June 11, 2022

Three Books On Improving Focus And Productivity

Three of my favorite books that can help improve your productivity significantly.

Three Books On Improving Focus And Productivity


Parkinson’s law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. This means that given any problem, we tend to take as much time that is allocated to it to complete it. If we allocate less time to work, we tend to complete it by applying more effort to it. However, if we allocate more time to it, we tend to reduce the effort and thus take more time to get it done. Figure 1. shows the curve for Effort vs. Time Allocated for the completion of a given effort. It means that given any problem, we tend to take as much time that is allocated to it to complete it. However, we have too many different issues to resolve and very little time to tackle each of them. This happens quite often with executives, leaders, entrepreneurs, working moms, etc. While many of us struggle to prioritize the work that comes our way and therefore fail to work on the right problems, some are efficient enough to navigate the complexities and focus on the correct issues. In this article, I want to talk about 3 books that have helped me in my life improve my own focus and productivity in life.

Figure-1: Parkinson’s Law
Source: https://thestrive.co/must-read-productivity-books/

The One Thing By Gary Keller

Gary Keller is an American entrepreneur and best-selling author. He is the founder of Keller Williams, which is the largest real estate company in the world by agent count, closed sales volume, and units sold. In the book, “The One Thing”, he argues that the key to extraordinary success is focussing on one thing and going really deep into it. He argues that a lot of success in life comes from sequentially taking one step at a time and then building on top of the last one. This is explained by the Domino Effect where if you build dominoes one after the other, each 50% greater than the last one you will get the 57th equivalent in height to the distance between the moon and the earth. This is also explained by the law of compounding. In the book, he also debunks some of the myths such as:

  1. Everything is equally important: In general, a lot of aspects of life follow the Pareto Principle. According to this principle, more than 80% of the results come from 20% of the tasks. The output gained by focussing on the most important aspect may be larger than diving your time between many low-value tasks.
  2. Multitasking is more productive: It is also explained by Action Bias, where we as humans have a tendency to act more and believe that Movement is Progress. I write about some of the common fallacies that humans have in the blog here.
  3. You must lead a balanced life: A balanced life is one in which we focus on every aspect of our lives. No aspect of our life is neglected. To achieve extraordinary results one needs to move the focus away from each and every aspect and find meaning in the very few. He purports the idea of counterbalancing your life and accepting that for something to succeed, a lot of the other things in life have to fail.

He describes a three-component framework to be able to implement your own thing in life. The three components are as follows:

  1. Purpose: Ensure that you have a clearly defined purpose in life. It has to align with the one thing that you wish to achieve.
  2. Priority: Ensure that you are able to prioritize the one thing that you wish to go after and have de-prioritized the others.
  3. Productivity: Ensure that you have set up the conditions right to provide you with ample opportunities to be productive on the one thing you wish to focus on.

Influence on my work-life

One of the learnings that I have taken from the book, The One Thing, is setting a focus activity for one single thing and ensuring that gets done for the particular day. An application that I commonly use on a day-to-day basis is called Momentum. It helps me come up with a single focus activity for a single day and ensures that I follow up on that activity and get it done during the course of the day.

Deep Work By Cal Newport

Source: t.ly/u-Jk

Calvin C. Newport is the Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Georgetown University. In this book, he introduces certain principles that can be used to improve focus and enter the state of Deep Work. Some of the principles that he introduces are:

  • Deep work is focussed, uninterrupted, undistracted work on a task that pushes your cognitive abilities to the limit. It is meaningful, rare to find, and hard to sustain.
  • As a knowledge worker, it is necessary to find deep work. It enables you to develop new skills, and employ those skills to produce higher output.
  • The challenges to deep work are as follows:
  • Ability to resist distractions (eg. from social media, emails, etc.).
  • Ability to focus for long, extended hours on a given task.
  • Some of the techniques used to overcome these challenges are as follows:
  • Time blocking: Block certain portions of your calendar and ensure that there is an uninterrupted period of time for you to focus.
  • Ensure that all notifications from social media platforms are cut off.
  • Ensure that there are only a few portions of the day when you end up checking your emails.

