Life can be messy, overwhelming and unpredictable.
When we’re thrashing in the waves of chaos and a life ring of helpful principles is tossed our way, you can bet we’re going to grab it.
I’ve culled this list from my favorites, the ones I’ve found to be the most helpful, the most practical and the most universal. Because if you’re on the prowl for help to manage your life, you need something that WORKS. Am I right?
What are my top picks for best books on life management?
- The Lazy Genius Way
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
- Atomic Habits
- The Purpose Driven Life
A critical element of life management is the issue of what is most important: a hierarchy of priorities.
No one wants to get to the top of the ladder and find it is leaning against the wrong wall.
Establishing priorities, though, is not a one and done process. Like nailing jello to a tree, the process is always elusive, always changing.
The books in this list help you determine what gets your first and best attention. Once you’ve established priorities, the trick is to live them.
(Note: All pictures of book covers are Amazon affiliate links. When you click through and purchase a percentage benefits this site.)
The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi
The Lazy Genius Way is the best book on life management since The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
It’s a different way of looking at life management.
The principles are universal.
Front and center is the idea that you need to name what matters. You can’t organize your life until you’ve established your unique priorities.
The Lazy Genius Way is in a class by itself, but there are other books that challenge popular myths and give unusual insight into life management.
High on practical application and low on guilt, The Lazy Genius Way feels like a giant exhale, because Kendra Adachi gives us all permission to stop doing all the things. We don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. She likes to say, “Just do you”.
I’m a big fan.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
7 Habits is a classic for a reason.
The seven habits are highly actionable. They permeate everything you do, giving you a framework for your life.
Covey fully explains the seven habits as well as fleshing out practical implementations with some of the best stories in all of self-help literature.
The seven habits:
- Be Proactive.
- Begin with the End in Mind.
- Put First Things First.
- Think Win/Win.
- Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.
- Sharpen the Saw.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Essentialism advocates an uncluttered life. Instead of weeding out physical clutter, it tackles weeding out the clutter of wasted time, energy and effort. Eliminating what is unessential gives us the freedom to concentrate on what is essential. Full of profound common sense, which is anything but common.
The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
Now I know what all the rave reviews are about. This is a GREAT book!
It addresses the problem of distracted focus and the importance of lasering in on your most important work in order to achieve excellence.
A huge light bulb moment for me reading The One Thing was the idea of chaos derailing you and distracting you from your one thing.
Chapter 17, The Four Thieves of Productivity hit me hard.
The Four Thieves are:
1. Inability to Say “No”
2. Fear of Chaos
3. Poor Health Habits
4. Environment Doesn’t Support Your Goals.
Wow. These were so good and right on the money.
“The One Thing explains the success habit to overcome the six lies that block our success, beat the seven thieves that steal time, and leverage the laws of purpose, priority, and productivity.” –from Goodreads
Margin by Richard Swenson
“Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. Today we use margin just to get by. This book is for anyone who yearns for relief from the pressure of overload. Reevaluate your priorities, determine the value of rest and simplicity in your life, and see where your identity really comes from. The benefits can be good health, financial stability, fulfilling relationships, and availability for God’s purpose.”– from Amazon
When we live without margin, we live on the edge. We live on the brink of breakdown because of the overload.
Swenson argues that we need that cushion of unclaimed resources as a buffer for times of crisis. We need margin in our lives in the areas of emotional energy, physical energy, finances and time. Using the maximum of every resource increases our stress and pain. Leaving some unused margin in our resources reduces our stress and pain and allows us to rest.
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
Rick Warren addresses the questions of existence, significance and purpose.
Why am I alive?
Does my life matter?
What on earth am I here for?
In answering these three questions, he outlines the basic tenets of the Christian faith in the context of living a meaningful life with purpose.
Warren provides a framework for life management built on the foundation of a Christian belief system. He paints a big picture that gives context for the way we live our lives daily.
Time, Productivity and Habits
Living out our priorities is often a matter of setting up systems, routines and habits that support those priorities.
Research and experience from the experts helps us set up the life structure that leads to a successful life, however we choose to define success.
Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
Oliver Burkeman challenges us to think differently about our lifespan and our view of time.
Ponder the brevity of life. If you live to be 80, that’s a little over four thousand weeks.
It’s similar to Laura Vanderkam talking about 168 hours in a week. We are more familiar with 24 hours and 7 days. We normally measure a lifespan in years rather than weeks. That alone gives us a different viewpoint.
He challenges status quo thinking in several ways.
First of all, we don’t own time to spend how we please. It doesn’t actually belong to us, but it is who we are.
He challenges the philosophy of time management that says make every minute count, hyper schedule your time to achieve your goals and have a successful life.
He advocates the importance of doing nothing and NOT being productive every minute.
His discussion about distractions is worth reading. There’s no doubt we are easily distracted. How do we deal with it?
Embrace the truth that you can’t do it all. If you choose one career you say no to others. If you accept one life partner, you are closing the door to all others.
The old adage says life is like a coin. You can spend it anyway you want, but you can only spend it once.
Most of the book is philosophical with ten proposed action steps coming at the end.
Effortless by Greg McKeown
Effortless carries the message of Essentialism to it’s next logical step. It’s about making things easier.
Two questions from Effortless keep haunting me.
What if it could be easy?
What if it could be fun?
Sometimes we work too hard. Sometimes we make things too hard on ourselves.
A lot of this has to do with reframing the task at hand. Could reasonable results be achieved with less effort? What if a simple solution would do? Or, maybe, how could repeatedly doing the hard things result in competency that makes it easier?
