Yes, I am reading yet another book on productivity. With six children, an aging father-in-law, a self-employed husband, and an irrepressible desire to do something more, I just may have an excuse. I know I have many kindred spirits in the classical homeschooling family. I have already shared some excellent counsel from several sources: Myth of Multitasking, and Getting it All Done: Ten Tips from a Veteran. The Ten Tips article came as I was working through What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, and in the article I promised to dedicate a post to this book.
As I flip through it I find many weighty concepts, too many to condense. I want you to read this book! Matt Perman has read all the best productivity books and this book contributes significantly to the discussion. I will give my reader three reasons to read What’s Best Next: it explains why we are finding it so hard to get everything done, what gospel-driven productivity looks like, and how to be more effective.
Why is it so hard to get everything done?
I once wrote to a very productive woman, “I don’t know how you southern women do all you do!” (Place this among the things not to say when you are being considered for a leadership position.) I have seen highly competent and productive mothers and I wonder, “Were they the overachievers in high school? Are they the Top Ten Percent? Is it a personality type thing?” Well, Perman says no one is intuitively efficient. Every successful person has to learn how to be productive. And what they can learn, so can we.
We live in a new era in which most of us engage in “knowledge work” rather than industrial. When we graduated from high school we did not have a career in widget-manufacturing in mind. Most of us studied a profession. We teach our children classically so with their well-trained mind they can tackle whatever they find in their hands to do. We envision them as teachers, lawyers, business managers, writers, computer programmers, website designers, accountants, engineers, medical professionals. Knowledge workers create and work with knowledge. It is primarily self-directed [Perman 37]. The challenge in knowledge work is to manage ourselves so we are effective.
Perman says we have two major challenges: ambiguity and overload. We have to define our own work and we deal with an overwhelming amount of information. To do this we have to learn to work. More than this, Perman distinguishes between efficiency and effectiveness. If I work efficiently on the wrong things I still have a problem. Efficiency can also squelch creativity which does not always perform on a tidy schedule.
What’s Best Next offers a distinctly Christian view of productivity. The author draws on the best of productivity writers, but grounds it in the Good News. He steps from principle-centered time management to God-centered. For one thing, if we are God-centered then we are not merely talking about getting things done in general, but we are asking, “What are the right things to be doing?” Those right things? Service. Good works. Love being expressed in action.
Second, if we are God-centered we move away from making anything else our center, whether children, work, spouse, or church. (And if this seems obvious and not worth mentioning, let me point out middle age has a way of diverting intense dependence on God to a relaxed and breezy confidence in our achievements. It is worth our time to assess whether those things we accomplish are the ones that will burn to gold at judgment or prove to be so much ash.)
Last, if God truly is our focus, He answers our need for fulfillment. Is anyone among us really immune to this desire? We want to have our efforts amount to something—to exercise creativity and feel the deep satisfaction of making something beautiful. When we are fulfilling our true purpose we have a deep sense of contentment. Sign me up!
To all these ends, God does have a position on productivity. He is for it. He formed us to be productive. In the parable of the talents we learn Jesus expects it. We are taught to make the best use of our time (Ephesians 5:15-17). Perman quotes Psalm 90:12 in the NASB, “Teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.” We have work to do.
How We Can Get It Done
After covering the Foundations, the Purpose, and the Guiding Principles of productivity (this is taken from a tidy recap on page 329-330), the author rolls up his sleeves and works out the nitty-gritty of personal management concepts. He spends four chapters on D.A.R.E.: Define, Architect, Reduce, Execute. Those familiar with Getting Things Done will recognize a lot here, but not all of it.
When I went through the book, I spent quite a bit of time on the Define chapter, in which he recommends creating a personal mission statement. When we know our mission, we will be able to choose more wisely between competing good opportunities. Architect refers to the way we set up the week in blocks of time and some other important routines. Under Reduce, he covers how to free up time for what is important. There is good stuff here. The final component, Execute includes planning, managing email and workflow, managing projects, and how to make things happen every day.
Can you tell I really want you to read this book?! Not just read it, but work with it. I wish I had a Bible study group or a group of girlfriends to go on the journey with me—it lends itself to a group study. It is not a book to read quickly and lay aside. To absorb these concepts of personal management, we have to try them out, to think them through our hands. How exciting it would be to help create mission statements with friends who know and love one another! However, even if you read it alone, you will find it gracious, insightful, and practical.
Here’s to busy Christians becoming sanely productive in an insanely busy culture.
Perman, Matt. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2014. Print.