Best Self Help Books including Getting Things Done, 4 hour workweek and others

I am a bit of a sucker for self help books and so I thought that I would share my favourites in case anyone is looking for a bit of enlightenment.   Most of these books are about time management as I interested in ways of working smarter.  I reckon with a self help book if you get one good point, it was worth the read and I am only interested in book which give actionable advice.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Getting things done, (or GTD to the initiated) has become something of a phenomen within the business world.  David Allen’s ideas can be broken down into a few simple points:

Problem: If it is in your mind it is not getting done.  If you use your mind to managed your to do list and calendar, you will forget things causing stress and be less productive.

Answer: Develop a system of to do lists to manage your tasks.  By organising all your tasks into contextually themed physical to do lists (e.g. things to do at home or at work) you will stay on top of your workload and utilise your time more efficiently.  Check and update these lists regularly.  Use a similar system of themed filing for other sources of information such as email

What I really liked about this book was that it focuses on getting the basics right i.e. how to managed the information you receive and perform daily tasks most efficiently.  Mr Allen thinks if you get these things right then the bigger picture will be brought into focus.

Favourite idea:  Getting inbox to empty.  Use your email inbox as an inbox and not as a filing system.  Frequently empty and process its contents.

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore

The now habit is probably my least favourite on this list, but it did have some interesting insights.  The author’s cental theory is that we are all  paralysed by procratination brought on by too much work.  As we all have outstanding tasks we constantly feel that we are behind, but never deserving of a rest.  This situation leads people to postpone important work as a way of coping.  His solution is to have routine based around leisure time.  People should plan their leisure time first and then work around these periods, leading to a healthy work life balance.

Favourite point.  Keep a piece of paper by you when you work and job down distracting ideas as you think of them as you can return to them once the task as hand is finished 

4 hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

Tim Ferriss has a lot to say on a whole range of subjects, and so I will limit myself here to talking about his time management ideas.  The primary message of the book is that people can reduce the amount of time they spend working by becoming more efficient by outsourcing and delegating more effiently.  He also thinks that workers should put more emphasis on being productive as opposed to efficient.  Productivity means producing more results whereas it is possible to be efficient whilst doing pointless tasks.

Favourite ideas: 

  • Develop businesses in which the primary fuctions can be outsourced or delegated enabling you to spend more time in the sun
  • Answer email only once or twice a day to cut down on distractions
  • Batch common tasks such as bill paying to increase efficiency.
  • Hire a virtual PA to do all your admin

How to win Friends and Influence people by Dale Carlnegie

This book has becoming something of a clichee and whenever I mention it people think that this book is for snake oil salesmen.  On the contrary however, this book is full of good simple advice for getting the best out of your staff and customers.

Favourite point:  Always put yourself in the shoes of the other person. 


The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince is an absolute classic of the first order and actually a pretty good read.  Machavelli concerns himself with the question of how a prince (specifically one in Renaissance Italy) should behave in order to retain his crown.  The book is crammed full of practical advice on statecraft.  For example, should a prince be generous of frugal.  Machiavelli argues that being frugal is the only way as a generous prince will run out of money eventally and then the belt tightening will be all the more painful.

It is interesting to try and apply the lessons from the prince to modern business practices.  My take home message from the book was that as a prince (CEO?) you have something which everyone wants, and you have to play everyone at their own game and win in order to maintain your position.  I also think there are some interesting parallels with today’s globalised business culture.  The book is against the use of mercenaries, arguing that it is the mercenaries who then hold the real power and can hold the prince of randsom.  I don’t think therefore that Machiavelli would approve of much of any kind of outsourcing

Favourite point:  It is better to be feared than to be loved


  1. I think that one of the most useful things about self-help books is they encourage thinking about how to make yourself more successful and more productive. Even if none of the ideas of a book are adopted, this is a useful exercise in itself.

  2. Will says:

    Dale Carnegie’s book is, despite being ancient, brilliant. I recommend people read “How to stop worrying and start living” too…for the times when things are bad. Some brillliant stress (and, thus, self) management tips in there….those two books, while basic, have been hugely helpful to me.

    Carnegie reminds me of a Warren Buffet – minus the billions of dollar but replete with homespun truths and sensible advice.

    PS I think first comment is spot on. Key thing is thinking about such matters at all and that process itself is beneficial.

  3. Dan Wilson says:

    I have a well thumbed copy of The Prince which is easily reachable from my desk. What does this say about me? ;o)

  4. Simon says:

    I’d recommend The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, a worth while read even is these strange times.

  5. richardharte says:

    I enjoyed Secret Habits of Succcessful Bastards by Adrian Maile. A self-help book with a difference that pulls no punches and one that is ideal for people who have a sense of humour, a desire to learn more about how to really be successful and who are generally too nice for their own good.

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