The best books for self improvement & staying focused

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been in the digital space for 30 years and my breakthrough book was Socialnomics. In this book, I encouraged individuals and organizations to lean into social media and digital, both personally and professionally; emphasizing that this shift wasn’t just for teenagers, that it would change the world more than anything in our lifetime. That it would become a powerful force around business, politics, gaming, and beyond. And, unfortunately, it did. It was even more powerful than I could have imagined. What I didn’t comprehend was that we would lean in too much. I realized I needed to give the anti-venom to Socialnomics. We needed as a society to return to focusing on what matters most.


I wrote...

The Focus Project: The Not So Simple Art of Doing Less

By Erik Qualman,

Book cover of The Focus Project: The Not So Simple Art of Doing Less

What is my book about?

Whether you’re a programmer, mother, executive, teacher, or entrepreneur, this book is for you if… 1. You feel like you need 5 more hours in your day. 2. You are being pulled in a million directions with no end in sight. 3. Your life is busy instead of big.

Welcome to The Focus Project, a book designed to provide answers and solutions to the challenges of focusing in an unfocused world. Combining street science and institutional research alongside his own personal focus project, Qualman delivers practical advice on thinking big versus busy. The following is a guide to doing less, better. This enables us to achieve more–both personally and professionally.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Erik Qualman Why did I love this book?

One of the greatest days of my professional career was when a media outlet called me a “Digital Dale Carnegie.” They had no idea what a fan I am of Carnegie's work. Carnegie passed away (1955) long before I was born but he continues to have a profound impact on my life. My grandfather, and father have both taken Dale Carnegie Courses. While Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People is wonderful and is one of the best-selling books of all time, my favorite is How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

In our modern world, worry is almost a certainty. We worry as parents, business owners, employees— we never seem to run out of things to worry about. Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living reframed my perspective on the cost of worrying. Eliminating the fear of the unknown is often the first step to achieving our goals and Carnegie’s book was an instrumental reminder of the importance of building good habits and prioritizing mental wellness to eliminate worry. This perspective is critical to the preservation of my own time, energy, and happiness. This is a book I read annually to help me reset when I feel the walls of worrying closing in on me.

By Dale Carnegie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Stop Worrying and Start Living as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first trade paperback edition of the classic guide to conquering the fears and worries that prevent individuals from living full and happy lives offers practical advice on how to eliminate business and financial anxieties, turn criticism into an advantage, avoid fatigue, and more. Reprint. 25,00


Book cover of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Erik Qualman Why did I love this book?

Full disclosure that I sit on some company advisory boards along with Grant. However, long before that became a reality I was a huge Adam Grant fan. Both as a fellow professor and writer. In particular, Grant’s breakthrough book Give and Take. Grant reminds us that if you look at life as a dog-eat-dog world then you will remain a dog. This book reminds us of what we know intrinsically but we so often forget in our quest to get ahead. 

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Give and Take highlights the difference between those who go fast (takers), those who go far (givers), and those who fall somewhere in between (matchers). By showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of givers, takers, and matchers, Grant proves that those who are most successful in life are often those that volunteer their time and energy with little expectation of anything in return. This book perfectly highlights the importance of networking as a tool for success— a must for this digital decade.

By Adam Grant,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Give and Take as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking look at why our interactions with others hold the key to success, from the bestselling author of Think Again and Originals

For generations, we have focused on the individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But in today's dramatically reconfigured world, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. In Give and Take, Adam Grant, an award-winning researcher and Wharton's highest-rated professor, examines the surprising forces that shape why some people rise to the top of the success ladder while others sink to the bottom. Praised by social scientists, business theorists, and corporate…


Book cover of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Erik Qualman Why did I love this book?

A few years ago, I had just come off stage after delivering a keynote and was grabbing my luggage to rush to the airport to catch my flight. Well, I missed my flight, and it was worth it. The moment I heard the speaker after me, I was riveted. I’d never heard of her, but I had to stay. I had to listen. I had to meet her backstage in the greenroom. The speaker? Brené Brown. 

Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly perfectly defines the shift we have seen in recent generations. Where vulnerability was once perceived as weakness, Brown portrays how she and others have transformed their own shame and guilt into strength. Daring Greatly reaffirms my own experience of stepping into discomfort and owning my story. By embracing fear, discomfort, and vulnerability, I discovered how self-acceptance can lead to helping others do the same.

By Brené Brown,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Daring Greatly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**Now on Netflix as The Call to Courage**

'She's so good, Brene Brown, at finding the language to articulate collective feeling' Dolly Alderton

Every time we are faced with change, no matter how great or small, we also face risk. We feel uncertain and exposed. We feel vulnerable. Most of us try to fight those feelings - or feel guilt for feeling them in the first place.

In a powerful new vision Dr Brene Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability, and dispels the widely accepted myth that it's a weakness. She argues that, in truth, vulnerability is…


Book cover of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Erik Qualman Why did I love this book?

When preparing for a keynote with a corporation I will ask their executive team who was their speaker last year? More times than not the answer is Simon Sinek. 

So often when I speak with companies, they can easily articulate what they do and how they plan to execute their goals. But as Simon Sinek points out in Start with Why, many companies overlook the why. Sinek showcases a multitude of examples to highlight, not only why it’s important to know and understand your purpose but, to begin with your purpose. Today’s most successful and influential companies are not marketing their products, but their purpose. This is a concept I revisit daily in my own business; goal setting and project planning always begin with our Why.

By Simon Sinek,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Start With Why as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE MILLION-COPY GLOBAL BESTSELLER - BASED ON THE LIFE-CHANGING TED TALK!

WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT START WITH WHY:

'It's amazing how a book can change the course of your life, and this book did that' Reader Review

'Imagine the Ted Talk expanded to 2 hours long, with more depth, intrigue and examples' Reader Review

'What he does brilliantly is demonstrate his own why - to inspire others - throughout' Reader Review

'Wow. Wow. Wow. I cannot rate this book highly enough to take a different, positive approach to life and work' Reader Review

Discover your purpose with one simple…


Book cover of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Erik Qualman Why did I love this book?

We all grapple with “not enough time” or “not enough energy” to accomplish all that we want to get done in our day. James Clear’s Atomic Habits challenges us to reflect on how we approach our goals. Instead of simply setting a goal and making a plan, Clear encourages us to consider how our current habits contribute to or derail our success. Many of these concepts were incredibly influential in my own personal project to improve my health, relationships, and business. I often referenced this book when writing my own

By James Clear,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked Atomic Habits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller. Over 4 million copies sold!

Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results

No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving--every day. James Clear, one of the world's leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

If you're having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn't you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don't want to change, but because you have the…


You might also like...

I Am Taurus

By Stephen Palmer,

Book cover of I Am Taurus

Stephen Palmer

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Philosopher Scholar Liberal Reader Musician

Stephen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The constellation we know as Taurus goes all the way back to cave paintings of aurochs at Lascaux. This book traces the story of the bull in the sky, a journey through the history of what has become known as the sacred bull.

Each of the sections is written from the perspective of the mythical Taurus, from the beginning at Lascaux to Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, and elsewhere. This is not just a history of the bull but also a view of ourselves through the eyes of the bull, illustrating our pre-literate use of myth, how the advent of writing and the urban revolution changed our view of ourselves, and how even bullfighting in Spain is a variation on the ancient sacrifice of the sacred bull.

I Am Taurus

By Stephen Palmer,

What is this book about?

The constellation we know as Taurus goes all the way back to cave paintings of aurochs at Lascaux. In I Am Taurus, author Stephen Palmer traces the story of the bull in the sky, starting from that point 19,000 years ago - a journey through the history of what has become known as the sacred bull. Each of the eleven sections is written from the perspective of the mythical Taurus, from the beginning at Lascaux to Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Greece, Spain and elsewhere. This is not just a history of the bull but also an attempt to see ourselves through…


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