Becoming an outstanding programmer involves developing three skills: personal productivity, effective work methods, and programming-specific knowledge. While the last one requires you to focus on books and courses related to your field in the IT industry, the first two are general skills that are typically not found in technical books.
If you want to develop and master them, you are at the right place. This article presents a great selection of books for developing and improving your productivity as a person and as a programmer.
Our 5 Top Picks for Productivity and Efficiency
The first section presents productivity books for developers. In reality, they are relevant for anybody who wants to have a more productive routine and do more with less. Without further ado, let’s explore the first book.
Book #1 – The Miracle Morning:
The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life
Author: Hal Elrod
Publisher: Hal Elrod
Price: $ 19.95 on Amazon
How you wake up each day and your morning routine (or lack thereof) dramatically affects your levels of success in every single area of your life. Focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days – which inevitably create a successful life. Hal Elrod
What if you could change your entire day by just changing what you do during the first two or three hours of your morning? How do morning habits actually influence your life?
Hal Elrod discusses these and other topics in his book The Miracle Morning. The author’s main goal is to guide you through the process of implementing an effective morning routine that will set you up for a more equilibrated and successful life. But don’t get it wrong, there are no magic tricks here. Your new routine – as well as its effectiveness – is a direct product of how much effort and commitment you put into it. This is why Elrod presents several tools and concepts that will help you shape your morning habits properly.
One of the main takeaways from the book is what the author calls “Life S.A.V.E.R.S.” It’s an acronym for six key activities that, when done during the morning, will drastically improve your mood, energy levels, and productivity for the rest of the day. So here they are:
- S stands for “Silence”. The “silence” routines stand for ways of calming down your mind and body and focusing your attention. You might choose to meditate, set some time apart for self-reflection, do deep-breathing exercises – any practice that will allow you to focus on your inner side and develop a sense of peacefulness.
- A stands for “Affirmations”. Affirmations are sentences or mantras that you recite to yourself in order to develop a positive mindset focused on a specific behavior. While some might argue they sound artificial and are not effective, they work towards changing your perception of yourself. If you keep reaffirming the characteristics you want to develop, they slowly start to become part of your personality.
- V stands for “Visualization”. Visualization is about picturing your day and creating mental images of what you want to achieve in the near future. Dedicating five minutes in the morning to clearly visualize your day’s progress have great benefits to your productivity.
- E stands for “Exercise”. The many benefits of regular exercise – improved mood, higher energy levels, more resistance against diseases, among others – have their strength multiplied when you exercise in the morning.
- R stands for “Reading”. Reading is a great way of stimulating your brain. By introducing this habit into your morning routine, you give your brain a stronger push to be faster and more productive during the day ahead.
- S stands for “Scribe”. One of the best ways of motivating yourself is to revise how much progress you have already accomplished during the past few weeks. Our natural future-oriented behavior makes us easily forget the progress we have already achieved in the past, and taking the time to revise it is an essential task for productivity.
Apart from the Life S.A.V.E.R.S., Hal discusses other concepts and practical advice on how to improve the quality of your sleep, how to start your mornings faster, and how to hold yourself accountable for your own progress. This book is definitely a must-read for anyone who wants to experience a huge increase in personal productivity!
Book #2 – The Compound Effect
Author: Darren Hardy
Publisher: Vanguard Press
Price: $ 15.99 on Amazon
I’m the world’s biggest believer in consistency. Darren Hardy
How far can small, consistent daily habits take you?
Just as a small compound interest has a significant financial impact over the long run, seemingly insignificant habits may have a drastic impact on your life. Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect explores the many benefits of consistent habits. Evidently, there are challenges to the process. We tend to disproportionately favor instant gratification over delayed rewards, and this is the main reason why many people end up watching Netflix instead of investing the time in developing a new skill through a MOOC.
Darren’s book is a wake-up call to show us how important and beneficial a continuous engagement on small daily activities can be. The author discusses concepts such as the ripple effect, which is the natural multiplication of the benefits of a consistent habit and the extension of these benefits into other areas of your life. An example is how exercising increases your physical and mental energy levels, better preparing you for other tasks other than the exercise itself.
Another crucial point highlighted by the author is the importance of choices and influences. Your life is a direct product of the choices you make, and even though some decisions are made unconsciously, you are still accountable for most of them. Working hard to identify the exact moments when you make decisions and how to influence them towards better decision-making is a key element of what the author labels The Compound Effect. Also, the quality of what influences us dictates much of the quality of your own efforts. Darren Hardy explains how the three types of influence – inputs we give to ourselves, your associations with other peers, and your relationship with the environment – can be shaped to multiply the effects of your actions.
