322: My 5 Favorite Books of the Year and My Top Takeaways from Each

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“We are simultaneously gods and worms.”—Abraham Maslow

Power plus humility, right? It’s a great combination and something to keep in mind as we try and build our businesses.

We can accomplish amazing things, and yet, we’re gone in a flash. Mere blips on the historical radar.

But let’s be the gods of our side hustle universe today, and focus on shaping that business in a way that best serves ourselves and others.

In this special solo edition of The Side Hustle Show, I’m breaking down my Top 5 books from last year, and the actions I took (or am taking) as a result of reading them.

Hopefully there are a few nuggets you can borrow!

And if you’re curious about all the books and other resources Side Hustle Nation found most useful last year, you can see the full list here:

The 147 Best Books, Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, and Courses of the Year — as Voted by You!

3 Ways to Get These for Free

The links below go to Amazon, but they’re not the only game in town. In fact, you can get free books — or book summaries — from several places.

  1. Your library – duh!
  2. Audible – Start a free Audible trial and get 2 free audiobooks!
  3. Blinkist – This cool service summarizes tons of the best non-fiction books. Start a free trial today.

1. Building a Story Brand

If you haven’t read Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand, I highly recommend it.

You’ll learn the common structure of the best stories (books, movies), and how to position YOUR business just like the “guide” character in those stories. Let your customer be Luke; you be Yoda.

You can even fill out a full “brand script” online (MyStoryBrand.com) and watch quick explanation videos for each part. Here’s what mine looked like:

Once you go through this, you’ll start to see this structure in almost every story.

As a result of this book (and my conversation with copywriting pro Laura Belgray), I reworked home page of Side Hustle Nation:

Doing this I think better explains what Side Hustle Nation is all about, gives people the opportunity dive into some pillar content, and gives people the option to jump on the email list.

And as a result, the homepage has seen an 8x increase in people joining the email list.

2. Work Less Make More

James Schramko’s Work Less Make More is a quick read that will inspire you to focus on the few things that really matter in your business.

My favorite parts were his discussion of EHR; your Effective Hourly Rate and his definition of a business as “an offer that converts.”

On the effective hourly rate front, and this is similar to what Rosemarie Groner and I talked about in episode 268, Blogging ROI.

The idea is to figure out how much you’re making, and how much work it took to make that. Dollars earned divided by hours worked.

For example, if you made $10,000 last month, and worked 160 hours, your effective hourly rate is about $62. And within that $10k and 160 hours, there’s probably an 80/20 of what was most effective.

Could you do more of that? Could you find help to do the other stuff for less than $62 an hour? I think so.

What focusing on EHR has looked like for me:

  • Saying no to more meetings and intro calls — and not feeling guilty about it.
  • Saying no to some local market research opportunities. Based on my EHR, it wasn’t a good trade.
  • Sending more repetitive tasks to my virtual assistant.
  • Testing out hiring some ghostwriters for Side Hustle Nation.
  • Hiring a house cleaning service. (Get $40 off your first cleaning if you want to try it too!)

What’s your Effective Hourly Rate? What could you do to increase it? Why are you doing work that doesn’t pay you at least that much?

3. Tools of Titans

I’m falling behind on my Tim Ferriss books, but thought the second half of Tools of Titans one was excellent. (I found the first half really disjointed and hard to follow.)

I highlighted a ton of different passages, but here are some sections that stood out:

  • “Lack of time is lack of priorities. If I’m “busy,” it is because I’ve made choices that me busy.”
  • “The Purpose of Life Is a Life of Purpose.”
  • “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” —Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
  • “My one repeated learning in life: ‘There are no adults.’ Everyone’s making it up as they go along.”
  • “Create slack, as no one will give it to you. This is the only way to swim forward instead of treading water.”
  • “We are simultaneously gods and worms.”—Abraham Maslow
  • “If I could only work 2 hours per week on my business, what would I do?”
  • “Did I spend today chasing mice or hunting antelope?”
  • “Luxury, to me, is feeling unrushed.”

