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With many people having time on their hands or moments in isolation these days, I’ve seen reading lists on books about quarantines or less disheartening literature. Here’s one for your career – what better way to spend this unsettled time than trying to boost your competence for the future?

Let’s start with some easy reading carrying succinct powerful messages: Patrick Lencioni’s oeuvre. The San Francisco-based consultant has charmed readers with fables about teamwork, meetings, the fears that sabotage client loyalty, the three signs of a miserable job and more. His stories can be gripping and are followed by explanations of how to put the ideas to work – all readable in a few hours.

For career planning, consider What’s Next? by Barbara Moses. The title reflects a common career question and she advises becoming a career activist, taking control of your work so it meets your needs. Georgetown University Professor Cal Newport is best known for his recent investigations into deep work but an earlier book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, presents four rules for career success, starting with don’t follow your passion. Instead, he explains how to build skills so that you can’t be ignored. A third possibility is What Got you Here Won’t Get you There, from executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, on the 20 self-destructive habits that can keep you stalled on your current career rung and how to change them.

To rise you need to understand the breadth of the organization’s role and operations. So use this time to step back and think about larger issues than your current role. I’m a fan of a series of books by consultants Joseph and Jimmie Boyett and will highlight two: The Guru Guide: The Best Ideas of the Top Management Thinkers, which brings together in some detail the ideas of 79 major management writers, connecting and comparing them to each other, and The Guru Guide to Marketing, which does the same for 62 prominent marketers, giving you understanding about that important business function.

Peter F. Drucker is featured prominently in that guide on management thinkers given he is usually thought to be the first management guru – in fact that distinction probably belongs with Mary Parker Follett – and his The Practice of Management is a classic. Alternatively, a lovely distillation of the thinking in all his writings, including comments from major leaders who have applied them, is offered in The Definitive Drucker by Elizabeth Haas Edersheim and if you want a similar roundup of his predecessor try Mary Parker Follett: Prophet of Management by Pauline Graham. To understand organizations, you can also benefit from Jim Collins’ Good to Great or if in the non-profit world Force for Good by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant.

On the thorny issue of leadership and management, here are four favourites: Michael Feiner’s The Feiner Points of Leadership, which has insightful chapters filled with his laws for leading bosses, subordinates, teams, and peers; Marcus Buckingham’s The One Thing You Need to Know for leading, managing, and sustained success; McGill professor Henry Mintzberg’s Simply Managing; and the classic on differing conversational styles between men and women, Talking from 9 to 5 by Deborah Tannen.

Of course, this is also a good time to delve into biographies, losing yourself in history. Pick the figure you want to know more about and learn from them – mentorship from afar. Lincoln on Leadership by Donald Phillips is a cross between a slender biography and a management book that I loved and a leader who borrowed it recently reaffirmed my enthusiasm for its wisdom.

Quick hits

  • In adjusting to the new domestic arrangements as more people work from home, consultant Ed Batista suggests focusing on boundaries, which keep things in their place. There are three to be alert to: Temporal (when certain activities will take place); physical (certain places for certain activities); and cognitive (keeping focused rather than distracted).
  • On that latter point, blogger James Clear points out in a world where information is abundant and easy to access, the real advantage is knowing where to focus.
  • Mario Peshev, CEO of the web platform builder DevriX, recommends a 1-3-5 daily to-do list: One priority task, three mid-level tasks, and five low-hanging fruit.
  • With unsettled times, executive recruiter Gerald Walsh says this is not the moment to put your head down and just do your job. Make sure your boss knows what you’re doing. Speak up in meetings. Offer new ideas.
  • Research has shown as we might expect that when we get bored smartphone usages increase. But new research also suggests the opposite: Study participants reported higher levels of boredom after using their smartphones.

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