Top 5: Business Books for Photographers


I *love* reading. I was raised in a home full of books, and history is repeating itself with our kids- if Felix is ​​ever silent, I’m not typically worried he’s getting into something he shouldn’t. He’s typically on the floor of the playroom, surrounded by a pile of Babar books.

So it’s kind of a mystery to me why reading for business is such a struggle! It probably has something to do with the fact that it doesn’t feel like *actual* work, because there’s nothing concrete to show for the time spent with my nose in a book, at least not immediately afterwards. But it also doesn’t qualify as a recreational activity, because if I’m reading about work, I’m thinking about work, which means I’m not resting or spending time with family.

See my problem? It’s this gray, no-man’s-land.

The reason I’m telling you all of this is to illustrate: BECAUSE I struggle to make time for reading, I’m really, REALLY choosey about which books I pick up. They’ve got to come highly recommended by someone I trust, and it’s got to solve a particular problem or pain point.

So, in case you’re like me with too-little time for reading and a high bar of expectation, on this first edition of the Top 5, I’m sharing the five best business books I’ve ever read!

Top 5 Business Books for Photographers |  Abby Grace

Deep Work, by Cal Newport

If you and I have ever spent *any* time together, chances are, you’ve heard me recommend this one. I’m actually kind of pushy about it- I’ve bought countless copies of this book to send to friends in the past. And the reason for that is because this has been the single most impactful business book I’ve ever read, and has made the biggest difference at my levels + ability to push my thinking & creativity to the next level.

Deep Work is centered around the concept of being able to focus on cognitively-demanding tasks in a highly distracted world, helping you master hard tasks and produce high-value material in less time than it takes the rest of the population. Deep Work also discusses how going deep allows you to push your brain to the limits of what you’re capable of, reaching levels that were previously inaccessible because you didn’t know HOW to push yourself into that zone that Shonda Rhimes calls “the hum.”

This book taught me how to access that zone on purpose, how to work like a professional instead of approach like a head-in-the-clouds artist I’d been acting as. You know the zone I’m talking about- when your brain is firing on all cylinders and you can’t type or write fast enough, the ideas are flowing so quickly. And it’s not some woo woo practice- it simply comes down to the disciplined pursuit of going deep, and in this book, Cal Newport teaches you exactly how to do that.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey

I think I read this one in high school, and I’m almost certain I didn’t finish it. But Habit 3, “put things first” has stuck with me over the years. The Matrix he details inside Habit 3 helps me get super clear on what’s important, vs. what’s simply urgent. In our fast-paced world of ever-changing algorithms, email alerts on your iPhone, and time-sensitive trends on social media, it is SO EASY to unintentionally prioritize your time on the urgent, at the expense of the important. I don’t want to be someone who only ever plugs away at whatever’s right in front of me, forgetting to work on those big projects I’ve been dreaming of tackling (but that are constantly moved to the back burner in favor of fires needing to be put out).

I want to build things that last longer than a trending Reel, and being able to recognize the difference between something simply being timely vs. significant is part of that work.

Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull

If you’re a Disney lover and business owner, this is the book for you. Written by the President of Pixar Animation, it’s a *fascinating* look under the hood at how one of the world’s most creative companies. Using stories from the creation/ideation process of some of my favorite movies as a vehicle for lessons in management, it’s entertaining AND instructive. Best of both worlds.

My biggest takeaway from Creativity. Inc. was to *embrace* the failure that comes with innovating! I used to be *terrified* of making a wrong move, so I’d overanalyze a thing to death, and by the time I was ready to start, the idea had become stale. This book taught me not only to get over the fear of failing, but that those failures are an essential ingredient in reaching the final outcome.

Rest, by Alex Pang

If you’re the type who views rest as a consequence or necessary evil for doing good work, just- just trust me. Go order this one. Like yesterday.

rest was a game changer for this former workaholic. I talked about this in season 2, episode 1 of the The Artisan CEO podcast when we discussed the importance of office hours, but I used to view rest as this… tax I had to pay for work done well. I LOVE what I do, and overworking was easy.

But what I didn’t realize was that stepping away from work and switching my focus to non-work activities was actually an essential ingredients to do good work because of the brain’s “Default Mode Network,” which is a series of interconnected sections of your brain that activate as soon as someone stops concentrating on an external task, and shifts from outward-focused to inward focused cognition.

And here’s the kicker- the DMN is scarcely less active when in “rest mode” than when you’re actively puzzling through a problem. And it’s coming at the issue from a different angle from your active conscious, which is WHY you might come up with some of your best ideas in the shower, while driving, after a good night’s rest. Your brain NEEDS you to stop actively thinking about the issue so the DMN can take a hack on the problem!

Traction, by Gino Wickman

This is Business Planning 101, folks. If you’re struggling to run your business like a CEO, Traction was made for you.

The book seems like it was written for larger companies with multiple employees, but don’t let that deter you- it’s been absolutely helpful for our business of two! It’s a bit of a dry read, which isn’t surprising given that it’s a book on a business organization. But it’s worth pushing through- Matt and I walked through what the book calls the EOS model, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, which sets parameters for setting goals at 5, 3, and 1 year increments, then breaking them down into quarterly rocks, which has helped us make enormous progress on really important projects that I think I would have otherwise been too intimidated to get started on. I detailed our yearly planning process in this blog post, if you want to see that at work!

So there you have it! If you have a must-read business book that I haven’t discovered yet, drop it in a comment- I’d love to know what to add to my “next up” list!

To hear the full discussion about my Top 5: Business Books, check out Season 2, Episode 5 of The Artisan CEO Podcast!

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