What’s Best Next Series – What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman. Zondervan. 352 pages. 2014
(Click here to read the book review.)
There is much to learn from this new book on productivity from a Christian perspective. So much so in fact, that I’m going to share lessons learned from the book over the next few weeks. I’ve highlighted a number of passages and would like to share some of them with you below.
Perman formerly worked at Desiring God Ministries, the ministry of John Piper. Piper writes the Foreword to the book. Each chapter has a helpful summary that includes the Core Point of the chapter and other helpful information.
- This book is really about how to be so satisfied in God that the power of this joy is released “to love people better in the midst of the current, very challenging environment of our modern, technological, constantly interrupted knowledge work era.”
- Myth #1: Productivity is about getting more done faster.
- Truth: Productivity is about effectiveness first, not efficiency.
- Myth #2: The way to be productive is to have the right techniques and tools.
- Truth: Productivity comes first from character, not techniques.
- Myth #3: It is not essential to give consideration to what God has to say about productivity.
- Truth: We cannot be truly productive unless all our activity stems from love for God and the acknowledgment that he is sovereign over all our plans.
- Myth #4: It is not essential to make the gospel central in our view of productivity.
- Truth: The only way to be productive is to realize that you don’t have to be productive.
- Myth #5: The way to be productive is to tightly manage yourself (and others!).
- Truth: Productivity comes from engagement, not tight control; when we are motivated, we don’t need to tightly control ourselves (or others).
- Myth #6: The aim of time management should be our peace of mind.
- Truth: Productivity is first about doing good for others to the glory of God.
- Myth #7: The way to succeed is to put yourself first.
- Truth: We become most productive by putting others first, not ourselves.
- Myth #8: We will have peace of mind if we can get everything under control.
- Truth: Basing our peace of mind on our ability to control everything will never work.
- Myth #9: To-do lists are enough.
- Truth: Time is like space, and we need to see lists as support material for our activity zones, not as sufficient in themselves to keep track of what we have to do.
- Myth #10: Productivity is best defined by tangible outcomes.
- Truth: The greatest evidence of productivity comes from intangibles, not tangibles.
- Myth #11: The time we spend working is a good measure of our productivity.
- Truth: We need to measure productivity by results, not by time spent working.
- Myth #12: Having to work really hard or even suffer in our work means our priorities are screwed up or we are doing something wrong.
- Truth: We will (sometimes) suffer from our work, and it is not sin.
- THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT GETTING THINGS DONE and making ideas happen, with less friction and frustration, from a biblical perspective.
- But the process of getting things done is harder than it needs to be. Most of us are seeking solutions to this problem. But there is something we often overlook: What does God think about all of this? Does God have anything to say about getting things done, and if so, what? How should we think about this as Christians?
- In fact, good productivity practices are often downplayed in the church at the altar of overspiritualization.
- My aim in this book is to reshape the way you think about productivity and then present a practical approach to help you become more effective in your life with less stress and frustration, whatever you are doing. I want to help you live the life that God has called you to live, and to live it with maximum effectiveness and meaning. Along with that, I want to equip you to do good in radical, creative ways for the cause of missions, ending extreme poverty (it can be done!), and bringing justice to the oppressed.
- We are going to see many new reasons to care about getting things done in this book, and a new twist on some common reasons. Here are a few I want to highlight at the start.
- 1. Bad productivity approaches are annoying!
- 2. Managing ourselves well is foundational to all we do. As we will see in this book, managing yourself well involves more than just getting more done faster. It also involves knowing what the right things to do are — the realm of personal leadership.
- 3. A good productivity approach enables us to be more effective in doing good for others.
- 4. Knowing how to get things done is a component of our sanctification.
- 5. Knowing how to get things done enables us to fulfill God’s call to make plans for the good of others.
- 6. Knowing how to get things done is a component of a complete worldview.
- 7. Managing ourselves well enables us to excel at work and in life.
- The result of my quest is what I call Gospel-Driven Productivity. Gospel-Driven Productivity (GDP) is centered on what the Bible has to say about getting things done while at the same time learning from the best secular thinking out there. The essence of GDP is this: We are to use all that we have, in all areas of life, for the good of others, to the glory of God — and that this is the most exciting life.
- In other words, we are to put productivity practices and tools in the service of God’s purpose for us, which is that we do good for others, in all areas of life, to his glory.
- The most important things we will see is that the chief guiding principle for being productive is actually love.
- It may seem counterintuitive, but seeking the benefit of others before ourselves is not only what God requires of us but also is the way to be most productive.
- This is true not just in our personal lives, but also in our work lives. Generosity is at the heart of true productivity in all areas of life.
- The DARE Model. We will see that there are four steps for leading and managing yourself for effectiveness: define, architect, reduce, and execute.
- 1. Define. The essence of defining can be summarized this way: Define what’s most important in your life based on what God says, not first on what you (or others) think.
- 2. Architect.
- 3. Reduce.
- 4. Execute.
- Conveniently, these form the acronym DARE — which reminds us of the all-important guiding principle that underlies all of this, which is that we should have a sense of adventure in doing good.
- In other words, the ultimate result of GDP is the transformation of the world socially, economically, and spiritually, to the glory of God.
- I have designed this book so you can feel productive in reading it, and so that if you want, you can open the book to almost anywhere and find some helpful, immediately applicable things. That’s why there are lots of headings, call-out boxes along the way with key tips, a summary box at the end of each chapter, and a toolkit at the very end.
- Most of us haven’t paid sufficient attention to the skill of defining our work clearly. This is why it so often feels like our workdays never stop. When you don’t have your work clearly defined, there can never be any finish point.
- Knowledge Work “Knowledge work” is a term coined by Peter Drucker, which means work that consists primarily of creating, using, and communicating knowledge, as opposed to manual labor. Any work whose focus consists of generating ideas, communicating, and leading (which includes your personal life and family) is knowledge work.
- Knowledge work is about creating and utilizing knowledge, but it is more than that. For when your work consists in creating and using knowledge, there is an important consequence: by definition, it must be primarily self-directed. Knowledge work therefore brings us face to face with the first villain in this story: ambiguity.
- Ambiguity is not necessarily a villain in itself. It is a good thing that knowledge work has at its essence creating clarity out of ambiguity and making good decisions (i.e., determining what’s best next). But when we don’t know how to do knowledge work, ambiguity becomes a villain because it ends up frustrating us, making life harder, and sometimes defeating us.
