Kate's Top 5 Books for Productivity


2019 was my year of reading nonfiction books. From self-help books to business books to those that helped me streamline my habits, I used reading as a way to improve my life last year. Some of those books were wildly helpful—so much so that I continue to rely on the lessons I learned from them every day.

Today, at the close of a month where we focused on finishing what we’ve started, I’m sharing my five favorite books to help with productivity. If you follow W&D on Instagram or are a frequent reader of our site it’s likely you’ve heard me mention these titles before. They’re the books that showed me how to get out of my own way and get things done this past year.

P.S. If you’re an avid reader (or want to be!) and you haven’t yet signed up for our 2020 reading list, I’d wholeheartedly recommend you do! The list includes more than 150 books that have been recommended by myself and W&D readers, and we’ll be adding new titles quarterly.

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

by Winifred Gallagher

Summary: “Acclaimed behavioral science writer Winifred Gallagher’s Rapt makes the radical argument that much of the quality of your life depends not on fame or fortune, beauty or brains, fate or coincidence, but on what you choose to pay attention to. Rapt introduces a diverse cast of characters, from researchers to artists to ranchers, to illustrate the art of living the interested life. As their stories show, by focusing on the most positive and productive elements of any situation, you can shape your inner experience and expand your world. By learning to focus, you can improve your concentration, broaden your inner horizons, and most important, feel what it means to be fully alive.”

Who Needs This Book: Those of us who let our thoughts and emotions dictate the outcome of our day.

This book . . . helps you build a mindset around focusing on what matters so you can make choices each day that move you toward the life you want. 

My Takeaway: This book helped me gain power through intentional thinking. We have so many thoughts flying around our minds each day, and I needed the reminder that we don’t have to believe everything we think. This book takes that idea to the next level and helps you build a mindset around focusing on what matters so you can make choices each day that move you toward the life you want. 

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

by James Clear

Summary: “No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving—every day. James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results. If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Here, you’ll get a proven system that can take you to new heights.”

Who Needs This Book: Those of us who rely on willpower and luck to make changes in their life. 

My Takeaway: It almost seems too simple to be true, until you try it. As a chronic “ocean boiler” I always thought my secret weapon was not being afraid to take on big projects. As it turns out, that approach was getting in my way to working smarter and more effectively. Now I break things down into the smallest tasks to reduce friction. In doing so, I’ve increased the likelihood that I’ll have the stamina to go the distance by making big changes through small actions. 

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

by Cal Newport

Summary: “In Deep Work, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four ‘rules’, for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.”

Who Needs This Book: Everyone overwhelmed with distractions in the digital age.

My Takeaway: This book helped me understand why we’re distracted constantly and what to do about it. 

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

by Gary Keller

Summary: “By focusing their energy on one thing at a time people are living more rewarding lives by building their careers, strengthening their finances, losing weight and getting in shape, deepening their faith, and nurturing stronger marriages and personal relationships.”

Who Needs This Book: Those of us who are doing a lot and feeling like we’re getting nowhere.

This book saved me from closing W&D’s doors. . . . I used the advice in this book to align all our objectives under one focused brand and continue to use it to vet what we should and shouldn’t add to our business model. 

My Takeaway: This book saved me from closing W&D’s doors. I was so overwhelmed with what we should do next, I did A LOT of things to see what would stick to the wall. I used the advice in this book to align all our objectives under one focused brand and continue to use it to vet what we should and shouldn’t add to our business model. 

Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done

by Jon Acuff

Summary: “If you’re tired of being a chronic starter and want to become a consistent finisher, you have two options: You can continue to beat yourself up and try harder, since this time that will work. Or you can give yourself the gift of done.”

Who Needs This Book: Those of us who are always starting but rarely finishing things.

My Takeaway: My favorite term from this book is called “noble obstacles”—the things we do INSTEAD of the work we said we’d do. They are usually something that makes us feel productive but get in the way of accomplishing our objective. We use this term all the time in the W&D office when we’re checking in to make sure we’re working on the right thing. 

Editor’s Note: This article contains affiliate links. Wit & Delight uses affiliate links as a source for revenue to fund operations of the business and to be less dependent on branded content. Wit & Delight stands behind all product recommendations. Still have questions about these links or our process? Feel free to email us.

BY Kate Arends - January 29, 2020

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January 30, 2020 2:48 am

Great list! Thanks for sharing.Need this to keep me on track.

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