Useful Freelance Books: 2021

When you work for yourself, it’s easy to assume that only business books are worth your time. This year I decided to challenge that. Here, you’ve stumbled across an article of useful freelance books I read in 2021.

These books are different to they kinds you’ll find on 99% of the lists out there. They’ll either inspire you to think deeply, change your perspective or teach you something new. So, why make a quirky list like this?

Because I love a good business book—I’m fond of learning and self-development. But sometimes we all need a break.

Read for work for long enough and it can start to feel like a chore. And that can slow you right down.

Rather than trying to push through, I’d suggest another option. It can be worth delving into non business books, too. You won’t feel as productive, but it might be exactly what you need.

If you read the right books you’ll be better off in two ways:

  • Your brain gets a break from the difficult reads, and enjoys the downtime.
  • There’s a lesson to learn anyway—so even in your downtime you’re feeding your thoughts.

Still, finding the right one and carving out the time to read it can be tough. So here’s ten non business books that I found useful. I hope you’ll think so too.

I’ve included short descriptions of each and the biggest takeaways from each book. Let’s get started:

* Note that none of the links on this page are affiliate links. I’m recommending these books because they were helpful—not because I make money from doing so.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running Book Cover

#1: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

I loved the message inside this book.

Early on, Murakami wonders why runners run. He suggests runners put themselves through the pain to challenge themselves, and improve. I’m sure this is true for plenty of us business owners, too.

He asks us to keep going. You won’t win every race… You might not even finish every race—but do your best to stay in it anyway.

It will be a slog at times, and you might have to ignore your brain to get through. But the self-satisfaction will be worth it in the end.

He might be talking about running, but it reminds me about working for yourself. It’ll rarely be easy, but if you give it your best shot you’ll thank yourself in the end. Perseverance is key, as is hard work.

My top takeaway:

You might slow down as you get older, but the good news is you’re only racing yourself.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

Daytripper Book Cover

#2: Daytripper #1-10 – Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is a treat to read, from start to finish. 

The story follows a Brazilian, Brás, who writes obituaries for a living. A tragedy befalls him on his birthday, but the book doesn’t end there. It continues to follow Brás’ story in a very unexpected (and interesting) way.

I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll not share any more of the plot. Besides the story, art and pacing are all fantastic. Please take my word for it—there’s plenty to appreciate in here. 

The only thing it doesn’t have much of is text, which is the norm with graphic novels. You’ll have to read between the lines (and panels) to get the most out of it. Still, this book does a great job of making the most of what it has.

It’s difficult to narrow the story down to one or two overarching messages. It seems to say a lot with a little. In all, there’s so much we could take from this. 

This is a brilliant story that reminds us to consider what we want from life, and go for it while we still have time.

My top takeaway:

Make the most of your time. Life is shorter than you think.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

Money Book Cover

#3: Money: A User’s Guide – Laura Whateley

Note: This book caters to UK citizens, so I wouldn’t recommend buying it if you’re based elsewhere.

As you’d guess from the name, this is a book about money. It isn’t setting out to change your thinking, it’s more of an instructional read.

That aside, Laura makes the point early on that few of us learn much about money. In fact, after school/college or university it’s as if we’re expected to know everything already!

This book will make topics like Investing, Mortgages, Pensions and Taxes clearer. Three topics that important to our lives that most of us (ironically) don’t know much about. The book covers options for the self-employed too, so it doesn’t assume you have a salary.

One last thing: Yes, they don’t sound exciting—but don’t let the dull-sounding topics put you off. The author’s conversational writing will keep you reading through to the end.

My top takeaway:

The ‘default’ option is rarely the best one (especially true with taxes).

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

Animal Farm book cover

#4: Animal Farm – George Orwell

When I started my freelance journey, everything was perfect. Everyone was friendly and wanted a win-win for the both of us. Or… That’s what I thought at first.

As nice as it’d be if we could rely on everyone, it’s unfortunately not true. We can’t take for granted that clients, partners and even podcast guests will be trustworthy. The majority of them are, but it’s important to keep an eye out for the rest.

Some people are happy to take advantage of others, or even use them as stepping stones on their own journey. Here’s a short example from my own past as a designer. Back when I first went freelance someone asked me to make a logo.

We met up and talked about a few possibilities before they vanished. Shortly afterwards I noticed this person had made their own logo using one of my ideas. Months later, it turned out they’d wanted to spend no less than £20 on something that would take me 20 hours to create.

Over time, this becomes less of a problem as you start to charge more and build more of a reputation. It’s always worth keeping in mind though, so you aren’t caught out.

Animal Farm is a deservedly popular book. And a great warning about trusting the wrong people (or animals).

My top takeaway:

Be wary that some people are entirely self-serving, and don’t let them take advantage of you.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.


Blood Sweat And Pixels Book Cover

#5: Blood, Sweat And Pixels – Jason Schreier

As a longtime fan of video games, I’m lucky enough to play them after they’ve been made. But before this book came along, I had no idea what the before part involved. I didn’t appreciate the sheer effort, time and work that goes into creating them. 

The book focuses on a range of video games—one per chapter, and interviews the people behind them. What makes these chapters interesting is how difficult the whole process seems to be. Budgets come from guesswork, visions are rarely similar and staff burn rates are huge.