- Just as something good (the rise of knowledge work) brought us head-to-head with the first villain, so also the rise of mass connectivity, though an excellent thing, brings us head-to-head with a second villain: overload. Massive overload.
- Here’s the bottom line: We are using industrial era tactics for knowledge era work. And that doesn’t work.
- In other words, there are actually two components to doing our work. There are the job skills themselves — creating financial statements, writing web content, preaching sermons, leading meetings, and so forth — and then there is the process of how to do work in general.
- Effectiveness has to be learned and, fortunately, can be learned.
- The reason it’s so hard to get things done is that we have transitioned as a society from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, but we haven’t updated our strategies and tactics to align with the nature of knowledge work. The result is that we are unprepared to meet the challenges of ambiguity and overload.
- Do you know what your job is? Whether you are a student, in the workforce, or a stay-at-home mom, give thought to identifying the primary purpose of your work, then write it down.
- In other words, productivity is not first about getting more things done faster. It’s about getting the right things done.
- There are six things we need to know about efficiency and why it’s the wrong solution.
- 1. You can get the wrong things done. Thus, more important than how much we get done and how fast we do it is whether we are getting the right things done at all.
- 2. Efficiency doesn’t solve the problem.
- 3. Becoming more efficient can actually make things worse.
- 4. The quest for efficiency often undermines the true source of effectiveness in any organization — the people.
- 5. Efficiency is often the enemy of innovation.
- 6. The quest for efficiency often overlooks the importance of intangibles, which are now the main source of value in our knowledge economy.
- This is the great irony: defining productivity mainly in terms of immediate measurable results undermines the measurable results in the long run.
- One of the biggest examples of investing for the long run for the knowledge worker is attending conferences. Going to conferences is a key part of the work of any leader and manager. It is one of the many intangibles that define the essence of knowledge work in our day.
- The far greater priority than becoming more efficient is learning how to identify what’s most important — that is, what’s best — and then translate that into action.
- One of the best places for efficiency is being efficient with things so that you can be effective with people. If you become more efficient with things (for example, by setting up your computer, desk, workflow system, and files to operate in the most efficient way possible), you will have more time to give to being effective with people without feeling like you are always behind on your tasks.
- True productivity is not first about efficiency — doing things right and doing them quickly — but effectiveness — doing the right things.
- Are you focusing on effectiveness or efficiency?
CHAPTER 3 – Why We Need to Be God-Centered in Our Productivity
- WE SAW IN CHAPTER 1 that we are encountering two chief villains that make it hard to get things done: ambiguity and overload. As a result, we need to learn how to work, and as we saw in chapter 2, the approach we develop needs to focus on effectiveness over efficiency. Just learning how to work, however, is still not enough because there is a third villain we haven’t met yet. As much as we need to address ambiguity and overload, tackling them by themselves is not enough. We need to counter them in a way that also overcomes the third villain: lack of fulfillment.
- Let’s start with the question of why we so often feel unfulfilled at the end of the day, even when we’ve gotten a lot done.
- The deeper reason is that we feel unfulfilled when there is a gap between what is most important to us (the realm of personal leadership) and what we are actually doing with our time (the realm of personal management).
- You are satisfied with your day when there is a match between what you value and how you spent your time. On the other hand, when what you actually work on and accomplish during the day is mostly different from what really matters to you, you feel unfulfilled.
- The first generation of time management focused primarily on getting organized. The second generation incorporated reminders but took things up a notch by adding calendars and goal setting. Hence, the third generation goes beyond setting goals and making long-term plans to identifying values and then connecting your planning and goals to those values. Covey, therefore, sets forth a new approach to time management, which he calls a fourth-generation approach. The fourth generation is based not just on values, but also on principles.
- The point is that instead of just determining whatever values you want, you need to base your values on correct principles: unchanging truths and ideals that truly represent what is most important, principles such as truth, justice, fairness, generosity, kindness, and equality. While values are subjective, principles are objective.
- The key to effectiveness is to value correct principles and weave them into your life. The fourth generation of time management is called principle-centered leadership,and as Covey points out, it has major ramifications not only for personal management but also for organizational management and leadership.
- However, I want to argue that he doesn’t go far enough. We cannot stay at simply being principle-centered; we need to go beyond being principle-centered to being God-centered. It is good to be principle-centered, but we need to go beyond being principle-centered to being God-centered. Consider a few reasons. 1. God is foundational to true principles. The problem with simply being principle-centered is that there is something more fundamental even than principles — namely, God. God is the source of all true principles. It also is true that thinking in terms of principle-centeredness establishes true and real common ground among Christians and those who do not share the faith.
- Or consider Ephesians 5:17, the fundamental New Testament passage on time management.
- Productivity is specifically about doing “the will of the Lord.” It’s about specifically orienting our lives and decisions around God’s will. We are to ultimately be Christ-centered, not just principle-centered. The most important reality in the universe is not a set of principles, but a person. As a result, our aim becomes not simply to value certain truths but to please, honor, and love God.
- God ultimately defines what the right things are to get done.
- God is “what matters most.”
- So it’s important to say that not only do we need to go beyond principle-centeredness to God-centeredness; we also need to avoid the trap of settling for any other center. In fact, a concern for productivity naturally points us to the need for us to put God’s purposes at the center of our lives and productivity, rather than our own purposes. Consider a few reasons.
- 1. We will give an account to God of how we spent our time.
- 2. Excluding God is the ultimate in unproductivity.
- 3. God offers ultimate productivity.
- 4. God answers our need for fulfillment.
- 5. God does a better job of planning our lives than we ever can.
- The solution, as we have seen, is to begin with God, to be God-centered in our productivity. This means that we need to serve God according to how he wants to be served, not how we think he should be served.
- This is why it is especially important for our approach to productivity to be gospel-driven, based first on the provision that God has given in his Son for our sins, not on what we do for God. For if the challenges we are encountering are ultimately a result of sin and the fall, then the only ultimate solution to them is in the gospel — God’s solution to our sin problem.
- We can be productive in an ultimate sense only if we center our productivity around God and the gospel.
CHAPTER 4 – DOES GOD CARE ABOUT GETTING THINGS DONE?
- Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love. — John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life
- Productivity is not simply a subject that is fascinating or that helps make our lives easier. It is, at root, a biblical concern and a fundamental issue before God. The innate desire we have to be productive and do useful things is an echo of this. To be productive, in fact, glorifies God because when we are productive we are not only obeying him but imitating him.
