16 Books That Changed the Way I Work

A good friend of mine recently pointed out that I had a tendency to not only read and appreciate books, but that I consistently integrated lessons and takeaways from those books into the way I lived, thought, and worked as well. I had never considered how my approach to interacting with books might differ from others. When I got home, I scanned my bookshelf. I was honestly surprised to realize that so much of what I do, how I do it, and how I think could be directly attributed to specific books in front of me.

As I scanned the books, when I’d identified a book (without opening it) that I knew I could attribute one of my unique behaviors or philosophies to, I pulled it from the shelf.

I have listed the books in order of how much they’ve impacted the actual work I do. They’re not necessarily arranged in order of how much I liked them, but rather by how real and tangible the changes were to my behavior and strategy as a result of the lessons adopted from each book.

1. Getting Things Done by David Allen

I apply the 2-minute rule to handling all emails. If I can completely handle the email in two minutes or less, I handle it right then. If I think it will take longer than 2 minutes, I schedule it for later. I also get everything out of my head. All plans, ideas, tasks, hopes and dreams. I file them into a paper/digital system and attach appropriate triggers or reminders so I’ll give them the attention they require at the most appropriate time. My mind is calm and mostly stress free because I completely trust my system.

2. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris

My clients hire me to help them grow their businesses. We sign 2-month consulting contracts that renew automatically every quarter. In other words, I work for two months and then take one month off. I don’t plan on retiring late in life. I’m distributing my retirement out over my entire life. I plan on retiring one month at a time, four times a year, for the rest of my life.

3. 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen R. Covey

Each week I have a planning session for the following week. I put my “big rocks” on my calendar first. I want to be sure I’m doing the things that are the most important to me first. I then fill in the rest of the week with smaller rocks. This makes a huge difference in being sure I’m actually paying attention to the things in life I claim to be the most important. It’s the whole idea of planning your priorities instead of prioritizing your plans.

4. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

I rarely fall into the trap anymore of endlessly debating who’s right and who isn’t when it comes to business decisions. In most cases, it’s impossible to know. They’re just opinions–assumptions. What really matters is simply what works. I regularly take different ideas and figure out how to test them out. I then use the data I gather (validated learning) from those tests to drive decision making. In loads of things, feelings are King and absolutely deserve to be acknowledged and listened to. But in a bunch of stuff, it’s just stuff. This approach so often allows me to strip out the emotion and bias from the conversation and simply move forward with what actually works– quickly.

5. So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

I don’t worry about what I’m meant to do anymore professionally. I energetically dive into the projects in front of me and trust that giving everything I’ve got to those projects will allow me to feel a sense of purpose in what I do. I recognize I’m building career capital by approaching my work this way and fully trust that new adjacent possibilities will open up to me that would otherwise remain beyond my grasp. And the best part is, I’m no longer stressed about whether or not I’m doing what I’m meant to do. It’s an incredibly liberating mindset!

6. Brand Against the Machine by John Morgan

I regularly take a stand for what I believe in and enthusiastically encourage others to do the same. I try not taking a boring or lukewarm position on things. Consequently, I thoroughly enjoy what I do and am okay with the fact that not everyone is going to agree with me (e.g. – Entrepreneurship IS for Everyone!).

7. Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions by Keith Rosen

I ask questions much more than I used to. I also believe my questions are significantly more effective and empowering to others than they were prior to reading this book. Secret here is that it’s not just for sales managers. It’s loaded with incredibly valuable tips for anyone who manages or leads others.

8. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I’m more patient with skill development. My understanding of the 10,000 hour rule has released me from my unrealistic desire to master new things almost immediately. I practice my craft more often and have grown to love practicing all on its own.

9. One From Many by Dee Hock

I believe in others more. I’ve loosened my grip on needing to control projects so tightly. I think about why I do the things I do more, and less about what it is I think others need to be doing. I take more time to walk, think, and write.

10. $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

I refer to everything I do now as a project–not a career or path. What I do no longer defines who I am. I give myself permission to move on from any project if it’s not working out. I’ll deem it a success and move on to new projects. No regret. I keep moving forward and have confidence I’ll always have ideas and projects to work on. I’m also better equipped to help others explore entrepreneurship. I have access to templates and resources that can help anyone setup consulting businesses (and be completely up and running!) in less than a day.

11. Good to Great by Jim Collins

I only try to take on new projects that satisfy the following three criteria: 1) needs to be something that makes money, 2) something I can believe I can be the absolute best in the world at, and 3) something I can be deeply passionate about. There’s incredible power choosing to work in the space where these three elements intersect!

12. An Inquiry Into the Good by Kitaro Nishida

When visiting and interacting with people of different beliefs (religious, philosophical, political, business strategy, etc), my primary goal now is to achieve understanding. Not to convince, win, influence, or sway. Just to understand.

13. Hot Prospects by Bill Good

I believe in processes. I build processes that work and then improve upon them. By creating and fine-tuning processes while focusing entirely on positive human experiences, everybody wins.

14. The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD by Lidia Zylowska, MD

When I get stressed, I try to focus on the present. For example, I might decide first to just think about work and not household projects, family concerns, etc. Then I’ll try to focus on just a single work project, not all of the overwhelming projects I have at once. Then I’ll focus on just a single task in the project, like writing an email, and not worry about all the other tasks I’ll need to do next. I’ll then focus on the immediate action of the task at hand. With an email, that could be just writing the subject line. But then I might try to focus even more–like on my fingers hitting individual keys on the keyboard. The closer and closer I get to the absolute present, the less anxiety and stress I feel.

15. The Zen of Social Media Marketing by Shama Hyder Kabani

I don’t try to manage a presence on every social media site under the sun. I choose a small handful of networks I feel are most appropriate and focus there. These lessons positively influence the work I do for clients much more than my own social media activities.

16. Speaking With a Purpose by Arthur Koch

This was my textbook in speech class several years ago. But I still think about it every time I attend a meeting, record a podcast, or speak publicly. I don’t just speak to fill uncomfortable silence. I try to plan ahead. I determine what it is I’d like to accomplish with the words I speak and then attempt to fluidly stick to my plan. I’m a sincere believer in the power of words.

One comment

  1. Speaking of A.D.H.D., I haven’t read number 14 (or any of the others for that matter), but if this were my article, it would be titled “16 Books That Tried to Read, But Fell Asleep After 2 Minutes”. Looks like some good material, but my version of A.D.D. rebels at the very thought of reading. It’s a bummer.

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