Sometimes the way for things to become effortless is to push through the difficulties repeatedly until you get to the point through repetition that you can do excellent work with little effort. Momentum carries you through.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
In the avalanche of self-help books, Atomic Habits stands out from the pack. James Clear communicates clearly about habits, routines and systems making profound observations about the science of transformation.
There’s several reasons why Atomic Habits is such a great book. First of all, is the depth of understanding of how habits work in our lives and how powerful they are for life change.
Another reason is the power of habits to increase focus and productivity in our lives.
The third reason is that it’s a ground breaking book from a thought leader that challenges the status quo.
On his website, James Clear lists his top 100 recommended books, many in the areas of personal development and life change.
Hal Elrod tells his incredible story about fighting back from the brink, not once, but twice. The first time physically, recovering after a near fatal accident. The second time was financially, after being on the verge of financial collapse.
He also studied the morning habits and systems of successful people and identified the common factors. He distilled them into 7 principles and invented an acronym to aid in memorizing each one.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
“In The Power of Habit, award-winning business reporterCharles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to the sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.”– from Amazon
Not many books fit in the category of life-changing.
This one does.
The Power of Habit changed my life.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Newport first builds the case for the importance of deep work, then he expounds on practical steps to accomplish it. Simply put, what is needed is focus and discipline.
I agree with Newport’s main premise: we are doing worse work because we’re distracted. I see it all the time in the low quality of books that are published and the huge vacuums that exist in many genres for high quality work.
Newport is a college professor. Publishing in scholarly journals is the deep work he needs to accomplish. I think the principles apply to all writers, and probably all knowledge workers in general.
I think the most profound books are ones that are simple common sense: ones that people agree with and see the wisdom of, but didn’t take the time to articulate themselves. It seems so simple. So obvious. And, yet, it wasn’t done before.
It is the path of least resistance to fritter away our time. When we are careful about every working minute and rest well away from work, we accomplish so much more.
I was intrigued by the end of the day ritual. For sure, it is the lingering worries of work that sap your peace and relaxation when you’re away from work. Learning to wrap things up at the end of the day and be at peace with where you’re leaving them is critical for resting well.
His chapter, “Quit Social Media” is a little misleading, because he doesn’t really advocate that you quit social media. Some would argue that if you want to write, you have to leverage social media. But, the irony is that social media is keeping you from doing your best work, because you become a consumer instead of a producer.
The instant gratification is a problem, as well. The instant distraction, the problem of never being bored. If you’re never bored, then you never think. You don’t create to fill the hole of that boredom. You don’t wonder, daydream, imagine. That vacuum is filled.
Eat that Frog! by Brian Tracy
Eat That Frog! is a quick read. It is a compilation of wisdom from many gurus of time management, self-management and motivation. The subtitle is “21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.”
If I have one beef with the book, it’s that he doesn’t attribute his ideas to the original authors. But, the content is gold.
Simple and profound. So why isn’t everyone doing it? Because it’s hard. At least, it’s hard to start.He does tackle the psychological side of motivating yourself to do difficult things.
It is a book full of action points, laced with a few stories to illustrate the effectiveness of the principles he advocates.
The whole “eat the frog” analogy comes from Mark Twain who said that “if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”
Talking ourselves into doing difficult things instead of avoiding them gets us ahead.
Money, Possessions and Relationships
Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
Money, possessions and relationships are areas of life that easily get out of control.
If we can win in these arenas we can win in life. Learning how to manage these areas is key to being at peace with ourselves.
Out of all the financial gurus out there, why listen to Dave Ramsey? What sets Dave apart is his understanding of human nature and the emotional roadblocks that keep people from make good financial decisions.
Part of his signature advice is the “debt snowball”. Arranging your debts from smallest to largest doesn’t necessarily make sense, except, you need the encouragement of seeing progress, of seeing a debt paid off . . . “sometimes motivation is more important than math”. This encouragement keeps you on track to meet your financial goals.
Another thing that sabotages a good plan is an emergency expense. Planning for emergencies is a bedrock principle for success financially, according to Dave.
He suggests two ways to do this. First is a small emergency fund. Later, a larger fund is created in preparation for a financial tidal wave.
It takes an intensity and focus to succeed financially. Dave calls it “gazelle intensity”.
The book oozes with stories of people who have overcome significant obstacles to achieve financial freedom. These serve as an inspiration and encouragement to those in the trenches.
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Kondo’s little book is getting a lot of buzz, for good reason.
She attacks the problem of decluttering with her signature question when faced with whether to keep or not. “Does it spark joy?”
Kondo attacks common myths, such as do a little every day. Simple, profound principles to help you get your living space in order.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Classic for a reason, Dale Carnegie’s advice is needed today more than ever. People build relationships virtually with less relating going on face to face.
Covering basic profound truths about interacting with people, resolving conflict and leading without offending, it has become the go to handbook for human interaction. Since human nature hasn’t changed since the book was first published in 1936, the principles that worked then work today.
Love and Respect by Emerson Eggeriches
Emerson Eggerichs articulates how couples can get out of the crazy cycle that puts their marriage in a tailspin.
He outlines a foundational mindset for building a strong marriage.
Drawing from biblical teaching, he zeroes in on the essential need women have to be loved and the need men have to be respected.
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
This book has remained a perennial best seller as more people discover better ways to express love to the people that they love.
Gary Chapman explains the five main ways people express love and how to understand which way communicates best to individuals.
The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron
What’s all the buzz about the enneagram? Why is there such a following for an ancient system of personality typing that seems to have no research behind it?
I put it in the same category as The 5 Love Languages. It gains a following because it rings true.
Of course. I should have seen it all along. But, of course, we didn’t. It seems so obvious when it’s all laid out. Yes. That is what I’m like. That’s how my friends and family tick. It all makes sense now. I get it. Because it rings true, it gains a following.