- Knowing how to get the right things done — how to be personally effective, leading and managing ourselves well — is indeed biblical, spiritual, and honoring to the Lord. It is not unspiritual to think about the concrete details of how to get things done; rather, this is a significant component of Christian wisdom.
- God wants us to be productive and even cares about things like productivity methods and secular thinking.
- THE FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH behind this book is that the gospel changes everything. It affects the way we go about all areas of life — the workplace, business, the arts, culture, serving the poor, everything. We are to live all of our lives in a gospel-centered way.
- Productivity is about making a contribution and giving more than we get so that God gets the glory (not us).
- Gospel-Driven Productivity (GDP) is an approach to personal productivity that is based on the Scriptures without rejecting good common-grace wisdom or being spiritually weird. It takes what the Bible and common grace teach us on this matter and puts it into a simple framework to help us apply it. GDP can be broken down into two parts: (1) the overall vision for how to go about getting things done (the purpose, principles, and foundations) and (2) the basic process for making things happen.
CHAPTER 5 – WHY THE THINGS YOU DO EVERY DAY MATTER
- To be productive is to get done what God wants done. What, then, does God want done?
- Good works. What God wants done are good works. Hence, we can redefine productivity this way: to be productive is to be fruitful in good works. In fact, the biblical ethic is that we do all the good we can.
- According to the Scriptures, good works are not simply the rare, special, extraordinary, or super spiritual things we do. Rather, they are anything we do in faith.
- What is a good work? Anything that does good and is done in faith.
- So what we see in Scripture is that “good works” are not just spiritual things we do, or hard and rare endeavors. They are anything we do in faith, which includes the mundane activities of everyday life like raising kids, going to work, and even tying our shoes.
- The things that we are doing every day when we are being productive — answering emails, going to meetings, making supper for the family — are not just things we are doing. They are good works.
- This is one of the main reasons I’ve written this book. I want you to see everything you do in a new light so that you can become an agent for good, right where you are, to the glory of God. Don’t just try to get things done; seek to serve others to the glory of God in everything you do. More than that, be proactive and enthusiastic in doing good for others. Make plans for the welfare of others, and use all the things you learn from this book to make yourself more effective in carrying out those plans.
- A radical concern for others is to be at the heart of our productivity and at the heart of everything we do every day.
- Hence, being productive is not just about getting things done. It’s about being a useful person, making a contribution, and leaving things better than you found them.
- Since getting things done is ultimately about serving and making a difference in people’s lives, an entirely new reason to get things done comes to light: it enables us to serve others better. There are four specific ways it does this.
- 1 Reduce the Friction in Doing Good First, good productivity practices reduce the friction in doing good, thus making doing good easier and more likely.
- 2. Amplify Your Ability to Do Good Second, good productivity practices amplify our ability to do good. When you know how to make good plans, for example, you are able to get more done, plain and simple.
- 3. Free Up Time to Serve: A Better Use of the Four-Hour Workweek Third, good productivity practices free up more time to serve.
- 4. Do Larger and More Challenging Good Works Fourth, good productivity practices enable us to serve others better because they make certain good works possible that otherwise we couldn’t do at all.
- The things you do every day have great meaning because, in doing them, you are doing the good works that God prepared beforehand for you. Further, doing good for others is not boring, like broccoli, but exciting, like steak. It is the path to the life of greatest joy.
- This chapter gives us the guiding principle of Gospel-Driven Productivity, which is simply the guiding principle of the Christian life: put the other person first, and be on the lookout for ways to do this.
- In other words, generosity is to be the guiding principle for our lives. This is both the right thing to do and the way to be most productive. It is the surprising, counterintuitive key to productivity. Generosity is the outworking of an even more fundamental principle — namely, love.
- Love is the guiding principle of the Christian life, and generosity is the chief way love manifests itself in the world of work, our communities, and society.
- Hence, the overarching principle of the Christian life is that we are here to serve, to the glory of God. According to the Bible, a truly productive life is lived in service to others.
CHAPTER 6 – Put Others First: Love as the Guiding Principle for All of Life
We continue with our in-depth look at Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. This week we will look at chapters 6 and 7. Here are passages that I highlighted:
• This chapter gives us the guiding principle of Gospel-Driven Productivity, which is simply the guiding principle of the Christian life: put the other person first, and be on the lookout for ways to do this.
• In other words, generosity is to be the guiding principle for our lives. This is both the right thing to do and the way to be most productive. It is the surprising, counterintuitive key to productivity.
• Generosity is the outworking of an even more fundamental principle — namely, love.
• Love is the guiding principle of the Christian life, and generosity is the chief way love manifests itself in the world of work, our communities, and society.
• Hence, the overarching principle of the Christian life is that we are here to serve, to the glory of God.
• According to the Bible, a truly productive life is lived in service to others.
• The guiding mindset of our lives is to be: how can I do good for others? How can I benefit my neighbor?
• In other words, the good of others is to be the motive and criteria for all that we do. The good of others is “what’s best next.”
• For, as we’ve seen, being productive is about doing good for others — creatively, competently, and abundantly. Understood in this sense, productivity is indeed a fruit of the Spirit, for this is actually the meaning of “kindness,” which Paul lists as one of the chief fruits of the Spirit.
• More specifically, loving others means six chief things.
1. Have real goodwill toward the other person.
2. Put the other person first. We are to seek the interests of others first precisely because this is how Christ loved us. Putting the interest of others first involves finding out what matters to them.
3. Be eager in meeting the needs of others, not begrudging and reluctant. If we don’t do good eagerly and because we want to, we are missing an essential ingredient of love. Hence, pursing joy in doing good is a moral obligation.
4. Be proactive, not reactive, in doing good. We should look for opportunities to do good for people. We are to be quick-sighted to discern the needs of others! Conversely, if we aren’t readily seeing other people’s needs, it is not simply a technical failure in the Christian life; it is selfishness.
5. Avoid a self-protective mindset and take pains to do good for others. We are to do good even if it requires a sacrifice on our part.
6. Be creative and competent in doing good, not lazy and shoddy. Or at your job, if you haven’t mastered the skills of your job or aren’t seeking to do so, you aren’t serving your employer and coworkers as well as you should. You might even be making the work of others harder. Mediocre work is not Christian!
• Three Characteristics of Gospel-Driven Christians 1. Known by their love, and also sound in theology. Both/and, not either/or. 2. Engaged in their communities and workplaces and working for the good of others, not retreating to the hills to grow wheat until Jesus comes. 3. Not afraid of culture, but not compromising the gospel either. The gospel is unchanging, but it does need to be contextualized.
