Recommend me books about work
November 27, 2016 3:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books about how to manage your working life effectively. That could be anything from productivity, to managing stress, to interpersonal relationships, to broader musings on work-life balance or authenticity or ambition. I know that the airport bookshops of the world are full of this kind of thing, but what's actually worth reading?

My work is in the public sector, working for large organisations. I don't necessarily need career-specific books, but I'm hoping for things where there's at least some degree of possible overlap with what I do - so e.g. How To Start Your Own Small Business would be out.
posted by Catseye to Work & Money (11 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I am actually going to sort of go against a book that I believe will be suggested by some who I am sure have been helped by it, and that is Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. I immersed myself in this book for years, and it has kind of warped my thinking about my task list to a point where I tend to obsess over how it is organized more than actually doing the things on it. Again, I know that some people really like it, so YMMV.

It is not as granular as Getting Things Done, but I did find Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading to be rather helpful.
posted by 4ster at 4:56 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've found What Works for Women at Work to be incredible at helping me understand and be more savvy about gender bias.
posted by tinymegalo at 5:02 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

[Reads first comment]

Soooo.... I came here to recommend Getting Things Done. Read it, not with the goal of doing it exactly like David Allen recommends you do it, but with the idea of finding what would be valuable for you, and discarding the rest. You don't have to follow his model perfectly to find value in the 2 minute rule (if you can do it in under 2 minutes, just get it done now) or his guidance to never touch something twice, or the idea that every action item should be written in a way that actually allow you to take action ("Review and comment on XYZ document by Friday noon" not "XYZ document").

When people ask me how to get started with GTD, I usually tell them to read these two article before reading the book to figure out if it's for them: Organize Your Life (Atlantic, July/Aug 2004) and Getting Things Done Guru David Allen and His Cult of Hyperefficiency (Wired, Sept 2007).

The Wired article sums up the model pretty simply in three rules:

1. Collect and describe all the stuff. Everything must be inventoried without distinction or prejudice. Errands, emails, a problem with a friend: It all must be noted for processing. Small objects, such as an invitation or a receipt, go into a pile. Everything else can be represented with a few words on a piece of paper ("find keys," "change jobs"). Once the stuff is collected, processing begins. Anything that requires two minutes or less is handled on the spot. The remainder is governed by the second rule.

2. All stuff must be handled in a precise way. Allen offers dozens of clever tricks for classifying, labeling, and retrieving stuff. Expert users of GTD never leave old emails cluttering their inbox, for instance. Nor do they have to rifle through a bunch of paper to see if there's anything crucial they've left undone. Emails to be answered are in a separate folder from emails that merely have to be read; there's a file for every colleague and friend; stuff that must be done has been identified and placed on one of several kinds of to-do lists. Allen calls his to-do lists next-action lists, which are subject to the third rule.

3. Items on next-action lists should be described as concretely as possible. Breaking down stuff into physical actions, Allen says, is the key to getting things done.

posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:22 PM on November 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I recently enjoyed In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs and Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All (Which I realize sounds like an art book or something, but it's about innovation and design thinking)
posted by nuclear_soup at 6:05 PM on November 27, 2016

Rework by Jason Fried and DHH.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:07 PM on November 27, 2016

I like Managing to Change the World, The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results by Alison Green who has the Ask A Manager website that always gets recommended here.

I don't know if you are a manager but I think both the book and website are helpful regardless of your job description - particularly since you are in the public sector.
posted by fieldtrip at 6:30 PM on November 27, 2016

I came in to say GTD - it's probably the single most influential book in terms of how I work. Depending where you are in your organisation, I recommend Influencer as a good, generic model of how to actually get people to do things. I recently read An Everyone Culture and found it thought provoking, but maybe not very relevant to a large public sector org.
posted by crocomancer at 3:15 AM on November 28, 2016

Crucial Conversations was recommended to me by a boss. And it changed how I approach basically every conversation. I seriously think about it (it's rules) all the time. My husband read it, too, and also found it excellent. All those times conversations at work, and in life, go well or poorly, and why it happened. Crazy helpful.
posted by mirabelle at 4:30 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

FYI: For Your Improvement - Competencies Development Guide is indispensable to me to have on the shelf at my desk.

It's more of a reference than a narrative. The table of contents is dozens of desirable skills in a manager. Examples: Inspires Employee Engagement, Manages Time Effectively. For each one, there's a brief description and discussion why it's important. Then there are symptoms. What does "bad at this" look like? What does "good at this" look like? Importantly, what does "too much" look like? Then, there are concrete things you can do to practice the skill and a reference list for deeper study.

When I'm trying to solve a vexing behavior issue (even if it's just "I wish he/she were better at..) with a supervisor who works for me, this book has the answer. Also, it's helpful to just read the table of contents once in a while and think about individual people and where they stand. It helps me identify my own weak areas before my boss does, and strong areas come performance self-evaluation time. Can't recommend this book highly enough.

Like NotMyselfRightNow, I think GTD changed my life. It should be required reading. But I also find that following it strictly can make you obsessive and start bogging yourself down with needless process a lot of the time. I use the skills in it every single day, but the process I get more or less lazy about depending on what I need. It definitely does as advertised: when I get stressed out about feeling out of control and worried about forgetting things, ratcheting up the strict GTD and getting everything on the list always makes it seem not so bad and gets me through the crunch without being a nervous paranoid wreck.
posted by ctmf at 10:23 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Deep Work by Cal Newport.
posted by Frenchy67 at 8:26 PM on November 28, 2016

I wrote a short book earlier this year about building habits to help you work more efficiently. I don't know if that fits what you're looking for, but you can find it here. (It's also an email course but on the purchase page you can find the book on its own.)

I also highly recommend Cal Newport's book So Good They Can't Ignore You. It really made me rethink my approach to work in terms of finding meaning in what I do and committing to a career long-term.

Cal's blog is really good, too, for insights and food for thought around productivity, deep work, and rethinking our approach to social media at work.
posted by bellebethcooper at 2:18 AM on December 1, 2016

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