Public Square & Theology 101

A Biblical View of Productivity

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Many years ago I heard a quote attributed to Thomas Edison:

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

I have been haunted by quotes like this all my life.

On the first page of What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, Matt Perman puts his finger on the problem that has dogged me throughout my career:

Most of us are feeling that we have way too much to do and too little time in which to do it. As David Allen points out, the process of managing our work is often messy and overflows its banks. Behind closed doors, after hours, there remain unanswered calls, tasks to be delegated, unprocessed issues from meetings and conversations, personal responsibilities unmanaged, and dozens of emails still not dealt with.

In the very next paragraph, Perman sums up the frustration we all feel at the end of a long day of work when we feel we did not get done what we really wanted to accomplish.

This is especially unfortunate because we live at an incredibly exciting time in history. Many of us love our jobs and find the world of work exciting. We have more opportunity to do good than ever before and more opportunity to do creative, challenging work than perhaps at any point in history.

Many of us believe what holds us back is a failure to become both more productive and better at managing our time and resources. Over the years I have read countless books on productivity and time management, gone to numerous seminars, and used almost every system, from the paper-based Franklin-Covey planner to my current high-tech adaptation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

While this quest has brought a certain level of organization to the chaos of my life, I still haven’t found a system for managing everything that works well for me.

Perman suggests that the aim of What’s Best Next is to reshape the way we think about productivity. He then presents a practical approach to help us become more effective in our lives with less stress and frustration.

The book achieves this goal by doing something unique in comparison to other books of this genre. In parts one and two of the book, Perman lays out a solid, biblical reason for why we should be getting things done by exploring the bigger picture of productivity in God’s plan.

This idea of gospel-driven productivity calls us to:

…use all that we have, in all areas of life, for the good of others, to the glory of God…to be on the lookout to do good for others to the glory of God, in all areas of life, and to do this with creativity and competence.

Next, in parts three through seven, the book moves from this practical theology to practical application. This is the how that is the basis for most books written on this subject. Here Perman pulls together the best secular thinking around the idea of productivity by viewing it through the lens of his gospel-driven model.

He writes that this idea of gospel-driven productivity…

…also means actually knowing how to get things done, so that we can serve others in a way that really helps, in all areas of life, without making ourselves miserable in the process through overload, overwhelm, and hard-to-keep up productivity systems.

This new perspective makes it clear that we as Christians are called “to put productivity practices and tools in the service of God’s purposes.”

This is not a book you can skim through to pick up a couple of good ideas. As Justin Taylor writes,

To my knowledge, there is no one writing today who has thought more deeply about the relationship between the gospel and productivity. You will find in these pages a unique and remarkable combination of theological insight, biblical instruction, and practical counsel that would change the world if put into practice.

In the final analysis, Perman explains that from a biblical perspective productivity isn’t just about getting more things done; it’s about getting the right things done. This book shows us how to effectively do the work that matters in order to bring glory to God, serve the common good, and further his kingdom in the here and now.

What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done is a book that I wished someone had given me forty years ago. Read it and you will be literally astounded by all the things you do.

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