• If our works are to be truly productive — that is, affirmed by God at the final judgment and last forever — they need to be done with a love for God at the center. Anything else is ultimately idolatry.
• A great work is not given to God if God is not the great end in what you do or give. Good works without this motive of love for God may do much temporal good, which is commendable in its own right, but they will have no ultimate spiritual or eternal value because you’ve missed the most important point — God.
• Counterintuitively, putting others first is actually the best way to be productive at work (as well as in the rest of life).
• This theme runs through his whole book: Don’t make things about yourself first; your first aim needs to be the good of others.
• What Ferrazzi says about networking is a good summary of what the Bible teaches about all of life: everything we do, including our work, is to be done for the sake of others.
• My point is that in the arena of work we are to seek more than profit, not other than profit. We are to seek profit in line with values.
• The chief thing that makes business business is that we seek the good of others in a way that is profitable. shoddy work is not simply shoddy work — it is a failure of love.
• In fact, the Bible actually teaches that slack work is a form of vandalism. Christians are to be the opposite of vandals and slackers in their work. We are to do work that will truly benefit people by going the extra mile rather than just doing the minimum necessary. Excellence in our work is actually a form of generosity and love, and poor quality is a form of stinginess and selfishness. Shoddy work is not just shoddy work; it’s a failure of love.
• One of the best forms of generosity in our work is excellence. Excellence matters not only because it is right and exciting in itself, but even more significantly because it is a way of serving people.
• Excellence at work chiefly manifests itself in two ways: caring about usability and caring about good design.
1. Usability: Create products that lift burdens, not products that create burdens.
2. Good design: Create products that people like.
• What’s best next? Doing good for your neighbor. That’s what’s best next. What will serve others and the display of God’s glory best next? Do that. And, enjoy it.
• Core Point of the Chapter: The chief guiding principle of effectiveness is to put the other person first in all that you do, including your work.
CHAPTER 7 How the Gospel Makes Us Productive
• Wilberforce understood that massive practical action for good comes about not first as a result of moral exhortation or appeals to change but rather as a result of understanding and embracing doctrine — most centrally the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
• We enter a right relationship with God through faith in the gospel alone, not as a result of any works we do before or after becoming a Christian. Good works are a result of having been accepted by God, not the means or basis of our being accepted by him.
• The essence of the gospel — of Christianity — is that our acceptance by God does not depend on us. The gospel is about what God did for us in Christ, not about what we do for God.
• Paul sees a close and essential relationship between doctrine and practice. Specifically, understanding doctrine leads to and causes good works.
• The primary doctrine in view here is justification by faith alone. The chief doctrine that leads to Christians’ being devoted to good works is the doctrine that God saved us “not because of works done by us in righteousness” but that we are “justified by his grace.” The practical is founded on the doctrinal, and the chief doctrine that founds the practical is the fact that God accepts us apart from our practice.
• This has huge implications for the way we do our work. It means that we cannot leave behind our doctrine and theology in an effort to be more pragmatic and productive. Rather, the way to become truly productive is to anchor our lives squarely and securely on the great truths of the Bible, especially the gospel of justification by faith alone.
• Doctrine fuels the joy that empowers obedience, realizing that we are wholly and completely accepted by God apart from our works through faith in Christ results in massive and radical action for good because it results in great love and joy for God.
• Hence, the reason doctrine causes — not merely enables but causes — good works and moral reform is because doctrine creates joy. This joy makes us want to do good. It makes us eager to pursue holiness and the welfare of our neighbor and the world. Doctrine causes joy, which in turn is the fuel for good works.
• The doctrine of justification frees us to serve our neighbor because we no longer have to worry about our own acceptance before God.
• If we had to do good works in order to become justified, we wouldn’t truly be doing them for the sake of our neighbor. They would ultimately be for our own sakes. But since we don’t have to do them in order to be accepted by God, we are able to do them truly for our neighbor.
• Jesus died not simply so that we would do good works but so that we would be passionate about glorifying his name through them.
• Core Point of the Chapter: Massive practical action for good comes about not first as a result of moral exhortation or appeals to change but rather as a result of understanding doctrine — and, most centrally, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
We’ll pick up with Chapter 8 of this excellent book next time. I also invite you to check out Matt’s website at www.whatsbestnext.com
What’s Next Best Series – Part 3
CHAPTER 8: Peace of Mind without Having Everything under Control
- Even if we avoid the error of seeking God’s acceptance through our productivity, there is another subtle and related trap that we easily can fall into — the trap of basing our day-to-day peace of mind on whether we made it to the end of our to-do list, put “first things first,” kept our action and project lists up to date, or got the results we wanted from our day.
- All of those things are important. But to base our peace of mind on them is ultimately a law-based approach to the Christian life — a form of living our daily Christian lives on the basis of what we do (works) rather than what God has done (faith).
- Let’s look at some interesting parallels between Getting Things Done (GTD) and Philippians 4: 6-7, and then flesh out some of the deeper foundations behind the principles David Allen is pointing to.
- This passage has some striking similarities with GTD. First, notice that both concern peace of mind. David Allen speaks of “mind like water.” This passage speaks of “the peace of God” and not being “anxious.” Second, notice that both this passage and GTD deal with anxiety in similar ways. Third, notice that both GTD and Philippians advocate being comprehensive about getting everything that is on your mind out of your mind.
- But there is also a significant difference. GTD says to write everything down in a system that you trust and review regularly, whereas Paul tells us to “let your requests be made known to God.”
- What Paul teaches us here is that there is a way to have peace even when we can’t keep everything under control: coming to God in prayer with our anxieties.
- In other words, ongoing peace of mind comes through faith in Christ expressed in day-to-day life. This is the kind of peace that can endure even when everything is going haywire and we are simply unable to keep up with things.
- With gospel-centered productivity, peace comes first, not second.
- There is an interesting result here: finding our peace of mind outside of ourselves frees us to serve more, not less. The reason is that when our peace of mind comes from outside ourselves, it keeps us from finding our identity in our productivity. Living by the gospel each day means that we find our ultimate identity in Christ and what he has done for us, not in anything we do. We will take satisfaction in and enjoy what we do, but it’s not the ultimate source of our identity.
- The Core Point of the chapter is that It is easy to unwittingly fall into the trap of basing our day-to-day peace of mind on our productivity or certain productivity practices. This is a law-based approach to the Christian life. Instead, we are to act from peace, not for peace. Ultimate peace of mind comes through faith, just as our justification does.
