See below for a chance to get free stuff in the mail! Yay! Free stuff!
Being busy is a form of laziness--lazy thinking and indiscriminate action... Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant.
--Timothy Ferris, The Four Hour Workweek
I'm a bit addicted to time-management books, but their quality, usefulness and readability are all over the map. I read Ferris's book and got a couple of things out of it, including the above quote which is brilliant IMO, but overall the book just didn't hit home with me.
I recently found a new book that embodies the quote above and is actually fun to read. Stever Robbins has a personal productivity podcast (say that five times fast) and has put his best stuff into a book, The Get-It-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More.
Robbins's book blends a lot of high level thinking (what are your goals?) with nitty-gritty techniques for being more productive (here's one: to keep from getting distracted when working a project, make an "interruption list" of things to tend to when you're done with what you're working on). His chapter on procrastination has a lot of practical suggestions and is a great complement to Anne Lamott's angst-ridden meditation on the subject in Bird by Bird. And chapter 1, "Live on Purpose," deals with goal setting in a very intuitive way. I've never really gotten the "vision/ mission/ goal/ objective" distinction, and his stuff on "goal ladders" is simple and makes sense to me.
Robbins also has a great sense of humor. This may be the only time-management book in which zombies play a prominent role. In a section on e-mail, he talks about templates and macros as a way to streamline your communication:
Let's say your boss has you saying no to a dozen different requests each day: a dog show invitation, a request for money, and someone claiming to be a long-lost child, asking to be added to the will.
Those are pretty different. You want to respond to each individually, but your responses can have paragraphs in common. All might start like this: "Mr. Boss appreciates your letter. Your tragic plight is touching." Then you add a paragraph or two crushing that person's hopes and dreams, and you finish up with, "Mr. Boss regrets that he can't do more for your deeply troubling situation."
Some of the latter chapters get more theoretical, and the one on building relationships seemed a little utilitarian. Yes, building a network does help you be more productive, but part of my job is to love people whether they can be useful to me or not. Still, it's worth a read if for no other reason than that he takes that treacly starfish story (you know the one) and gives it a much-needed twist.
This would be a great book for a young person starting out in a career who really wants to get their life together, although others would find it valuable too. (No book of this genre is going to work on people who don't want to change or who can't see the need.) It's a quick read, with several novel suggestions for working smarter.
And! Because I love hearing tips on how other people make their life work, leave your favorite lifehack/best idea in the comments. On Monday I'll choose someone at random and send them a copy of the Get-It-Done Guy book.