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The best time management books - 10 short summaries

The best time management books
Mitja Puppis
12 minute read

One of the best ways to excel in time management is to acquire knowledge from time management books; the only problem being that there are thousands of time management books out there. 

On Amazon alone you can find more than 50.000 results. There’s no way one could read them all, so that’s why we’ve prepared a short summary of the 10 most popular.

To make sure not to waste any of your time, each summary consists of up to 7 key points from each the books, adding up to sums up to 50 top pieces of advice on time management. 

If you can even implement only 1/10 of them, we have no doubt you’ll become a time management ninja. So, let’s start.

1. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

Tim Ferriss has the most popular business and personal development podcast and blog of all time. The 4 Hour Workweek is the book that made him famous. 

The narrative of the book is to teach you how to escape the 9 – 5 job, live anywhere, and join the new rich. Thus, we can consider it a productivity and time management book. 

The key time management points from the book are as follows:

  • Eliminate nonessential work and focus on the 20% that brings 80% of the results (the Pareto principle). That’s the core advice in the book - learn to be effective, not efficient.
  • Learn to compress your productive working time. Force yourself to end your day on Thursday. If you have less time to work, you’ll have to focus on the most important tasks.
  • Automate your work by hiring an overseas virtual assistant. Try to automate and put on auto-pilot as many activities as possible. 
  • Learn the art of non-finishing if you find a task or activity to be non-productive or not what you really wanted (e.g., watching a boring movie).
  • Eliminate distractions from your life: learn to say no and go on a low-information diet. Guard your time, attention, and mental buffers.
  • Don’t multitask.
  • Think about working outside the office and liberate your body and mind.
  • Have clear objectives in life and comprehensively define what you really want. To set priorities, ask yourself: “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with the day?” The most important thing in life is to feel good about yourself.

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was published in 1989 and was one of the first popular time management books (with more than 25 million copies sold), popularizing concepts like proactivity, the abundance mindset, the Eisenhower Matrix and much more. 

The key time management points from the book are:

  • Recognize your responsibilities and be proactive at work instead of being reactive.
  • Always have a clear goal in mind: “Don’t work hard to get up the ladder and at the top discover that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.” 
  • Prioritize your tasks: Focus on the important tasks which can be scheduled and planned in advance, not on the urgent, unexpected ones. Do the first things first.
  • Nurture your relationships with a “win-win” approach to tense situations.
  • Be a good listener and focus on understanding before being understood. Use empathetic listening to genuinely understand the person you are talking to.
  • Strive to synergize with others by understanding them and working on your similarities instead of differences. Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork.
  • Work on yourself (your mind, your body, your relationships) on a regular basis. Covey calls the concept of continual improvement “sharpening the saw.

3. Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy

Besides Stephen Covey, one of the oldest and most popular business, personal development, and time management authors is Brian Tracy

He popularized the concept known as “eat that frog” in time management, which recommends doing the hardest task first thing in the morning, the idea being that if you eat a frog in the morning, everything else will be a piece of cake to get done during the day.  

The key time management points from the book:

  • Good prioritization is the first step to success. Get to know how you work and rank your tasks from hardest to easiest.  
  • Always plan your work in advance. Plan the location, the task, and the time that suits you best to get the best result.
  • Be disciplined when you work; always finish what you started.
  • Always write down your plans before you start executing them.
  • And as mentioned, create a habit of working on the hardest task (the frog) first thing in the morning, hence the title Eat That Frog.

4. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

Getting Things Done is probably the most popular self-organization and time management framework out there and is employed by millions. The idea of Getting Things Done is to provide a work-life management system that alleviates overwhelm and instils focus, clarity, and confidence. 

The key time management points from the book:

  • Your brain is meant for creating ideas, not keeping them - keep a detailed list of all your tasks and ideas. No matter how random or unimportant it seems, write it down.
  • Organize your tasks under the headings “actionable” and “non-actionable”.
  • If a task takes you less than 2 minutes to complete, work on it immediately.
  • If the task takes longer than 2 minutes, schedule it on your plan or delegate it.
  • Review the list regularly: its best to do it weekly.

5. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

The idea of essentialism is to focus only on those things that really matter. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is more than a time management technique; it’s a system that helps you get only the right things done, identifying what is absolutely essential and then eliminating everything else. 

The crucial aspect of following essentialism is to learn to say no - both to yourself and others. 

The key time management points from the book:

  • Stop trying to say Yes to everything: focus on the tasks that bring the most results and you will be working effectively.
  • The point of essentialism is finding the tasks that really matter, so eliminate the tasks that are not essential and distracting.
  • Focus on creating a smooth path for the completion of essential tasks.
  • If you have a lot of options, you can’t focus on what is important and you become less effective.
  • If you fail at prioritizing your tasks at work, somebody else will do that for you in a less effective way, which you may not like.

6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Great time management is closely connected to managing habits right, and the most popular book on the topic is The Power of Habit, written by Charles Duhigg. 

The core idea of the book is that the key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. If you know how to hack your habits, you can also put your time management on autopilot. 