Related to this idea are those of habits and momentum. Momentum arises when your habits are shaped in a way so that these small, consistently positive habits happen almost naturally. They become part of your routine, and of who you are. When you build momentum, you keep yourself in movement towards the long-term rewards that are discussed during the book. Last but not least, Hardy explores the concept of acceleration. Once you build momentum, it is time to push yourself out of your comfort zones. Acceleration is about how you challenge your self-imposed limits to multiply the results of your habits.
One of my favorite books, this work will completely change your perception towards how responsible you are for your own success. All those who want to regain control over the course of their lives must read this book!
Book #3 – The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Author: Charles Duhigg
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
Price: $ 17.00 on Amazon
Habits make approximately 47% of our days. How productive are your habits? Do they contribute to building a better present and future for you?
Charles Duhigg’s masterpiece The Power of Habit is an authoritative work on how we shape your habits. Duhigg starts by explaining the anatomy of a habit: a trigger for a reward sets ourselves in motion through a routine that will eventually result in the reward. The key for better habits lies in identifying what is the exact reward we are craving for and on substituting the unhealthy routines by healthy ones that lead to the same reward.
Consider, for example, eating a piece of chocolate as a reward after a stressful activity. The reward we are looking for is probably not the sweet taste of the chocolate; instead, we are normally after the feeling of relaxation caused by the chemical substances released by the chocolate. Once we identify what we actually want, we can experiment with different, healthier habits that lead to the same result: reading a book, going out for a walk, talking with friends. Since habits have major stakes on your days, improving them will naturally lead to a more fulfilling life.
Charles Duhigg also presents the concepts of keystone habits and small wins. They resonate with the already discussed idea of compound effect. Keystone habits are those that extend their influence into several areas of your life and lead to a natural multiplication effect. Business Insider gives several ideas of simple yet incredibly powerful keystone habits, including meditation, family reunions, and taking a few minutes to plan your days in advance.
The Power of Habit is such an important publication that we already published a detailed review of its content, as well as various insights on how to best implement the suggestions of the author. Make sure to check it out!
Book #4 – Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
Author: David Allen
Publisher: Penguin Books
Price: $ 17.00 on Amazon
This is definitely my personal favorite book in the field of personal productivity. It has been around for more than 15 years, and its impact is as strong as ever. The main contribution of the book is a practical algorithm called Getting Things Done (or just GTD) for organizing and managing your daily tasks.
A key concept explored by David Allen is that of “open loops” or “incompletes”. These are the tasks that are not yet accomplished but that keep populating our minds and generating stress. The book is built around the discussion on how to systematically organize them so that they stop worrying you, and you have time to complete them all.
Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them. David Allen
Allen presents a framework with five practical steps.
- The first one, capture, is about identifying and externalizing all your task-related thoughts. You can write them down on a piece of paper, on your phone, or even on your hand if nothing else but a pen is available. As the author says, “your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them”.
- The second step, clarify, is the process of understanding the purpose of the thoughts you noted down, as well as the actual amount of work involved in realizing them.
- The third step, organize, refers to the process of classifying all the tasks according to their priority, urgency, deadlines, immediate impact on your life, among other factors you might consider relevant.
- The fourth step, reflect, involves visualizing the medium- and long-term benefits of a specific task. This is especially important when organizing tasks that extend for a longer period of time or require consistency in your routine.
- The fifth step, engage, is the actual execution of the task. An essential principle is that each task on your list should be finished before you move to the next one.
In addition to this framework, the author presents a series of supporting concepts to optimize the efficiency of the GTD framework. They are what he calls projects and contexts.
- Projects are created when a task is too complex to be finished immediately and requires a decomposition into more detailed, simpler tasks. The set of tasks oriented towards a broader goal is called a project.
- Contexts are the specific situations and environments where certain tasks should be completed. “Answering work emails”, for example, should be done at work, not at home. Contexts are also related to the tools you have available for immediate work. Phone, computer, and internet connection are just a few examples of tools that allow you to accomplish different types of tasks.
This brief summary mentions just a few of the many concepts and benefits brought by David Allen to our daily lives. We have put together a more detailed review of the contents of Getting Things Done, so make sure to check it out!
Book #5 – The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business
Author: Josh Kaufman
Price: $ 18.00 on Amazon
Our last suggestion of productivity books for programmers is The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman.
Josh Kaufman’s main arguments are related to whether formal business education is as effective as it seems and whether it is possible to self-educate you about the most relevant business ideas. The author explicitly argues against a formal MBA education, and he believes that we ourselves can build a similar – if not better – knowledge base of business principles that will help us in the corporate world.
While the actual value and ROI of an MBA is open to debate, and different people will have different personal judgments regarding whether you should pursue an MBA or not, the business principles discussed by Kaufman are clearly valuable to anyone who has a minimum contact with and interest in the business world.
