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

“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

“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.