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.
If you’re looking for books like Atomic Habits, my top picks specifically about habits are The Power of Habit and Million Dollar Habits. About focus and productivity? Deep Work and The One Thing. And more ground breaking books by thought leaders? The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Culture Code.
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.
The good news is, there’s other books out there with those same characteristics.
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Specifically About Habits
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.
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 are:
- 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.
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.
What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam
So much of the habits and success literature focuses on morning routines. There’s a good reason. Taking control of your day, starting in the morning, paves the way for a successful life.
Laura Vanderkam has studied many people and the way they use their time. She most often looks at a week at a time: 168 hours.
For me, this has been a paradigm shift. I think it’s easy to think about how busy we are Monday through Friday from 7 to 5, and forget about all the hours during the evening and weekends. It’s also easy to forget that we’re managing our energy as much as our time and that following the rhythms of the week rather than fighting them works to our advantage.
It helps to look at your week as a whole and do some evaluation to find the time leaks. It helps to challenge the thinking that is working against us.
Million Dollar Habits by Brian Tracy
Brian Tracy has written an impressive body of work. But, more importantly, he’s gained a lot of wisdom and has learned how to communicate it clearly and concisely.
He has actively sought out successful people to learn from their success and put into practice what he’s learned.
This book covers habits for business, health, money, relationships and so much more. This is a digest of how successful people live and the principles they live by.
Focus and Productivity
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
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.
Willpower Doesn’t Work by Benjamin Hardy
“If you’re relying on willpower alone to help you lose weight, improve your relationships, or achieve more at work, you’re doomed to fail. The environment around us is far too powerful, stimulating, addicting, and stressful to overcome by white knuckling. The only way to stop just surviving and learn to truly thrive in today’s world is to proactively shape your environment.”–from GoodReads
I heard Ben speak at Tribe Conference. It’s amazing the following he’s gained on Medium.
Well-written. Great message.
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.
Tell Your Time by Amy Lynn Andrews
Amy Lynn Andrews has a great little ebook on time management called Tell Your Time.
It does the job that some longer and larger books aren’t able to do.
You effectively set up a time budget, and tell your time where to go, just as you would tell your money where to go.
It presents a system of time management that is centered around your the roles you have in life: parent, spouse, employee.
You prioritize your time by assigning tasks to your roles.
In this way, you time is spent in the way you pre-determine, rather than frittered away, or spent mindlessly without focus.
The principle of big rocks applies here.
You need to first put in the big rocks of your time and fit in lesser priorities (small rocks, sand and water) in the cracks around.
Being able to handle your schedule is one of the major victories in conquering overwhelm. Deciding ahead of time what you can delete or delegate makes your schedule and responsibilities manageable.
Maybe we need to pry our fingers off, one by one and let go of that lie that there’s not enough time.
We don’t have to live rushed.
We can breathe deeply. Live slowly. Live fully.
Ground Breaking Books by Thought Leaders
Atomic Habits challenges the thinking that goal setting and goal achievement is the way to make your life what you want it to be. He proposes that habits and systems are the way to make your life what you want it to be. He also proposes that environment is more important than willpower.
What does it take to be a thought leader? Well, you have to have some original thoughts. Actually, to start out with, you just have to think. That becomes harder and harder to do in our noisy world.
Clear thinkers are rare.
Thought leaders often challenge the status quo. They will be swimming upstream. The amazing thing is that if they remain firm and consistently preach the same message, they can turn the tide, change the trends of people’s thinking and lead the charge of the new accepted belief.
Purple Cow by Seth Godin
Seth Godin is a thought leader who has written scads of books. It was hard to pick just one. But, Purple Cow has a simple, profound principle, which like so many of the thought leaders seems obvious when you hear it and makes you wonder why no one else has articulated it.
In order to succeed in marketing, your product or service has to be remarkable. It has to stand out from the pack and make an impression.
In business speak, this is called the unique selling proposition. Even though that term has been around for decades, Seth Godin drives it home.
Seth’s strength is being able to observe and analyze simple, profound truths and articulate them clearly. Seems like that should be an easy task, but it’s not.
The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
The Culture Code is similar to Good to Great because it analyzes high performing teams to see what the similar elements are.
It doesn’t take a statistical approach like Good to Great, but from the viewpoint of an investigative journalist instead.
Daniel Coyle studied great teams with extraordinary results like Pixar, Google and the San Antonio Spurs. He found that huge budgets and big organizations aren’t the key to success.
Instead, Coyle identifies safety and vulnerability as the critical elements for high performing teams. It’s also important to have freedom to try new things without asking for permission and for every member of the team to have equal say, not just team leaders.
