How to Be More Productive at the Office: Read These Books

How to Be More Productive at the Office: Read These Books

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Busy. So darn busy.

That’s the common reply today to the simple question: “How are you?” It’s certainly the case among the leaders I teach and coach. They struggle with time management and organization and want help.

I don’t believe that help can come from a one-size fits-all solution. Each person’s situation is unique. That’s why my book, Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know, contains something I developed called the “DAP audit.” It helps you analyze your duties, assumptions, and preferences at work, all of which drive the way you set priorities and spend your time. When you review your DAP audit responses, you’ll be able to custom-tailor a personal time management plan.

To help start your DAP audit, look for tips from these thought leaders on productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness:

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    1. Eat That Frog!

    Productivity expert Brian Tracy’s book is brief, focused, and practical. He offers tips for planning, setting goals and deadlines, leveraging your strengths, shoring up weaknesses, and keeping yourself motivated. The title is based on a quote Tracy attributes to Mark Twain, “If the first thing you do each day is eat a live frog, you know it will be the worst thing you do all day.” Twain may or may not have uttered those words, but they create a memorable metaphor for getting our toughest tasks out of the way first.

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    2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

    Go ahead and join the legions of folks who’ve read Stephen R. Covey’sclassic work on self-improvement. You can’t go wrong with guiding principles like “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” and “Begin with the end in mind.” But the book’s real gift is Covey’s simple and brilliant Time Management Matrix, a four-box design that allows you to track activities by their combination of urgency and importance. Covey will help you realize how you’re probably doing too much that’s urgent but not important, and neglecting the important but not urgent things like planning, training, and coaching. By spending more time in that quadrant, you’ll spend less time putting out brush fires (time and again).

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    3. The Checklist Manifesto

    Read this book if you want to take a bigger picture look at how things get done at your organization, in projects, and on teams. Atul Gawande brings his surgeon’s knowledge and intellectual curiosity to this investigation of how the use of lists—checklists in particular—can have a remarkable impact. You’ll learn how lists can improve safety and efficiency—not to mention their ability to change organizational hierarchy and communication. The real-world stories backing up his points prove fascinating for people in all professions.

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    4. Decisive

    You may be a whiz at managing time, but you won’t succeed if you’re making flawed decisions. The Heath brothers lay out the top four traps we face in decision-making: narrow framing, confirmation bias, short-term emotion, and overconfidence about the future. As in their earlier works, the Heath brothers build their advice on a combination of research, humor, and good yarns. For the time challenged, they very practically conclude each chapter with “Chapter X in One Page,” to hammer home their points in the moment and for a quick review later.

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    5. Give and Take

    Unless you’re a hermit, your success depends on the relationships you build with others. Adam Grant explores “reciprocity styles” in this book, focusing on what he calls Givers, Takers, and Matchers. His research at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School demonstrates that being a prudent Giver will increase your chances of getting things done with the cooperation of others, while being a Taker may bring short term gains followed by well-earned failure. I love this book because it provides a road map for doing the right thing the right way while simultaneously reaping rewards.

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    6. Creative Conspiracy

    First, this book will make you slap your forehead—then, it’ll inspire you to change some habits. All because it reveals why our traditional approaches to brainstorming and teamwork are less productive than they could be. Citing research, Leigh Thompson says that “virtually all of the studies unambiguously reveal that individuals outperform teams in terms of quality and quantity” of ideas. Thompson, who teaches courses on leading high-impact teams at the Kellogg School of Management, offers tips on organizing meetings and teams, fueling motivation and innovation, and developing collaboration that produces results.

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