CHAPTER 9: The Role of Prayer and Scripture in Our Productivity
- As he read and scanned hundreds of books and articles, he noticed a pattern: most of the literature for the first 150 years of our nation saw character as foundational to success. But most of the literature since then focused on technique (often either human-relations techniques or positive thinking).
- Os Guinness makes the same observation when it comes to leadership (and leadership is closely related to personal productivity): “Whereas a combination of faith, character, and virtue was the rock on which traditional leadership was founded, each of these components has crumbled in the twentieth century.”
- What Covey saw and Os Guinness points out represent two fundamentally different ways of viewing productivity and life: the personality ethic and the character ethic. The personality ethic looks mainly at externals as the way to be more productive and effective — how you relate to people, what tactics you use to get things done, and what techniques you follow to accomplish your goals. It might affirm the importance of character, but it is just one ingredient among many.
- The character ethic, on the other hand, looks first at who you are. It says that true success is not first defined by externals, and the way to live an effective life does not come first from technique. True and lasting effectiveness comes from character, which is not simply an ingredient of an effective life but foundational to it. Techniques do have their place, but only as building blocks upon a foundation of genuine character. The distinction between the character ethic and personality ethic has its roots right in the Scriptures.
- For example, Psalm 1 is all about the productive life, for it tells us of a person who is “blessed” (v. 1; “blessed” means “happy” and is a biblical term for the good life) and who prospers in all that he does (v. 3).
- True productivity is first of all a flourishing of your character.
- Misunderstandings of Character:
- That it is boring
- That it claims perfection
- That it is a substitute for competence
- That it always looks down on itself
- That it is judgmental
- Likewise, the apostle Peter speaks of God-centered virtue as the fundamental ingredient for a productive life.
- (2 Peter 1:5 – 8). Virtue and character are at the root of what it means to live a productive and fruitful life before God, and we should seek to grow in them.
- How does character lead to productivity? First, as we have seen, character is itself at the heart of what God requires and is the essence of the productive life. Second, character leads to making the most of our time in the decisions of everyday life because character is actually the source of our ability to determine what’s best next.
- We also see this, for example, in Philippians 1:9 – 10, where Paul ties making effective decisions (“approve what is excellent”) to love and wisdom: “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent.” Wisdom and love — that is, character — are at the root of how we make good decisions.
- The core New Testament passage on time management also roots our ability to make good decisions and make the most of the time in wisdom and discernment (that is, character). As we saw, Paul tells us that we make the best use of the time by understanding and doing the will of the Lord (Eph. 5:15 – 17), and that his will is that we love others (Eph. 5:1 – 2).
- God doesn’t whisper in our ears what to do next — that would short-circuit the growth of wisdom and path to maturity. Instead, God works through our understanding to enable us to determine the best course of action.
- Discernment based on love is the way to know what’s best.
- In Psalm 1, for example, the reason this person flourishes in his character and prospers in all he does (v. 3) is because “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (v. 2).3 Related to this, prayer is also foundational to our productivity because in prayer we call on God for help and strength.
- The essence of character is walking with God.
- The other component of character, which flows from love of God, is love of others. This manifests itself in a tendency to think of others, seek their welfare, and put them first.
- Summing things up so far: We have an incredible opportunity to do good unlike any before, the doctrine of vocation and the radical call of the Christian life encourage and command us to maximize this, the doctrine of justification by faith alone empowers our productivity because it shows that God’s action is always first, and prayer and Scripture build our character to equip us in this call. This is exciting. As we’ve also seen, there is a villain in the midst of all this: It can be extremely difficult to capitalize on these opportunities because we have so many choices and often feel overloaded and pulled in too many directions. This tension makes it hard to navigate and be effective — and to do it all with joy. That’s why good intentions are not enough. We need a method for our productivity.
- The Core Point of the chapter is that the fundamental way to know what’s best next — to make good decisions in an age of unlimited options — is to be a person of character. While lists and techniques have their place, none of them will bear the fruit we are called to bear if our productivity is not first founded on being the right kind of person.
What’s Best Next Series – Part 4
CHAPTER 10: The Core Principle for Making Yourself Effective
- Seek to identify the core governing principle, and then everything else follows from that. The overarching, guiding principle for our lives is love. Putting the other person first equals maximum productivity.
- Here it is: Know what’s most important and put it first. There are lots of different ways to say this, but that’s the core principle for how to be productive and effective. Like most core ideas, it makes the most sense when you see it fleshed out and see it applied, which we will do.
- What you need to do is define what’s most important first and then take a look at what’s before you and identify what you are and are not going to do. This is a top-down, proactive approach to getting things done. It doesn’t mean that the little stuff doesn’t matter or that it can be overlooked. Much of the little stuff does need to be done. But identifying the most important things and doing them first makes the smaller stuff fall into place.
- I think Stephen Covey has stated this the best: “Don’t prioritize your schedule; schedule your priorities.” That’s the core principle in seven words. You can’t do everything, so identify the most important things and make everything else work around them.
- Jesus is telling us to operate from priorities. And at the ultimate level, it is not up to us to determine our priorities. We have one ultimate priority, and it is given to us by God: Seek him and his kingdom first.
- I also had the chance to interview Craig Groeschel, pastor of Life Church in Oklahoma City, one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the nation. Here’s the gist of what he said: “For me, one of the most important things is having the courage to say no to those things that are often good, but not dead-on mission. . . . I’m working on increasing my nos so that my yeses will stay on track with my primary mission, which is building the local church.”
- There are actually two core principles here. “Know what’s most important” is the first one, and “put it first” is the second one. Or, put differently, “know what you’re trying to accomplish (know what comes first)” and “first things first (actually put it first).”
- You need to do this constantly. When you are with your kids at night (or doing anything else), what’s most important (what’s best next) is different from when you are at the office. You need to make these shifts. Know what’s most important right where you are and focus on that.
- When most people hear the term productivity, they tend to think of finding ways to manage their time better, create shortcuts, become efficient, and get more things done in less time. The focus is on to-do lists, schedules, and cool tips and tricks. This is the realm of personal management. It has to do with creating order and sanity out of complexity. It is the day-to-day management of our tasks, projects, and routines.
- Personal leadership, on the other hand, has to do with the direction you are headed. Why are you on the planet? What is your ultimate objective in life? What are your roles and the primary things you are seeking to accomplish? What are your values and principles? What are your priorities? If personal leadership is about where you are going, personal management is about how you get there. The saying goes “managers do things right; leaders do the right things.” In our lives, as in our organizations, we need both. We need to determine what the right things are (personal leadership) and we need to put them into practice (personal management).