Side note: Tools of Titans is a cool example of what you can do with podcast content!

4. High Performance Habits

In High Performance Habits, Brendon Burchard found 6 common characteristics of high performers:

  1. Seek Clarity
  2. Generate Energy
  3. Raise Necessity
  4. Increase Productivity
  5. Develop Influence
  6. Demonstrate Courage

Among my Kindle highlights:

  • “Did I live fully today? Did I matter?”
  • “If you leave your growth to randomness, you’ll always live in the land of mediocrity.”
  • Passion + Growth + Contribution = Personal Satisfaction.
  • “Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds to be.” –Abraham Lincoln
  • “Stress is self-created, so I decided to stop manufacturing it.”
  • If you can’t discern from your weekly or monthly calendar what major moves you’re working toward, you’re not optimizing your time.
  • “The competency that matters is the ability to become competent.” (The most important skill is the skill of learning new skills.)

5. Atomic Habits

James Clear’s Atomic Habits is both an excellent piece of writing and an actionable manual on how to establish good habits / break bad ones.

For me, it really hammered home the point that environment is stronger than willpower. Stop playing defense with willpower and instead set up better systems and a better environment to make positive habits automatic.

What that looks like in practice over here:

  • Making a note of my top 3 priorities for tomorrow the night before.
  • Printing out my in-home workouts in advance so I know exactly what to do.
  • Having my upstairs closet recording studio ready to go so there’s no set up time.
  • Getting and keeping all the junk food out of the house, and instead just stocking up on healthy snacks.
  • Pre-programming a bunch of common meals into My Fitness Pal so it’s easy to ease.

Honorable Mentions

Everybody Lies

If you liked Freakonomics you’ll love Everybody Lies. Thanks to Noah Kagan for the recommendation!


The biggest takeaway for me in Shane Snow’s Smartcuts was the power of mentorship.

This was also one of Sean Marshall’s 6 Rules of Scale — find a mentor, either virtual or real, to model your moves after. Odds are someone has walked a path similar to yours and you may be able to follow along.

The Everything Store

This is the history of Amazon through 2013 or 2014. It was fascinating to learn more about the ins and outs of this company that is at the center of so many side hustles.

The author does a good job of balancing all the positive things they’ve accomplished with their sometimes ruthless business practices and sometimes toxic internal culture.

American Kingpin

American Kingpin tracks the rise and fall of The Silk Road, a dark net site where apparently people could (and did!) buy and sell all sorts of illegal goods.

Since I never heard about this when it was actually going on — and the main character spends a good amount of time in nearby San Francisco — I thought it was awesome. A real page-turner.

Your Turn

What’s been on your reading list?

If you need some inspiration, here’s what Side Hustle Nation voted as their most helpful content of the year (books, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, etc.).


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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

7 thoughts on “322: My 5 Favorite Books of the Year and My Top Takeaways from Each”

  1. I always say I’m going to read Tools Of Titans but I never get around to it. The books I keep going back to that has so much great information in are Think And Grow Rich & How To Win Friends And Influence People. Great list Nick!

  2. Nice list Nick. I’m taking a 26 book challenge for the year and I’m always looking for good book ideas. I’m halfway through “Building a Story Brand” and I’m absolutely loving it! Just got “Never Split the Difference” and I might go with that one next. I’m definitely ordering Atomic Habits. I’ll have to check the other ones on your list.

  3. Reading High Performance Habits now and it is surprisingly good.
    Some of my favorite last year’s reads are (1) Like Joe mentioned, Never Split the Difference, which is indeed very actionable and the examples are thrilling, (2)Napoleon Hill’s Outwitting the Devil, (3) Business Brilliant by Lewis Schiff, for some reason this book is under the radar but it so good, (4) The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.
    Worst reads, couldn’t finish (1) The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins, (2) The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod and (3) Unfu*k Yourself by John Bishop. Hey, they deserve a list too! :-)
    Fun, non self-help/business books were Kevin Hart’s I can’t Make This Up and The Disaster Artist.


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