle the other two problems by becoming more selective about what you put on your to-do list in the first place, and then setting up time for a weekly review to process everything on your master list, then to-do lists are absolutely the way to go. And there’s no better tool than Wunderlist for keeping track of them. 

3. Stickies


I use stickies on my desktop to keep track of random thoughts I have while in the middle of one of my MITs. If I remember a website I’ve been wanting to check out, instead of actually going to the site, I’ll just jot down a note about it in stickies. If I realize I need to email someone back, I make a note about that, too, instead of going into my inbox (home of the biggest time suck in the world, in my opinion). Then, when I’m done with my MITs, I process those notes accordingly—either by adding them to my to-do list, putting them in one of my Evernote folders, or getting it done right away if it will take me less than a few minutes. 

4. Ecosystem Journals

I still love taking handwritten notes. There’s something about the process of putting pen to paper that is just the best thing ever. 

I don’t know why everyone loves Moleskine notebooks so much, though. I mean, I guess they’re nice, but they only come in black and red unless you buy one of those useless 30-page notebooks in baby pink or something. I’d much rather use Ecosystem journals. They are pretty much exactly the same as Moleskins, but come in a bunch of different sizes, styles (hardcover, flexi,ruled, grid, blank), and most importantly, COLORS. A watermelon- or kiwi-colored notebook? Yes, please. 

And the final thing that makes this the best journal ever…THIS:


5. Basecamp

Stellar project management software from the guys at 37signals. I love that this team has an intense focus on simplifying, simplifying, simplifying. They say no to a ton of customer requests for features, not because they want to be horrible at customer service, but because they want to stay focused on creating the best, most simple product for people to use. Perfect example: they actively discontinue profitable services if they don’t feel they’re giving them enough attention. Respect. 


I don’t really use Basecamp for personal stuff, but it’s fantastic for work and any other projects that more than one person is working on. It gets rid of the time-consuming back-and-forth of email—and the added sanity pretty much pays for the cost of the service in and of itself. 

Coming tomorrow: The next 5 best productivity tools and apps I use

The Best Productivity Books You’ll Ever Read


Yesterday, I wrote about why most productivity advice is useless

I don’t want you to waste any more time consuming useless content about personal productivity. As promised, here are the beginnings of what will be the best, most comprehensive resource list ever for stellar and genuinely useful productivity, optimization, and life hacking advice. I’ll blog about updates as they occur, but you can always find the most up-to-date master productivity list under the “Most Awesome Lists” here on my blog.

The goal of this list is to make it as simple and intuitive as possible to create a productivity plan that works for you. The resources in this guide tend to emphasize meaningful minimalism (no, I’m not asking you to throw away everything you own), simplicity, clarity, and focus. It shouldn’t feel like a job to create and implement a personal productivity process that works for you - after all, that would kind of totally defeat the purpose. 

If you’ve got any content suggestions that you want me to personally review and formally add to my productivity resource guide, share it with me.

The Absolute Best Books on Productivity and Time Management

I’ve read countless productivity and time management books, blogs, articles, podcasts, etc. This is a list of the absolute best, most useful books I’ve come across:

1. The Power of Less.

This book is the foundation of my entire personal productivity system. If you could only read any one book, this is the one I’d recommend. Leo Babauta is all about simple productivity that actually makes sense and feels manageable - fun, even. This book goes beyond productivity tips. Babauta encourages you to reflect and fully understand what matters most to you, and why. It’s truly an amazing productivity system because it’s simple. You won’t get caught up in trying to implement an overly-complicated set of processes. If I have any one criticism of the book, it’s that some parts of it are too simplified. He encourages you to only focus on one major goal at a time, which doesn’t fly for Type A “I-can-take-on-the-world” personalities. Heed his advice about not setting too many goals or trying to change too many habits at once, though. He’s spot on about that, regardless of how ambitious you are.

2. Zen to Done.

This is the other Leo Babauta book I’d recommend. He wrote this one before he wrote The Power of Less. In his own words:

Zen To Done takes some of the best aspects of a few popular productivity systems (GTD, Stephen Covey and others) and combines them with the mandate of simplicity. It makes things as simple as possible, and no more.

And he’s not kidding. If you’ve ever tried to read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, that thing is dense with information. It makes productivity feel like a highly stressful and laborious process. Save your time, and read this e-book instead. Ten simple, straightforward habits to change. One at a time. A very good read. 

3. Eat That Frog!

This book is a classic. Brian Tracy has spent his career studying the development of human potential and personal effectiveness. In spite of how brilliant the dude is, he’s managed to whittle this book down to 21 of his top tips for getting more accomplished in less time. All in 117 short pages. #Miracle. If you treat this book like the workbook it was meant to be (there are reflection questions and exercises practically on every page), you’ll get a ton out of it.