Kaufman divides 226 critical principles of business into 11 chapters related to understanding how business, people, and systems work. The first 5 chapters – Value creation, Marketing, Sales, Value delivery, and Finance – discuss the fundamentals of business practices. They touch upon several relevant ideas such as understanding your role as a value creator, properly communicating and delivering this value to your customer, closing sales effectively, as well as the most important financial calculations you will have to implement for your business. The following 3 chapters – The human mind, Working with yourself, and Working with others – discuss the principles of understanding people’s behaviors and how they think when making decisions. The final 3 chapters – Understanding, Analyzing, and Improving Systems – focus on developing the skills for identifying, understanding, and optimizing the systems behind business and personal routines.
Despite being filled with controversial discussions about education, the practical value of this book is undeniable. If you want to become better at business and at managing yourself, The Personal MBA is definitely a great book!
2 Must-reads for Any Programmer and Developer
How to build better work methods is the next area to focus on to increase your productivity as a software or web developer. In this section, we present two essential books for developing the fundamental knowledge common to every field in the programming world.
The first book, The Pragmatic Programmer, talks specifically about personal and professional soft skills that will make you a serious and reliable programmer. The second, Clean Code, discusses the various aspects of how to create clean and professional code.
Book #6 – The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master
Author: Andrew Hunt and David Thomas
Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional
Price: $ 49.99 on Amazon
Pragmatic Programmers (…) think beyond the immediate problem, always trying to place it in its larger context, always trying to be aware of the bigger picture. The Pragmatic Programmer.
The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas offers you a great overview of the most relevant issues surrounding software development. It does not focus on any programming language or tool-specific knowledge; instead, it provides a wide range of advice on best practices that must be followed by any serious programmer.
The book starts by discussing the mindset of great programmers. Three characteristics are highlighted by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas: pragmatic programmers take responsibility for their action and their mistakes, they provide a realistic review of the feasibility of a project, and they are not afraid of admitting they do not have expertise in a specific field.
The second chapter presents pragmatic approaches that apply to any level of software development. Here are a few that we consider the most relevant:
- Orthogonality: focus on developing self-contained, independent components that can be tested and debugged independently from other parts of your code.
- Reusable code: ideally, your code is composed of many reusable parts that allow you to solve a complex task by combining them rather than a single piece of highly specific code that solves a complex issue on its own. In addition to that, avoid unnecessary repetition by isolating common routines into their own modules/classes/functions.
Estimate correctly: estimating how much effort is involved in developing your software will avoid future headaches because of unexpected drawbacks.
The book moves forward to discuss several other concepts that will make your programming practices stand out among your peers:
- Focus your effort on solving the bugs and issues of the code, not on blaming people for them.
- Use hard evidence to prove your assumptions and suggestions about the programming environment.
- Widely implement source code control, exception usage, constant refactoring, and other best-practices.
Evidently, we have barely scratched the surface of what the book has to offer. This is a great recommendation for both those who have been in the industry for several years and for those who are just starting out.
Book #7 – Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship
Author: Robert C. Martin
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Price: $ 49.99 on Amazon
Clean code is simple and direct. Clean code reads like well-written prose. Clean code never obscures the designer’s intent but rather is full of crisp abstractions and straightforward lines of control. Grady Booch
Have you ever come across messy, disorganized, uncommented code? How long did it take you to understand the main purpose of each of its elements?
Unclear code is similar to bad handwriting: even though you might understand it, others will have a very hard time deciphering what you wrote. Clean Code by Robert C. Martin focuses on presenting the best practices of clean coding in the many different elements of a software: functions, classes, comments, formatting, objects, testing, error handling, among others.
When it comes to writing functions, for example, your code should be as small as possible, with as few arguments as possible, and should focus on completing one single task efficiently without presenting nasty side-effects. Breaking down your code into small parts and implementing each one in a dedicated function will provide easily readable and reusable code.
Another interesting discussion is around the implementation of unit tests. Automated tests should be used throughout the application to ensure that the code accomplishes what is expected from it. The author mentions the Test-Driven-Development principle as a good practice to follow: in simple terms, it encourages designing the failing test and establishing the desired outcome before implementing the production code. Similarly to the implementation of functions and classes, tests should be implemented targeting one single functionality at a time.
Clean Code is a wonderful publication that should be read by every programmer, independently of the industry. Robert C. Martin says it all:
You are reading this book for two reasons. First, you are a programmer. Second, you want to be a better programmer. Good. We need better programmers. Robert C. Martin
You Are Now in the Top 1% of the Industry
Congratulations! By reading our comments on these books you have acquired a considerable amount of knowledge that already sets you apart from most of the industry. Good work habits sometimes present a fairly steep learning curve and might take some time to develop, but their benefits can be observed as soon as you take the first step.
We definitely encourage you to explore in more details the books we mentioned, as they present a much deeper analysis of the topics we discussed here. Use the summaries above to rank the publications according to your priority or preference, and start reading them as soon as possible!