Find meaningful work & nurture creativity with the 99U book series

One of my best-loved non-fiction books is The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp: an inspiring mine of creative wisdom that can apply to all manner of projects, professions, and plans.

I included this book in my list of books for bookworms to treasure in their libraries, and I’ve also delved a little deeper into the concept of “reading archeologically” that’s explored in the book.

I’m constantly on the search for books that provide a similar level of creative motivation, and the closest I’ve found are the three books in the 99U series.

A beautiful design with even better content: Maximise Your Potential, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. Image credit: 99u.

Jocelyn K. Glei, editor-in-chief and director, leads the 99U in its mission to provide the “missing curriculum” on making ideas happen: from that initial burst of creativity, to getting it down in paper, to getting your ideas heard. Glei oversees the 99U website, and she’s edited the book series that includes Manage Your Day-to-DayMaximise Your Potential, and Make Your Mark.

The books are insightful, beautifully-designed, and provide a reading experience that goes beyond looking at the 99U website (which is brilliant). If you enjoy investigating creativity and new ways to innovate your work and thinking, give these a go.

To achieve your best work: Manage Your Day-to-Day

I first read Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind last spring, during lambing time on my family’s farm, and loved it. Read this one if you’d like to adapt your mindset to maximise creative thinking and day-to-day innovation in your work and projects.

This book encourages: “Stop doing busywork. Start doing your best work”. Some of the talented contributors with lots of wisdom to share include Leo Babauta, Lori Deschene, Seth Godin and Gretchen Rubin.

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off. – Mark McGuinness

To be bold and take risks: Maximise Your Potential

Next up is Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career. This book teaches us that, “success isn’t about being the best. It’s about always getting better”, and focuses on stepping outside our comfort zones, building new skills, and tapping into true potential by taking risks and acting boldly.

This book is a good place to start if you feel that there’s something holding you back from creativity. Read it and learn from the great minds of Joshua Foer, Cal Newport (who played a leading role in my education hacking article), and Behance founder and CEO Scott Belsky amongst others.

When we are working with intention, we toil away endlessly—often through the wee hours of the morning—on projects we care about deeply. Whether it’s building an intricate model of an ancient ship, writing a song, or mapping out an idea for your first business, you do it out of genuine interest and love. If you can make “work with intention” the center of your efforts, you’re more likely to make an impact on what matters most to you. – Scott Belsky

To create a business with impact: Make Your Mark

The most recent book is Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business with Impact, which is much more business-orientated than the other two books. The message on achieving impact through entrepreneurship and innovation is a brilliant one, but if – for now – you’re looking to build creativity, focus, and a positive routine in your projects and day-to-day thinking, I’d recommend starting with the other two books.

After reading Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximise Your Potential, you might even be inspired to build your own business: keep an open mind. This book – “a business book for makers, not managers” – has some one-off advice from the bright minds behind Google X and Facebook, amongst other leading companies and startups.

Artist, architect, and activist Maya Lin’s purpose shows up not only in what she makes but also in what she chooses not to make. She spends her time focused solely on the projects and causes that allow her to grow and contribute. She says “no” to the rest. Restraint and discipline come to those who are clear about their purpose in life.

Are you looking to build your creativity this year, or are you planning to dedicate more of your free time to creating, building, or learning new skills? If you are, this book series is a superb starting point to get inspiration flowing and the first ideas on the drawing board.

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It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at

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