- This distinction between personal leadership and personal management is illustrated well by considering it in relation to the six horizons of work. The six horizons are:
Personal Leadership • 50,000 feet:
Mission and values • 40,000 feet:
Vision (or life goal) • 30,000 feet:
Long-term goals • 20,000 feet:
Roles Personal Management • 10,000 feet:
- The six horizons of work, together with the supporting components, all translate into an overall framework, or system, for how to navigate your life and work.
- But there is one problem, of course, with any “system” for productivity: The system can end up strangling you. When that happens, it’s a sign that personal management has trumped personal leadership, that you’ve lost your direction and are now seeking solutions in how to manage your life rather than in how you lead it.
- Which is simply the core question of productivity: What’s best next?
- You just need to have the discernment to answer it right and the discipline to do it. And you will have good answers for it only if (1) you know what truly is most important in life at the highest levels and (2) your character and mind are rightly informed by the Scriptures.
- This means that you don’t know what’s best next simply by considering your immediate circumstances; you can know it only by also understanding why you are on the planet at all and what God has specifically called you to do.
- This brings us to the four steps of Gospel-Driven Productivity. We saw in this chapter that the core idea for making ourselves effective is to know what’s most important and put it first. There are four steps to help us do this:
- 1. Define: Know your mission, vision, and roles.
- 2. Architect: Weave these things into your life through a flexible schedule.
- 3. Reduce: Get rid of the things that don’t fit.
- 4. Execute: Make things happen every day.
- The core principle of effectiveness is to know what’s most important and put it first. Don’t prioritize your schedule; schedule your priorities.
- It’s essential to know what’s most important. That’s what “define,” the first step in DARE, is about.
- The direction we set for ourselves needs to be God-centered.
- John Piper captures this well: “Whatever you do, find the God-centered, Christ exalting, Bible-saturated passion of your life, and find your way to say it and live for it and die for it. And you will make a difference that lasts. You will not waste your life.”
There are four components to the first step in this process, “define”:
- Mission: Develop a personal mission statement.
- Vision: Know your overarching life calling, or life goal, and how it differs from your mission.
- Roles: Know the specific everyday callings in your life.
- Goals: Know how to create change at quarterly, yearly, and multiyear increments.
I encourage you to read the entire book and also to check out Matt’s site at http://whatsbestnext.com/. Next time we’ll look at chapter 11.
What’s Best Next Series – Part 5
CHAPTER 11: What’s Your Mission? How Not to Waste Your Life
• A good personal mission statement has three components:
1. Core purpose
2. Core principles
3. Core beliefs
These three components address four main themes:
(1) who you are
(2) why you are here
(3) where you are going to end up at the end of all this
(4) what the main principles are by which you will guide your life.
• Notice that I don’t include what you are specifically doing with your life. What you are going to do specifically with your life (your life goal or life vision) is thus a slightly distinct thing from your mission, and is at a slightly lower level.
• The key difference is that you can fail at your life goal and still succeed at your mission, and thus your life. Your mission is a matter of principle, and it is something you can do in failure as well as success.
• First, having a clear mission is the essence of personal leadership. Without a clear mission, you are aimless and without direction. You cannot lead yourself if you don’t know where you are headed.
• Second, knowing your mission gives meaning to your life.
• Third, you need to know your mission because the most effective Christians are not aimless; they know why they are here.
• Fourth, you need to give thought to your mission because, whether you know it or not, you already have one.
• There is an objective purpose to your life that you did not set. Your mission is discovered, not chosen. God created you and defined your purpose. Your role is to know what that purpose is, embrace it, and state it in a way that captures your own individuality and uniqueness. Since we were created by God and for God, we need to look to him to know our purpose. The purpose of life is attainable only by revelation, not speculation.
We need to know the four overarching principles for identifying our mission, and then we need to know how to flesh out our mission in a clear purpose statement and a set of core principles.
1. Don’t start by envisioning your funeral. This means we start by looking explicitly at what the Bible says about the purpose of our lives first, and only then doing an exercise like writing our obituary. What do you want to say to God when you give an account? What do you want God to say to you? That would be a good place to start.
2. Base your mission on the actual purpose of life. The purpose of life is to know God, enjoy God, reflect his glory back to him, and do this in community with others through Jesus Christ. That’s the ultimate purpose of life, both now and forever. Note that Jesus is central to it all. Thus, we can say that Jesus himself is the purpose of life.
• Note that your mission is personal, not impersonal. It is not just principle-centered; it is God-centered. God — Jesus — is a person. Your mission is to live unto him — and die unto him. To serve him, love him, know him, reflect him — and do this in community with his people, with an outward focus that seeks to serve the world for its good.
3. Be purpose directed, but gospel driven. The gospel — what God has done for us in Christ — is the ultimate motivation for what we do. We are to be purpose directed but gospel driven.
• If you only capture your purpose, you are in the realm of law and will live a law-based rather than gospel-based life. That’s why, in addition to our core purpose and core principles, a mission statement also includes the third component of core beliefs.
4. Include justice and mercy as part of your purpose. Doing justice means not just being fair and honest in all your dealings but using any influence and ability you have on behalf of those in need. Likewise, to pursue mercy is to be diligent and proactive in seeking good for others. It means putting others before ourselves and sacrificing our own interests for their sakes.
• Our mission cannot be separated from the pursuit of justice. Gladly pursuing justice and mercy, in fellowship with God, is at the essence of our life purpose. It is the supreme display, you could say, of knowing God, and the chief means by which we glorify him.
• There are three main components to a good mission:
1. Core purpose
2. Core principles
3. Core beliefs
• We will go through these three components of a mission statement using the Sermon on the Mount as our foundation. The entire sermon is about the purpose of life. It is our mission statement.
• Your core purpose states your overall reason for existence.
• This is where you state the biblical purpose of life in your own words, and in a way that reflects your uniqueness and that applies it to you.
• Here’s how Jesus states your purpose: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). There’s the ultimate purpose of life: to glorify God. And, we are specifically to flesh that out by living in such a way that others glorify God (not us!) because of our good works.
• There are lots of different ways you can state your purpose, and it is important to state it in a way that captures your uniqueness.
• The core principles section of your mission statement contains your answers to this question: What main principles am I going to use to guide my life?
