The Best Personal Development Books Reading List – A Practical, Short ListLet’s get right to it – I’ll lay out the list for you, and then explain each of my choices.
- The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino
- How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen
The Best Personal Development Books Reading List Explained
- General Purpose Personal Development – The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino. This book is the perfect place to begin. The “scrolls” (self affirmations/positive self talk) at the end are what make this book worthwhile. As recommended, I read each one to myself 3 times a day for a month. I now read them at least once a day and alternate the scrolls each week. The main purposes of this book are to:
- Instill the discipline to stick to the process daily. I read each scroll 3 times a day, and aloud the third time. By instilling a habit of doing this three times a day, every day (I did it on weekends as well), it brought my personal development, as well as each individual lesson, to my attention constantly. It is not enough to just read the books on this list: I needed to act on each lesson and, in the case of later books, employ the outlined strategies. Reading the scrolls daily is a small step that instills the habit of taking action – it requires only a small time commitment and is easy to do. Continuing the reading once per day after this is even easier.
- Provide a starting point for future personal development with broadly applicable lessons. The Scroll Marked III (persistence) and The Scroll Marked VIII (overcoming procrastination) are my favorites, and for those two alone it is worth reading the book. The rest of the scrolls in this book will bring about changes in the way you interact with people, your view of your place in world, the way you present yourself and the way you approach your goals.
- Show tangible results. In my writing here, I have always tried to back up what I write with personal experiences and references. When I’m wrong, I’ll search for the truth and admit it. My own personal experience has been that reading this book, following it and constantly reaffirming each lesson has brought about changes in myself. It is hard to describe the mental shift that occurred when I read this book, applied it, and quickly saw results – changes in my attitude, my personality, and yes, in what matters most – results in achieving what I desired. Based on the success I had, I gained a new respect for self improvement authors, and mentally was more open to trying new things without questioning them first. Rather than judging based on my opinions as I read, I have judged future books on empirical evidence – I optimistically try what is suggested, and see if it works.
- *** Note: I actually own this Og Mandino Trilogy. I would recommend just reading the single book though, as it was the most useful for me.
- Effective Conflict Resolution – I’ll admit it: intellectually intelligent, but emotionally stupid people, like myself, can be very argumentative – especially when we’re right. This book taught me it’s not always necessary to use confrontation, arguing and reason – sometimes, social awareness is enough and other times, I should just let it go and let people be wrong. The whole book was worth reading for this nugget alone: “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it”. The story Carnegie relays in the chapter with this lesson is fantastic – Dale comes across as petty, and I realized that I must come across as petty as well when I try to win arguments that are truly pointless.
- Breaking down social interactions into patterns – Everyone is different, but we often find ourselves in similar sitautions over and over. It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that more than 50% of my social interactions each day are influenced by the lessons in this book, as so much human interaction falls into predictable patterns. When I first read it, for nearly all my interactions I looked for patterns to see if I could apply and test what I had learned. I still refer to this book often and reread a chapter or two each week. That is not to say I’m not myself – I am, but when I am trying to work towards a common goal with coworkers, swing people to my point of view, or perhaps resolve a disagreement, I use the lessons from this book to ease tension and work through the situations in a more positive, constructive manner.
- Leadership Training – How To Win Friends and Influence People may not sound like a book about leadership: however many of the examples are pulled from stories of famous, accomplished people (Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, other presidents and business tycoons). When I was thrust into leadership positions in college and later in my professional life, I have often looked to the lessons from this book to effectively lead.
3. Task Management – Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen. GTD will not provide you more time to do things, but it will keep all the machinery focused and moving forward. I only wish I had found this book much earlier, perhaps in high school. I did not encounter it until well after I had graduated from college. The main results gained from Getting Things Done are:
- Clearing your head so you can focus – By putting everything in it’s place, clearing my mind and being able to lay out my day ahead of me in one system, I was able to focus more clearly on my tasks and goals. My favorite part is my “Someday” list. I have a list of tasks (technically “next actions”) that I constantly monitor and deal with – and a list of “Somedays” that I may or may not get to. Just having them off my main task list makes life easier and the list appear more manageable.
- Never lose anything again – I archive, tag and reference everything. GTD discusses using paper based file folders in the book – I do everything I can digitally, and back up important documents with soft copies (basically receipts and tax returns).
- Know that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing – This is a tall claim made early in Getting Things Done, that you’ll be able to go to a baseball game and never worry about the project you left at home, etc. I was skeptical of this claim, but when I follow GTD strictly, it’s true. I never have to worry about anything during my leisure time – I know that any event I am attending is in the system, and I have handled everything that needed to be handled. They key however is that it is a comprehensive system, and needs to be treated as such. Let one small thing slip, and (if you’re like me) you’ll constantly worry about it until you put it in its proper place in the system.
“Zen To Done takes some of the best aspects of a few popular productivity systems (GTD, Stephen Covey and others) and combines them with the mandate of simplicity. It makes things as simple as possible, and no more.” – Zen To Done ExplainedI have read ZTD and agree in large part with it. I have always used GTD, and there is a lot of overlap, since GTD heavily influenced Leo as well as his book. If you are a beginner, it is a choice of two great options, and here is how to pick between them. For those who are overwhelmed with making large changes, ZTD is the better option as it introduces the system as a series of smaller, easier to digest habit changes. For those who want to change their whole system at once, GTD is a better choice. I stand by my recommendation of GTD based on my personal experience using it, but I have read ZTD and many people enjoy that system as well. Plus, I recently met Leo in person and he’s a great guy. You can’t go wrong with either.
The Problem Is Not A Lack Of Good BooksI want to close by noting that I do not believe the problem most people face is a lack of content. The problem most people face is too much content, and no easy way to sort through it and separate the best from the good.
Reading books without applying the lessons is further counterproductive to the very personal development and productivity improvements we strive for. Just reading doesn’t actually change anything: reading is just metawork to prepare you for the changes in your life. The real results come from daily application of the lessons and strategies. Rather than reading more books, focus on applying what you have learned in books you have already read. In fact, if you are already in the middle of a book, don’t begin any the books I’ve recommended. Finish applying the lessons in the book you have first, and then read these. On the other hand, if you are looking for a fresh start, and don’t know where to begin – I don’t think you can do any better than the books presented here.