The list goes on. Before a game’s release, hundreds of people often have to slog through unpaid overtime to finish it. And in the more extreme cases, they’ll end up working roughly 100 hours a week for months on end.

So why am I recommending you read this one? Well, it paints a colourful picture. And it’d help you learn what not to do. 

In other words, look at everything stacked against video game developers. Then do the opposite.

My top takeaway:

Use realistic timelines, a clear vision and test ideas early. Oh, and be sure to take enough time off—we aren’t machines.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.


The Almanack Of Naval Ravikant Book Cover

#6: The Almanack of Naval Ravikant – Eric Jorgenson

Naval Ravikant’s book seems to gravitate around life, and our perspective on it. It’s full of eye-openers, and I found myself taking notes on almost every page.

There’s so much profound thinking in here that it’s difficult to narrow the book down to a few paragraphs. Yet, there was one point that stuck with me. 

The world has been around for many years, and will be around for many more. In the long run, we’re all little monkeys walking around a spinning rock in space. If you’re the feeling pressure from work or life, ask yourself whether it’ll matter 1,000 years from now.

My top takeaway:

We’ll always be chasing something. As difficult as it is, it’d be best to accept that. Here’s the thing:

As young people, we want money. As adults, we want more time. In old age, we want our health back.

The majority of us will never have all three at once. Knowing that, try to live in the moment. 

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

Shoe Dog Book Cover

#7: Shoe Dog – Phil Knight

This book is a memoir written by the founder of one of the biggest brands on the planet—Nike. It covers his journey from business school, to his retirement as Nike’s CEO. It’s a very open story about his struggles, successes and failures throughout his career.

It was refreshing to discover this book felt very relatable. Look at other business billionaires like Tesla’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, for example. It’s tempting to assume we have little in common with them.

But when we dig a bit deeper it usually turns out they are ordinary flawed people, like us. Phil Knight is transparent throughout, sharing both the big wins and the mistakes he made. It’s an inspiring story with a lot to offer, and shows us that sometimes we need to take risks to get where we’re going.

If you’re a fan of the Nike brand or running, buy this book. If you’re neither, buy it anyway.

My top takeaway:

Believe in whatever it is you’re selling. If you don’t, they’ll know. 

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

The Power Of Self Confidence Book Cover

#8: The Power of Self-Confidence – Brian Tracy

I’m confident in saying that confidence is more important than ever.

Businesses aren’t confined to local shops anymore, where strangers are rare. Instead, most of us work on our computers over the internet. And because of that we have the potential to serve a worldwide audience.

But to serve those people, we need to be comfortable with the idea of reaching out to those strangers. We need to be brave enough to put our words and voices out there, even though it might earn criticism. 

In other words, marketing ourselves is a necessity these days. If you don’t feel confident doing that, your efforts could suffer. And if that happens, it’s unlikely you’ll reach and help the people that need your help.

This book aims to help you shift your perspective to gain greater confidence in your work and self. If that sounds like it’d be useful, I’d recommend you grab it.

My top takeaway:

Often, the only thing standing between you and success is fear.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to the Goodreads page.

The Courage To Be Disliked Book Cover

#9: The Courage to Be Disliked – Ichiro Kishimi

Most of us have heard about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, but can’t say the same about Alfred Adler. This book makes the case that this he was on a similar level to the previous psychologists. And it tells us his teachings were so impactful that they’ve become part of our day-to-day lives. 

In the book a youth approaches a philosopher asking for the answers to some of life’s big questions. Rather than drawing on philosophy for his answers, he leans on Adler’s teachings. This serves as a great way for us to learn the basics of Adlerian psychology.

Some of the lessons in this book might surprise you, and might even change your perspective on life. Even if you disagree with Adler’s teachings, you’ll be a little wiser having read it.

My top takeaway:

You are responsible for your own situation, good or bad. Because of that you also have the power to create a better one.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to it on Goodreads.


The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck book cover

#10: The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck – Mark Manson

This book could be very useful for both individuals and business owners. If you’ll humour me, I can think of a relevant story from my own experience.

Once, someone asked me for a meeting. Ten minutes into my coffee shop wait, he sent me an email: ‘Sorry, I didn’t realise I’m double-booked today. Can we reschedule for next week?’

I gave him the benefit of the doubt and agreed to meet a week later. That time, not only did he not turn up—he didn’t warn me. Then he signed me up to his newsletter a couple of months later.

This guy wasted my time twice over, then had the cheek to sign me up to something I never asked for. Unbelievable. Anyway, rather than getting angry, I channeled my inner Mark Manson.

I saw this as a great opportunity to test out the book’s key lesson and not one F*ck was given. To this day, I’m sure it worked. I’m happier as a result.

My top takeaway:

Things always go wrong sooner or later, both in big ways and small. Try not to let them derail you. Be selective in the F*cks you give.

Want to learn more? Here’s a link to it on Goodreads.


There you go!

I hope you enjoyed reading this list of useful freelance books. This list is just some of my favourites, all read at some point in 2021. And the next steps?

Apply the lessons within, or buy the books to learn and grow your business. If you’re hungry for more book tips and tricks, be sure to sign up to the email list/bonus pdf with the form below.

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