What follows is a list of five books that profoundly changed my professional life, my executive function, my problem solving, my cognition, and my life in general. A common thread across these books is they intellectually outflank other comparable books. They form a more complete picture of the topic and with it more actionable and resonant conclusions.

‘Getting Things Done’

‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen (2001), or just “GTD”, is about achieving relaxed control of your life.

  • Your brain is great at problem solving and pattern recognition. It is terrible at remembering things. Get everything out of your brain into an air tight system you brain trusts. If the system isn’t legitimate your brain won’t let go.
  • It is 9:35am on Wednesday morning. What do I choose to put my time and energy toward?
  • A project is an outcome you want to pursue which takes more than one action step and has a time horizon sooner than one year.
  • Projects are either committed to or not (someday/maybe). Commitments can be to your family, your work, yourself, etc.
  • Every committed project must have a defined outcome and a next action step.
  • You don’t need to commit to everything!
  • Make it easy and fun to capture things in your “in tray”.
  • The weekly review is essential to achieving relaxed control. Everything in your in tray will be processed at least weekly. Nothing will be dropped.
  • Throughout your day, you work from your Calendar and Next Actions list. Keep your current committed projects list close at hand.
  • A tiny bit of upfront thinking daily/weekly can create relaxed control. Handle items when they show up not when they blow up. Handling an item doesn’t mean actually doing it or even committing to do it.
  • GTD is a structured approach to replacing ineffective concern with creative focus.

There are three ways to handle inbound commitments

  1. Commit and do it
  2. Don’t commit to it
  3. Renegotiate the commitment

You can look at your life at six different horizons:

  1. current actions
  2. current projects
  3. areas of focus
  4. 1-2 year goals
  5. long term visions
  6. life

There are three possible ways to prioritize work

  1. work already committed to
  2. work that shows up in real time
  3. define your own work

‘Tribal Leadership’

‘Tribal Leadership’ by David Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright (2009) speaks to personal and organizational values. It gives helpful labels behaviors of individuals and organizations you see in the world. It discusses strategies for supporting others and yourself in navigating growth throughout your career and life.

  • Stage 1: “Life Sucks”
  • Stage 2: “My Life Sucks”
  • Stage 3: “I’m Great, You’re Not”
  • Stage 4: “We’re Great, They’re Not”
  • Stage 5: “Life is great”

People aren’t stages, they exhibit behaviors of those stages. You can’t skip over stages.

Lateral Thinking

The concept of lateral thinking first entered my awareness via a quote attributed to Nintendo visionary Gunpei Yokoi who promoted “Lateral Thinking with Seasoned Technology”. Nintendo is known for gaming devices which don’t use cutting edge technology. Instead opting to innovate with “withered technology” to open new markets and parry would-be competitors.

Reading more about this design philosophy led me to the book ‘Lateral Thinking’ by Edward de Bono (1970).

My key takeaway from this book was the distinction between vertical and lateral thinking. They complement eachother and you need to get good at both to produce your best outputs.

  • Vertical thinking is purely logical and each step in the logical chain must be provably true to continue on the path.
  • With lateral thinking however you suspend judgement to be free to pursue paths which may be weird or perhaps temporarily incorrect in order to stimulate the creative process.

See also, Random Creative Stimulus.

It is funny to note that at time of writing Amazon has this book categorized under “Religion & Spirituality > Occult & Paranormal”.

Dialogue Mapping

‘Dialogue Mapping’ by Jeff Conklin (2005) is a tool for making meetings engaging, transparent, and valuable. I find it immensely satisfy to act as facilitator because it requires intense focus, active listening, and real time analysis. The approach can also mitigate all kinds of cancerous meeting behavior such as aggressiveness, crowding out or talking over participants, and ensuring each idea or input is given equal standing.

See also, the Issue Based Information System (IBIS)

‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey (1989) nailed the clickbait title before it was cool. If you can get past the pompous sounding title it is a treasure trove of lessons for improving your productivity and executive function.

  • “Habit 1: Be Proactive” overlaps with GTD’s focus on identifying the next physical action on a project.
  • “Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind” overlaps with GTD’s focus on defining clear project outcomes.
  • “Habit 4: Think Win-win” overlaps with Stage 4-5 in Tribal Leadership
  • “Habit 5: Seek first to understand then to be understood” pairs well with the methods in Dialogue Mapping
  • “Habit 7: Sharpen the saw” helps reinforce the need to recharge and balance your life. The Production/Production Capacity balance topic supports getting away from the work to ensure you have the energy to continue ahead. It is adjacent to Lateral Thinking, in particular looking for creative stimulation that may seem at first unrelated to your primary focus.


For me, these five books form an interwoven rope of practices, methods, and mantras to build a fulfilling career and life.