Turn the Ship Around! by David Marquet
David Marquet tells the engaging story of his own command on a naval submarine. He explains why he chose the leadership style he did and what effect it had– on the intangibles as well as the metrics. He built on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to define his leadership style. Using your team’s strengths as well as their free will and initiative was key.
Retention of personnel was a metric that turned around drastically. Morale is harder to measure, but it, too, was greatly impacted.
Empowerment not only made a huge difference in the way the men saw themselves, but impacted the safety and effectiveness of the whole ship.
“Most empowerment programs fail because they are just that, “programs” or “initiatives” rather than the central principle–the genetic code”, according to Marquet. “We say ‘empowerment’ but do it in a way that is disempowering.”
Top down leadership is so prevalent, so easy to execute initially and so deadly to effective teamwork and outcomes.
“What happens in a top-down culture when the leader is wrong? Everyone goes over the cliff.”
“I intend to” became the watchword on the ship, in place of top down dictatorial commands given out by an all-powerful leader. Leadership style matters.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Have you ever wondered why some teams can accomplish incredible feats and others can’t accomplish anything? What if there were a way to diagnose the problems and solve them? Now there is.
Five Dysfunctions is a leadership fable. It is a page-turning quick read fiction, for the very reason a good movie is: it’s full of conflict.
“The characters in this book ring true, are completely recognizable, and fully-realized. The book itself is well-written, and, I believe, ranks with the best of the genre.” –Jack Covert, co-author with Todd Sattersten of 100 Best Business Books of All Time
Five Dysfunctions identifies the major obstacles that keep a group from functioning as a team. There are repeatable patterns that keep a team from reaching it’s goals. By identifying these patterns and working to change them, the team can move forward and accomplish it’s goals.
What are the Five Dysfunctions?
- Absence of trust
- Fear of conflict
- Lack of commitment
- Avoidance of accountability
- Inattention to results.
Lencioni is spot on in his analysis and his resolution. This book is life-changing.
Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
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.
Dave advocates each step as the way to financial peace. He also testifies that the Prince of Peace is the only way to true peace.
The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
It’s hard to say who was the first, but Tim Ferriss was among the first to say that you can make a living without the 9 to 5 corporate job. The internet has opened up new types of commerce and information jobs that weren’t possible three decades ago.
Many people will tell you that a literal four hours a week is a misnomer and that you can’t skip over the 90 hour weeks it takes leading up to the point where you can make passive income.
But, there are others who will give testimony to their own 10 to 15 hour a week journeys to earn a full-time income based on repeatable principles of building an online business.
The point is that Tim Ferriss was a front runner in proclaiming to the world that there was a new way to to make money and finance your life.
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. But now 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. And because it rings true, it gains a following and creates a buzz.
Do It Scared by Ruth Soukup
Ruth is breaking new ground by introducing the 7 fear archetypes. This is a different way to understand yourself: based on your natural fear tendencies.
In spite of good information and insight in this book, I have a feeling it will not be embraced like some of her others. I’m guessing there’s a small percentage of the population that really wants to face their fears. Most of us would rather hide.
Ruth shares compelling stories from her own life and inspirational stories from others. If you listen to her podcast or follow her online, you will have heard them before. But, they’re still good.
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
Every person in the world knows pain and heartache. And every person can number their blessings.
Ann Voskamp challenges us to be intentional about looking for and expressing gratitude. It colors my thinking to this day.
I understand that her poetic prose doesn’t appeal to everyone. Grammar Nazis beware. But the message is universal and important.
Platform by Michael Hyatt
I’ve followed Michael Hyatt’s blog for a while and find his advice practical and succinct. I even self-hosted this blog on his recommendation and with his affiliate link. Even though the book was nothing more than a collection of blog posts, some of which I’d already read, I found the information helpful. Especially interesting to me were the collection of short chapters about using Twitter: a new world for me. All his writing rings true, down to the necessity of building a platform and the step by step on how to do it.
Building a platform online changes so fast, that some of the information in this book is dated, but the basic premise remains the same: you can build an audience or a tribe or a following by leveraging the incredible resources on the internet today.
Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins
This book is a game changer.
It challenges long held beliefs and deconstructs myths.
Real Artists Don’t Starve doesn’t just refer to painters and sculptors, but writers, poets, and creatives of all types.
The twelve principles that emerged from Jeff studying creatives are supported by success stories from today and throughout history.
I love lots of them, but my favorite is about C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and the literary group they belonged to, the Inklings. They shaped each other’s art. It debunks the myth of the lone genius and highlights the need to work in collaboration.
This message is important for young people who have been told to put their dreams on hold in favor of a steady income.
It’s also important for older people who have not pursued their dreams because of the belief that artists can’t make a living.
It’s time for a paradigm shift and Jeff Goins is leading the way