My favorite books & resources on productivity


  • I Know How She Does It: How Succesful Women Make the Most of Their Time (2017) and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (2011), by Laura Vanderkam. I only discovered Laura Vanderkam recently, but she has quickly become a favorite. Considering a week as a “mosaic” of tiles (168 hours’ worth!) encompassing all of our activities, Vanderkam shows us how we can strategically move tiles around to fit more of what matters into our lives. For example, if I spend 45 hours per week working and 56 hours per week sleeping, I still have 67 hours leftover for other pursuits. Personally, I had only a vague idea of how I used this “free” time and suspected that most of it disappeared into childcare. However, since completing a week-long time log (as suggested in the book) and applying some new strategies, I’ve reclaimed some extra time for my hobbies, particularly writing. (By the way, she has 5 kids, so she does not ignore the demands of parenthood–in fact, working mothers with big careers are the main focus of I Know How She Does It.)
  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (2002), by David Allen. More than just a book, the “Getting Things Done”method has inspired an entire community of dedicated followers and “GTD” coaches who treat David Allen’s approach as a lifestyle. The most important idea in the philosophy is that the human mind is meant for processing information, not storing information. Therefore, it is essential to maintain a well-organized, structured list to safely store one’s ideas, plans, goals, and actions while maintaining a clear and distraction-free head. I’m pretty sure every library has at least one copy of this book, and I think it’s worth a read. If you’re short on time, this animated book summary gives a nice overview of the techniques.
  • What Motivates Getting Things Done (2018), by Mary Lamia. This book transformed my understanding of motivation and different motivational styles. Some people (like me) are task-driven and delight in checking things off a list. From the moment a project is defined, it is on my mind until it is complete. Others (like my husband) are deadline-driven, and are at their most productive under the pressure of impending deadlines. This book helped me gain valuable perspective about myself and my collaborations with others.
  • The Four Tendencies (2017), by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve always been fascinated by personality types (Myers-Briggs, left/right brain, etc.), and Gretchen Rubin adds a new framework to the mix with The Four Tendencies. Your Tendency is determined by how readily you respond to internal expectations (such as a personal goal) and external expectations (such as a request from a supervisor). For example, a “Questioner” readily meets internal expectations but resists external expectations (unless personally convinced of their validity), whereas an “Obliger” readily meets external expectations but struggles to meet purely personal goals. Understanding how different people think and operate is so important to positive, productive interactions—whether in the workplace or with family members at home—and Rubin gives practical advice for capitalizing on the strengths of each Tendency.

websites, apps, and podcasts:

  • Best of Both Worlds podcast. Hosted by Laura Vanderkam (an author/entrepreneur and mother of 5) and Sarah Hart-Unger (a practicing physician and mother of 3), this podcast looks at all aspects of balancing a career with family life. It’s light and conversational in style, and they host fantastic experts and other interesting guests. Great food for thought on my morning commute!
  • Toggl time tracking app. Tracking your time by project or client can be a bit of a drag, but it’s essential for many jobs! This free tool makes that process so much easier and more efficient. The interface is intuitive, it supports multiple projects and clients, and the colorful data charts are very satisfying. And most importantly, it’s free!
  • Tasks (Android) or Things (iOS) to-do list app. I use the free Tasks app (on my Android phone) for managing my to-do list. It’s beautiful and supports everything I’m looking for: multiple lists, sub-lists, sub-tasks, recurring tasks, and more. I color-code my lists by category (household chores, paperwork, rental management, kids, etc.) to keep myself organized, and I love that I can see at a glance what I need to do. For iPhone, I’ve not used this personally, but Things is is supposed to be THE BEST.