• Obviously we all have hundreds of principles by which we live. Just state the ones that stand out to you most and resonate with you most. Something passes muster as a core principle in your life if it is something you would hold to even if you were punished for it — even if it were not advantageous to you in an external sense.
• The Sermon on the Mount should influence our principles significantly. Everything can be summed up in one statement: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). As we’ve seen, that is to be our guiding principle for all of life. It is another statement of our mission, in a sense. And it is especially helpful because it states not only what we are to do (love our neighbor) but how (by doing unto them as we would have them do unto us). In everything we do, all day long, we are to be proactive to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This tells us how to act in any and every situation, and every other principle is a manifestation of this one.
• When listing your principles, you could list them in a straight list or in categories.
• If you just listed your top twenty guiding principles based on what God has revealed about our purpose and what glorifies him, you would be doing well.
• This is essential for laying a gospel foundation underneath your mission. It answers the last two questions, which concern your identity (who you are) and ultimate destination (where you are going to end up at the end of all this).
• The ultimate foundation of your mission is not your character or even correct principles. It’s what God has done for you in Christ and the fact that, if you believe in Christ, God is now your Father.
• Further, knowing that heaven is secured for us and that we are going to end up there with Jesus forever motivates because it casts a vision for where we are going — and does so on the basis of what Jesus did, not on what we do.
• When creating your mission statement, it’s helpful to see examples. Jonathan Edwards’ seventy resolutions are one of the best examples of a biblically grounded, God-centered mission statement in the whole world.
• You can find all of his resolutions online, and I have also created a version of them on my website that groups them into categories.
• The reason people forget to review their mission statement, goal statements, and other such things comes down to two things: (1) They don’t know how to create a routine for reviewing it, and (2) they don’t make it easily accessible.
• Your mission is a way of “remembering” everything Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:20). That’s the ultimate value in it. You can do it in whatever format you want, and you can call it whatever you want. Just be deliberate not only to know what Jesus commands for us but also to be intentional about remembering it to aid you in the most important (and nonnegotiable) thing of all: doing it.
• The focus of this chapter has been personal mission statements. But mission statements are also critical for organizations. They are, in fact, an essential tool for leadership — as long as the mission statement is something the organization actually means and is stated clearly and simply, rather than with fancy, wordy language.
• There is a purpose to life, and we can know it. The purpose of life is to know God, enjoy God, reflect his glory back to him in the pursuit of justice and mercy in all things, and do this in community with others through Jesus Christ.
• Immediate Application Reflect on your core principles — the principles you would hold to even if it was to your disadvantage. Write down your top twenty, and you are halfway to completing your personal mission statement.
I encourage you to read the entire book and also to check out Matt’s site at http://whatsbestnext.com/. Next time we’ll look at chapter 12.
What’s Best Next Series – Part 6
CHAPTER 12: Finding Your Life Calling
• It’s strange but sometimes there is an aversion in the church to thinking big. Thinking small, merely, is not the Christian thing to do. Thinking big and aiming high for the glory of God puts us in the realm of our life calling or vision.
• A life goal, on the other hand, is a specific aim. Your mission is never completed (you will always be able to glorify God more), but a life goal can be completed. It has a finishing point.
• Your mission is the ultimate reason for your existence — forever. It is your chief why. Your life goal is the concrete what. It is the chief way that you seek to fulfill your mission. Hence, a life goal is also distinct from goals in general. We need to have all sorts of goals at different times and in different areas of our lives. But a life goal is an objective that is so big that it governs everything else you do, and it will likely take your entire life. A life goal is what most people mean when they talk about finding your calling in life. It is the chief objective you are seeking to accomplish with your life.
• For identifying your life vision — the one or two overarching, major goals for your life — I find it most helpful to ask two questions:
1. What would I do if I had all the money I needed and could do whatever I wanted?
2. What would I do if I could do only one thing in the next three years?
• Making your life goal happen comes down to three things:
1. Put it in a place where you will remember it and review it. Include it in the same document as your mission statement. You do this just by adding a fourth section called “Life Goal” or “Life Vision.”
2. Weave it into the structure of your life. If your life goal is to build up the church, for example, then you need to make sure that priority is reflected in concrete ways in the activities and roles of your life.
3. Utilize evolutionary progress rather than scripting everything out.
Create a more general plan and then advance your goal by keeping your eyes open to seize unplanned opportunities.
Making progress by harnessing unplanned opportunities is the secret to accomplishing large goals in an environment of uncertainty and when you cannot know the future in detail (which, not being omniscient, you don’t). This is called evolutionary progress.
• WHAT IF YOU DON’T KNOW YOUR LIFE GOAL?
1. Do what’s before you with excellence. When you don’t know what your goals are or what your vision in life is, the last thing you should do is nothing. Instead, do what’s before you with excellence. Related to this is doing what you most enjoy as well.
2. Take steps for fundamental reasons, not instrumental reasons. Doing something for fundamental reasons means doing something because you love it in itself. Doing something for instrumental reasons means you are doing it because of where it might lead, even though you don’t necessarily enjoy it in itself. Don’t take a step you are not going to enjoy simply because you think it will open up a door to something you do enjoy. It seldom works this way.
3. Care about who as much as what. When you aren’t sure what to do, the next best thing is to navigate your course on account of who you want to be with.
4. Increase your opportunity stream. Learn, network, and do things. The more you do these things, the more you increase your opportunity stream. And to make this work, you have to be open to surprise (point three above in “making your life goal happen”). Put yourself in the path of surprise and unplanned opportunities, and then seize them.
5. Read inspiring books and biographies, and watch inspiring movies. Read biographies and books that encourage you to do hard things and dream big dreams for God and the good of the world.
6. Stay faithful in prayer!
7. Take action and commit. Get involved in the world of work, get a job that is challenging and calls on the best of you, and live your life. Don’t be aimless, even while seeking to discover your chief aim in life. Do something. Not something to bide the time, but something meaningful, and you will discover your life goal on that course.
• Core Point of the chapter: You need to have an overarching, passionate, God-centered aim to your life — an overarching goal and message that flows from your mission and directs the priorities of your life.
• To develop a deeper sense of God’s purposes for us, I recommend the following:
David Platt, Radical
John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life
Francis Chan, Crazy Love
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life
John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
Stephen Nichol, Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’s Vision of Living in Between
Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life
Biographies of notable Christians like William Carey, George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, and others Movies like Amazing Grace (on the life of William Wilberforce)
I encourage you to read the entire book and also to check out Matt’s site at http://whatsbestnext.com/. Next time we’ll look at chapter 13.