Influence on my work-life

Here are a few improvements that I have made to my working day schedule to benefit from the principles of Deep Work.

  • Time block: I usually block off a few hours of my calendar on daily basis to ensure that I can get the most important task for the day done. Besides, I also ensure that I do not keep any meetings during one day of the week. This day is mostly focused on retrospection, improvement, and focus on one single problem. We call it the No-Meeting day. My schedule resembles that of The Maker’s Schedule.
  • Batching: I employ the technique of batching in many of my day-to-day tasks. The way I achieve this principle is to divide my work into 5 different buckets. Each bucket represents one single day of the week. I then prioritize tasks for each of the buckets based on the urgency and then take one day at a time.

Some of the other techniques that I use on the day-to-day are described in detail in my blog here.

Measure What Matters By John E. Doerr

Source: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/816xXwJao1L.jpg

Measure What Matters

The book about OKR (objectives — key results) goals management system was invented by Peter Drucker and popularized by long…

In this book, John E. Doerr gives us the framework for executing projects efficiently by measuring the impact of the efforts that we make on a regular basis and adjusting accordingly. The key to executing well and prioritizing involves understanding whether you are moving in the right direction or not. OKRs expanded to Objectives and Key-Results, is a framework that is used by several teams, large organizations, governments, etc. to lay down their goals and success/failure metrics to answer the question as to whether they are succeeding or not. There are three critical components of this framework:

The WHYs: In executing any task, project, etc. it is necessary to be able to answer the question as to why this specific task was taken up. Successful teams combine their ambitions with their passion and purpose and work towards a common goal.

The WHATs: Setting clear goals is critical to the success of this framework. The way to set clear goals is by setting clear objectives. Objectives are goal-posts towards which the team directs their effort. Good objectives should have the following properties:

  • Significant: An objective should be substantial enough for it to move the needle on a project.
  • Concrete: You should define an objective concretely enough so that it is not ambiguous and everyone can understand it easily.
  • Action-Oriented: You should define an objective in a way that anyone can easily break it down into concrete actions.
  • Inspiring: An objective should inspire the team to feel excited to go after it.

The HOWs: Once you have defined the objectives, it is necessary to determine the key results to measure the objectives’ success. The key results should have the following properties:

  • Specific and Time-Bound: You should define the key results in a particular manner and measure them within a specific time limit.
  • Aggressive yet realistic: You should define the key results so that they are bold and yet practical enough, i.e., they are met 80% of the time.
  • Measurable and verifiable: You should define the key results in a way that they are measurable, repeatable, refutable, and verifiable. It makes them easier to gauge and test under a scientific purview.

Influence on my work-life

I have successfully used the OKR framework in my professional and personal life. I have tried it for improving my studies, the number of books I read, my weight loss journey, and my day-to-day work life. The focus brings on focussing on the right set of metrics and getting rid of others makes the work that I do highly productive.

Related Links

Blogs & Articles

  1. The Pareto Principle (Wiki)
  2. The Maker’s Schedule
  3. The Flywheel Of Effectiveness
  4. 7 key frameworks for prioritization
  5. 8 Common Fallacies To Avoid in Daily Life


  1. The One Thing By Gary Keller
  2. Deep Work By Cal Newport
  3. Measure What Matters By John E. Doerr

Ravi Tandon

Entrepreneur, Writer and Speaker

Ravi is a poet, innovator, and entrepreneur Having spent his life between two different continents (India and the USA), he is now undertaking a journey of self-discovery. Ravi got a degree from Princeton University and lived in California, working at software startups. Having seen the fast-paced life of tech startups, Ravi followed his dream of creating a collection of poetry that will positively influence lives.

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