← Back to All Columns


Getting Unstuck: Books

I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on organizing and productivity books in order to be able to recommend the best of them to my clients and add any cool tips and tricks to my repertoire. But lately, when it comes to shifting my thinking about a project or moving myself out of procrastination mode, I’ve been getting more value out of personal stories and novels. Here are a few of my favorites.

“The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin

Rubin is an above-average, average woman, meaning that she has all the insecurities us average gals do but publishes blogs and books about them. What makes this book so readable is not its month-by-month format or that she limited her project to one year—both Elizabeth Gilbert ( “Eat, Pray, Love”) and Julie Powell (”Julie & Julia”) both did that and the format is getting a bit predictable and stale. However, her “keep it simple,” honest style makes the book very easy to relate to. You feel yourself rooting for her even though she’s written four books and clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  I might stop rooting for her if the book gets turned into a movie starring Sandra Bullock.

“Limitless” by Alan Glynn

Now a movie starring  Bradley Cooper, “Limitless” is a cautionary tale. The (anti) hero takes a smart drug near the beginning of the book and one of the first things he does is alphabetize his CDs. He continues cleaning and organizing his apartment and even finishes a book project in the first 12 hours on the drug, but that is only the beginning of a wild roller coaster ride that doesn’t end well. The moral: Stick to strong coffee. The initial apartment purge is like porn for professional organizers.

“A Perfect House is the Sign of a Misspent Life” by Mary Randolph Carter

Being organized, as I’ve said in this column before, is not about having a sterile, picture-perfect home or office. With regards to your environment, being organized means finding what you want or need when you want or need it. You should also feel comfortable having friends and family visit and you should be relaxed and happy in your personal space.

Carter shows a variety of interesting and attractive spaces that are obviously well-loved and lived-in. One of the paradigm-shifting ideas: For a family with children, the white sofa is covered in ball-point and Sharpie doodles, making it absolutely un-precious and a work of art at the same time. Welcome to our home — please sign the sofa.

“High Fidelity” by Nick Hornsby

The main character in this painfully funny novel is an under-achieving record store owner obsessed with music. In his world, anyone who owns less than 500 CDs/records/tapes can’t be taken seriously. He’s a semi-slobby slacker, but his record collection is meticulously organized and he and his “mates” (the author is British) are compulsive list makers. Their preferences in music and movies are rigorously sorted and ranked. The character is not very likeable, but his brutal honesty and terrific sense of humor eventually redeem him and it is fun to see him work his way out of a major rut and into a real career. A great book to read if you are feeling stuck.

“Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert and “Julie & Julia” by Julie Powell

If you’re one of the two people in the country who haven’t read one or both of these yet, what are you waiting for? Not many of us can afford the luxury of taking off for a year like Gilbert did to shift ourselves out of a situation or way of thinking that no longer serves us. We also may not have the time, interest or talent to take on a year of cooking every recipe in a Julia Child classic cookbook (Powell’s project). The point is, these two women show us how ignoring the naysayers and thinking big — really big — can absolutely change your life. Bestseller? Check. Movie starring Julia Roberts or Amy Adams as the author? Check. These books are like roadmaps of how to take a project on, one step at a time and also show how the authors dealt with doubt and setbacks.