The key time management points from the book:

  • Habits have three steps: Cue (a trigger that starts an automatic process in your brain), Routine (the actual process and the response to the Cue) and Reward (when completing the routine, you receive a reward that you like and thus remember).
  • Habits can be changed by changing the Routine part of the habit. So, think of your routines, which cues are they triggered by, what kind of a reward you get out of your current routines, and which better routines you could switch to.
  • Habits take time to “stick” and require a certain amount of willpower to stay active.
  • We rely on habits to clear our mind and to make work and life more sustainable.

7. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

With the rise of technology, and especially mobile phones, our environment has become full of distractions. Notifications, emails, chat messages, video call apps, phone calls etc., - there are so many things competing for our attention. 

The problem is that is hard to get anything done with all these distractions.Deep work”, popularized by Cal Newport, is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively-demanding task, and it’s one of the most important contemporary time management concepts. 

The key time management points from the book:

  • If you want to complete a demanding task in a professional way, you need distraction free and high concentration time, i.e. Deep Work.
  • Nowadays it is rare to be able to do deep work, because of our fast-paced life, and because shallow work is that much easier.
  • Deep work is hard, but it creates much more value, improves your skills, and is hard to replicate compared to shallow work.
  • Learning new skills is faster if you are in a highly-concentrated state.
  • If you do shallow work for a long time, you begin to lose the ability to do deep work.
  • You can learn more about why distractions are a problem and the best ways to handle them here in our blog post.

8. Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Zeratsky and John Knapp

The book Make Time is in a about creating space for what truly matters in life. It offers several tools for how to achieve that, like using highlights (middle-sized projects you can complete in a day) and intentions, being disciplined in laser-style focus work, taking energizing breaks, and regularly reflecting on how to improve. I

n the book there are more than 80 tactics, which you should approach as a scientist, experimenting to find out what works for you and what doesn’t. 

The key time management points from the book:

  • Choose a highlight task that is important, meaningful, or joyful every day and strive to achieve it. Set one intention at the start of each day and make sure you follow it.
  • Too many tasks at work and too much entertainment (social media, news, games, apps ...) are in the way of the laser focus that you need to complete your highlight task. Design your environment in a way that allows you to stay focused.
  • Stay in good physical condition, the style of life we know today is new to our bodies. Embrace the caveman inside and eat well and exercise more - and don’t forget to socialize.

9. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

The book 168 Hours tackles the common excuse we all often use, and that is “I don’t have enough time”. Laura is not fond of this phrase, arguing in her book that the 168 hours we have in a week is enough time to fit in a great career, a family life, exercise, hobbies, and enough sleep per night. 

Similarly, Brian Tracy has a time management quote: “Maybe there is not enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important things”. 

The key time management points from the book:

  • Start tracking your time: you need to know how you spend time before you can do anything about it. You can use an app such as MyHours to do this. Based on the analysis, see where you are losing time and what you can offload.
  • Work on the things you do best, and don’t spread your skillset too thin.
  • Stop doing “pretend-work” that keeps you busy and far away from doing meaningful work.
  • If you can outsource a task, do it.
  • Talk to people that have already achieved the thing you want to achieve.

10. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

The Checklist Manifesto is all about checklists. The book explores the fundamental importance of checklists in organizing and managing complex processes, including in running our own lives. A checklist can help us not to omit or overlook tasks that need to be performed in order to achieve the desired goal. 

The reason we often don’t perform all these necessary tasks is that the volume and complexity of knowledge has exceeded our ability as individuals for proper delivery without having the help of simple tools, such as a checklist. 

The key time management points from the book:

  • By writing down the tasks that need to be done, we have less on our mind and become more creative and more focused.
  • Communication and teamwork are essential for success, but everybody must know what they are responsible for.
  • Checklists help you deal with the complexity of your work and eliminate possible mistakes.
  • No task is so complex that it can’t be broken down into a checklist.
  • Checklists should be short, clear, meant for learning and remembering, revised regularly, and should represent the type of task (difficult, critical, easy, important…).

You can read additional ideas on how to use checklists and to-do lists in the most productive way here.

11. Bonus: The Ultimate Time-Management Guide

At Spica, we published The Ultimate Time-Management Guide, which you can download here for free

The main idea of this eBook is that if you had infinite time on this planet, you could achieve every single thing you wanted. The time limitation is the biggest burden in our lives. Therefore, the first rule of success is to manage time wisely. The most valuable asset you have in your life is time.

The key time management points from the eBook:

  • Learn how to manage the 10 biggest time wasters (distractions); and in doing that, don’t rely on your self-discipline, but rather build yourself a system that will enable you to work in a distraction-free environment.
  • Make sure to avoid fake feelings of progress, (meaning doing activities that have low added value). Focus on creating and delivering value based on your competencies.
  • In a world full of choices and options, have a minimalistic mindset. Simplify your life and minimize the number of projects and choices you make during the day.
  • Know your limitations, limit work in progress so as not to be stressed all the time, take enough rest, and regularly invest in yourself.

We hope you enjoyed the summaries. And if you would like to learn more about time management, we have also prepared a list of the ultimate 58 time management techniques.

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