The Productivity Project, Chris Bailey

For one year, Bailey, a Canadian business school grad, structured his life around a single obsession: improving his productivity. While his experiments bordered on radical—he watched 70 hours of TED Talks in one week, for example—Bailey is laser-focused on getting you to excise any wasted effort from your day and routine. Plus, every chapter has a handy takeaway (and an estimated reading time).

  • Pare your day down to the three most essential tasks.
  • Aim for the efficiency sweet spot of 40 work hours a week.
  • Improve focus by practicing the Pomodoro Technique: Work on one task for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. Your attention muscles will strengthen over time.

The Geography of Genius, by Eric Weiner

In this part essay, part travelogue, former NPR correspondent Weiner circles the globe to find out what makes the world’s smartest people tick. His discovery: Culture begets creativity. In Hangzhou, China, for example, locals treasure progress over end results. And ideas flourish at Edinburgh universities because disciplines regularly mix and learn from one another. “Genius is like a chemical reaction,” he writes. “Change one molecule and you change everything.”

  • In most cases the ability to recognize and develop talent is more important than being talented.
  • Go to a café in Vienna, or if you can’t afford it, Starbucks. Studies show that ambient noise around 70 decibels is better for creativity than silence.


Originals, by Adam Grant

So you want to be the next Steve Jobs? Grant, an organizational psychology professor at Wharton, presents some counterintuitive steps to get you there (or at least closer) in this rich and practical paean to nonconformity. For example, he advises not quitting your day job before starting a company. “Having a sense of security in one realm gives us the freedom to be original in another,” he writes. And (a bit unlike Jobs) he thinks advice from colleagues is critical.

  • Gather as much feedback as possible from your fellow creators.
  • Mitigate risks by having a safety net. Studies show that nonconformists are often more cautious in certain tasks, which allows them to make big gambles selectively.
  • When it comes to ideas, quantity trumps quality.

A version of this article appears in the January 1, 2016 issue of Fortune.