4. The 4-Hour Workweek

I think a lot of people initially approach this book with skepticism because, really, who works only 4 hours a week? I certainly don’t. I’m still pretty convinced that Tim Ferriss works harder, smarter, and also longer than most people out there. Nonetheless, once I finally picked it up, it quickly became one of my favorite books. Ferriss truly is the king of life hacking. His area of expertise isn’t so much productivity or weight loss or cooking. Rather,  he knows everything there is to know about learning - quickly. He is big on measuring and analyzing everything, so his advice has been thoroughly tested. The whole book is worth reading, but about half of it is related to lifestyle design and probably not totally applicable, unless you’re about completely re-hauling your lifestyle. If you want to save time and stick to the chapters on productivity, they are:

Chapter 5: The End of Time Management

Chapter 6: The Low-Information Diet

Chapter 7: Interrupting Interruption & The Art of Refusal

Bonus!: Annual Review Guides

Since it’s the start of the new year and everyone is in goal-setting mode, I thought I’d share two of my absolute favorite “annual review” guides. Spend a few days creating your own annual review — and use these guides as reference. You’ll feel so much more prepared for 2013. Promise. 

1. How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review by Chris Guillebeau

…and if you want some more, here is Guillebeau’s annual review archive.

2. Why Wait? A Bullshit-Free Guide to Jump-Starting Your Goals for the New Year by Nicole  Antoinette Ross

Coming up next this week: I’ll share lists of the best productivity and time management blogs, articles, and tools out there. 

Stop Wasting Your Time Listening to Useless Productivity Advice


I’m a sucker for all things related to productivity and optimization. Interestingly, everyone seems to be utterly fascinated with time management and productivity these days - probably because we’re reaching a threshold as humans; our brains simply can’t keep up with the hundreds of emails, dozens of meetings, countless articles, and never-ending social media streams. Seriously, you guys…are we really wondering why we struggle with productivity? There are a million distractions at any given point in time.

The weird fascination with productivity and time management also means more and more people are spewing out crappy content on these topics, smacking overly sexy titles on articles and books to get you to read something that will just waste more of your time. Don’t you want to know “How to Be Extremely Productive” or “How to Never Waste Time Again” or “Time Management Tricks for Adding Two Hours to Your Day”? Yeah, me too. So, we click on articles like this:

10 Time Management Tips That Work 

…Really? Put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign when you absolutely have to get work done? What if you don’t have a door? What if you work at a startup and live out of a busy, noisy co-working space? What if your boss barges in anyway? What I want to know is how many of the 2,000 people who tweeted about this article actually used any of these 10 “useful” time management tips for more than maybe a week. Yeah. I’m willing to bet not that many. 

Or how about this one:

7 Steps to Incredible Personal Productivity

"Start at 5 a.m. or revisit your college days and start at 6 p.m. and work through the night. Set the stage for an unusually productive day by dramatically changing your normal routine."

…Yup. Because this is practical for about 2% of the world’s population. 

This is probably my favorite of the 7 steps, though: “Delay gratification. Delayed gratification is always better gratification, and in this case can provide just the spark you need to keep going."

That’s fantastic advice. Except for the fact that humans suck at delayed gratification. That’s why so many of us drink, eat, spend money, you-name-it too much.

And the generally useless advice goes on and on and on.

I know you’re fed up, too. You don’t want to search on Google for productivity advice that isn’t really going to help you. You don’t want to read the countless books, or pay for expensive courses.

I hear you. All you want is the best, most simple advice you can find, in one place, so you can spend less time wasting time — and more time on the stuff that matters most to you and the work you can do that will have the greatest impact.

I’ve read countless time management books, blogs, articles, podcasts, etc. And I think I have a pretty damn good sense of the best ones now - the stuff that’s actually worth reading and implementing. 

Tomorrow, I’m releasing a working list of my favorite productivity, optimization, and life hacking resources to date. I’ll be updating this list constantly as I learn more, and you’ll be able to find that - as well as all of my other living resource articles – under the “Most Awesome Lists” tab on my blog.

So, please don’t spend any more time consuming useless productivity content. I’m going to build the best, most comprehensive resource list ever so that you don’t have to waste another minute sifting through “advice” that is silly or near impossible to implement.

In the meantime, check out this fantastic article on Harvard Business Review. It will reassure you that you’re not the only one out there struggling with productivity – and the author, Edward Hallowell, does a great job of explaining why.

Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform

(You have to sign up for a free account to get access to the full article, but it’s so worth it.)