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  • Writer's pictureClairene Tan

Reviews on Self-Help Books to Maximise Productivity

It’s beginning to look a lot like the start of a new semester at NUS.

As everyone braces themselves for another grinding 13 weeks ahead, CNM types has decided to help you prepare for your upcoming readings with…you guessed it: More readings! But don't worry, the readings we refer to here are self-help books and not textbooks.

Jokes aside, self-help books are a great way to help you create a more positive mindset, along with gain new life skills such as assertiveness and problem-solving. Here are 4 self-help books we believe will help you learn how to become a more productive person!


Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Greg McKeown tells readers to maximise their productivity with seemingly contradicting advice. That is, the secret to being productive is to do less, not more. At first glance, that sounds confusing and illogical. After all, isn’t the whole point of productivity getting more things done in a limited amount of time? Yet McKeown suggests that by limiting yourself to a few essential tasks in life, you are giving yourself the necessary time and energy to perform to your very best in things that matter the most to you. This way of thinking is the key definition of an Essentialist.

The book does a great job in breaking down the key components of an Essentialist, as well as giving details on how this system can be executed. McKeown uses both corporate and personal examples to illustrate the different mindsets of essentialist and non-essentialist thinkers to demonstrate how so much can change through simply practicing this systematic discipline.

Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to finish the entire book in order to understand Essentialism, as it is mostly a repetition of the same main ideas. However, it’s still a good read that allows readers to explore productivity from a different perspective, as compared to the overworked lifestyle the term is often associated with.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars / Amber


The Art of the Good Life by Rolf Dobell

It was by complete accident that I picked up this book. Given that it has the same design, font, and publication style as Dobelli’s other book, The Art of Thinking Clearly, I picked it up thinking I would read what everyone else is reading. Except, it wasn’t that much of a mistake. Spanning 52 mini chapters, The Art of the Good Life boasts thought-provoking approaches towards life, equipping one with a plethora of mental tools that are derived from Stoicism (a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world) and the field of cognitive and social psychology. You could always read 1 to 3 chapters a day, or simply when you are feeling a little unmotivated - whatever it is, it’s a very easy read.

His work is fairly intuitive and “duh” to the vast majority of people - for example, recommending using less social media or broadly, channeling our energy into being more humble. However, it is cleverly crafted in a way where the advice is just difficult to disagree with, and viscerally reminds you of everyday simple actions. If you are like me, with a short attention span, here are a few notable chapters that you can check out!

6 | The Negative Art of the Good Life
35 | The Focus Trap
45 | If you run your own race, you can't lose

Some of the advice seems to veer towards people who are already affluent (maybe because it has clear thinking for business) or people who are chasing a very specific kind of happiness and success. You may disagree with some of the approaches, as the theories might seem far fetched or just unrelatable. It differs from every individual, but overall a good read.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars / Clairene


Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

James Clear’s book Atomic Habits can be described in 4 words: Very detailed, very straightforward. If you are someone who likes diagrams and a clear practical framework, this is the book for you.

Clear uses a structural step-by-step guide that breaks down everything one should or should not do in order to create new positive healthy habits, as well as break away from negative unhealthy ones. His examples are clear and relatable to people, making it easy see how his approach can be applied to your own life as well.

A good book to skim through if you’re not someone who really wants to read through all the fluff and examples of the life-changing effects due to applying so said discipline. Not only does the author make full use of sub-headings and bullet points to emphasise key ideas, a brief summary of key concepts can also be found at the end of every chapter. However, this clear-cut straight-to-the-point format also causes the content to feel quite dry sometimes, and I would find myself skimming to get past certain chapters.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars / Amber


The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

This book is definitely a hit or miss. That’s how I would aptly summarise Manson’s self-help book; or so he brands. Riddled with crass humour (I mean, look at the title) weaved into lines of advice, it is not a book for everyone. You’d have to personally be all right with heavy-handed criticisms, because it speaks in cuss words to drive home certain points. Generally speaking, this is a book for people who can take criticism.

Manson points out events that individuals spend too much time on, and things that all of us simply care too much about. The book doesn’t necessarily tell you how to improve on the ways in which we tackle life, but rather what to forgo and leave behind. So it is entirely up to your interpretation!

Here’s a quote that stuck by me as I read the book: “The key to a good life is not giving a f*ck about more; it’s giving a f*ck about less, giving a f*ck about only what is true and immediate and important”. I enjoy that it is so open-ended, and that what is important to me might not be important to someone else, and this book teaches you to pick and choose your battles. Not a must read, but something that you could choose to start.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars / Clairene


Should you wind up reading these books that we have reviewed, we hope that it opens you up to new perspectives that could be useful in tackling life. Productivity is something that you carve out for yourself, and these books are vehicles that can help speed that process up - but at the end of the day, how you choose to be productive can deviate entirely from self-help books and that is completely okay! Just do what is best for you, and we wish all of you the best in the upcoming semester!

Review by: Amber & Clairene

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