The best books about how to be productive without burning out

Who am I?

I’m Charlie Gilkey, and I help people start finishing the stuff that matters. I’m the founder of Productive Flourishing, author of Start Finishing (2019) and The Small Business Lifecycle (2012) as well as the forthcoming book Workways. Before starting Productive Flourishing, I worked as a Joint Force Military Logistics Coordinator while simultaneously pursuing a PhD in Philosophy. With over ten years of coaching clients and managing the workload of running a business, I know a thing or two about how to spot burnout in a team or organization, and the steps to take to overcome it and prevent it.


I wrote...

Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done

By Charlie Gilkey,

Book cover of Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done

What is my book about?

How much of your time and attention lately has been focused on things that truly matter to you? Most people's honest answer is: Not enough. Everyone is buried by busy work, responsibility, distraction, and fatigue. The joy-producing, difference-making ideas are waiting for when the time is right, when the current project is over, when they have a little more money, when the kids are grown, or when they get a more understanding boss. They are waiting for someday. The trouble is: someday never comes on its own.

Start Finishing presents a nine-step method for converting an idea into a project by addressing the challenges you'll face and getting the project on a reality-based schedule.

The Books I Picked & Why

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Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

By Emily Nagoski, Amelia Nagoski,

Book cover of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Why this book?

While this book centers the way women experience burnout differently than men, I love that it doesn’t just focus on ‘work’ but instead highlights the full scope of what we’re doing each day that leads to burnout. It questions the givens that are creating the emotional and responsibility loads we’re carrying and gives science-based plans to get out of burnout.


Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

By Greg McKeown,

Book cover of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Why this book?

A major component of our burnout is that we’ve implicitly accepted the “more, faster, better, stronger” paradigm of productivity and are continually committing to more because we can. Until we can’t, that is. Essentialism gets us off the maximization bus and instead has us focus on fewer things that matter more.


The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative

By Florence Williams,

Book cover of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative

Why this book?

It’s ironic that, as a species, we’ve created technologies that keep us safe and comfortable from nature, but being in nature is shown to make us more emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy. The Nature Fix makes a strong case for why our true happiness, health, and creativity aren’t going to be found in screens, but in nature.


Overcoming Overwhelm: Dismantle Your Stress from the Inside Out

By Samantha Brody,

Book cover of Overcoming Overwhelm: Dismantle Your Stress from the Inside Out

Why this book?

Dr. Samantha Brody takes a look at the full spectrum of the stressors that are affecting us and creating overwhelm. This is a great book that centers on our physical health, but not myopically so. The last part of the book is especially good for creating a personal plan that incorporates both short and long-term fixes.


The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More

By Michael Breus,

Book cover of The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More

Why this book?

One of the major stressors of our lives is that we’re not following our natural daily energetic cycles (called chronotypes) and are doing the wrong things at the wrong time. You’ve experienced this when you’ve tried to write in the afternoon if you’re a morning person or if you’re a night person who’s tried to think deeply first thing in the morning. It’s not just a matter of what you’re doing, but when you’re doing it, that will make your activities more easeful or stressful.


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