What’s Best Next Series – Part 7
CHAPTER 13: Clarifying Your Roles
• The Bible teaches that our roles are not just areas of responsibility, but callings. Our roles are each callings given to us by God and through which we serve God and others.
• First, all Christians have a calling — not just pastors and missionaries.
• Second, it means not only that all Christians have a calling but also that every area of our lives is a calling. Our callings are not just limited to what we do as a job. All areas of our lives are a calling — husband, wife, child, friend, community member, parent, and so forth — and thus are to be lived before God and unto God.
• Third, it means that all of our jobs and every area of our life has a dignity and meaning that gives great significance to it. Because of the priesthood of all believers, we can do all things unto the glory of God and there is no distinction between “first rate” Christians (i.e., those in ministry) and “second rate” Christians (i.e., everyone else). Every Christian is “first rate,” and secular vocations are not only permissible, but valuable. What makes a work good is the command of God. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether you are a pastor or a homemaker. If you are doing whatever you are doing in obedience to God’s will, God values it and it matters.
• Fourth, it means that each role is a stewardship for which we are ultimately responsible not to other people, but to God himself. This applies to the privileges of each of our roles as well — they are likewise not merely a human invention but gifts from God to equip us in our role. This gives not only significance to what we do, but great weight to what we are doing. Since each area of our lives is a calling and stewardship from God, it is important for each of us to make sure we’ve clearly identified what our callings actually are.
• The Reformers (especially Luther) grouped the vocations of life into “estates.” They saw four main estates: the family, the church, society, and “the common order of Christian love.”
• I take a variation on Luther’s four estates to organize my roles. I group my callings into five areas: individual, family, church, social, and professional.
• You can also do this for work. Though your work is typically just one role (for example, marketing manager), work roles typically break down into about five to seven areas, each with corresponding responsibilities.
• There are two main places you can keep your list of roles and responsibilities.
• First, it is not a bad idea to add it right into your mission document. In this case the list would go beneath your life goal, and the document would give you a full and complete picture of your life. This is an amazing thing to have.
• Second, since it is helpful to add notes to each of your roles, it can be helpful to keep them in a program that allows you to create note fields for each item, such as a mind map in Mind Manager or an outline in Omni Outliner.
• In order to serve others and the Lord fully in your roles, you need to keep them at the forefront of your mind by reflecting on them regularly, weaving them into your life, and keeping them integrated so that they don’t compete with one another.
1. Make it a routine to review your roles in your weekly review. The best place to do this is in your weekly review. We will talk about this more when we discuss weekly planning, but the essence is that each week, you review your roles and ask three questions: 1. What things do I most need to do this week to serve my primary roles? 2. Is there any additional, out-of-my-way good I can do for someone in any of these areas? 3. Is there any critical role I’m neglecting and need to give more attention to?
2. Weave them into the fabric of your life. For each role, you need to identify the main responsibilities and slot the major ones into your week at specific times.
3. How your life goal relates to your roles. Your life goal is the primary aim, underneath your mission, that you are seeking to accomplish. But there are lots of things you need to be doing in addition to your life goal. Your roles capture this. Your roles are also the means through which you accomplish your life goal.
4. Keep your roles from competing. It is easy for our roles to fight one another. The tension between demands at work and life at home is the primary instance of this. So how do we avoid becoming plate spinners and jugglers? We need to realize that many roles can be carried out in an interdependent way and create overlap. In other words, whenever you can, seek to do things in a way that involves multiple roles, not just a single role. This is one of the fundamental ways of avoiding the juggling mentality and keeping your roles from competing against one another.
• In addition to keeping our roles in motion, there are also times when we want to give more deliberate attention to thinking through and improving a specific role. One of the best ways to do this is to create a brief plan for fulfilling that calling in the best way you know how.
• A role plan is not hard to create, and has just three simple parts (you can add more, but three is the basic framework): purpose, strategic principles, and activities. To create a role plan, just create a checklist or document for the role, and then in that document create a heading for each of those parts. In the purpose area, state the overall purpose of the calling. In the strategic principles section, list any key overall strategies and tactics. In the activities section, list the ongoing activities that keep the role in motion and any other mindsets that are ongoing but not actionable per se.
• Though our roles include much more than our careers, our careers are one of our most fundamental roles.
• But here are three other ways this relates to our careers. The third one is perhaps the question people ask most often.
1. Creating Job Profiles Right. I’ve listed the three main components of a role plan as purpose, strategy, and activities. Notice that good job profiles follow essentially this same structure: the purpose of the role, strategic principles, and primary activities. Job profiles also ought to include the resources available, reporting relationships, and any other relevant information. But the main thing to point out is that these role plans represent how to think through any type of responsibility, at any level, and in any area of life.
2. Organizational Dashboard If you are at a high level in your department or organization and are responsible for the work of many people or a team or a whole department or the whole organization, you can use the role-listing concept to keep the framework of the entire organization before you. To do this, create a chart of your department or organization and review it weekly just like you review your roles weekly, giving intentional, proactive thought to whether everything is going along as it needs to, and identifying actions you can take to serve and improve your department.
3. Finding Your Career Every discussion of vocation raises the question of how we find our primary calling in the world of work. I hope to go into more detail on this in a future book on the doctrine of vocation, but let me point you to three articles for now. The first two articles are explicitly from a Christian perspective and are situated within the doctrine of vocation. The third is not from an explicitly Christian perspective but provides very helpful insight:
- “Vocation: Discerning Your Calling” by Tim Keller: http://redeemercitytocity.com/resources/library.jsp?Library_item_param=5804
- “How to Discover Your Calling” by Mike Horton: http://wscal.edu/resource-center/resource/how-to-discover-your-calling
- “Finding Your Work Sweet Spot” by Scott Belsky: http://the99percent.com/tips/7003/Finding-Your-Work-Sweet-Spot-Genuine-Interest-Skills-Opportunity
- Core Point: Your roles are all callings from God and thus avenues of worship. You can serve him just as fully in the “secular” areas of your life as you can in the spiritual areas.
- Immediate Application: Which role do you need to give more attention to? Create a weekly focus goal to remember.
I encourage you to read the entire book and also to check out Matt’s site at http://whatsbestnext.com/. Next time we’ll look at chapter 14.
What’s Best Next Series – Part 8
Architect CREATE A FLEXIBLE STRUCTURE
• The First step in DARE, “define,” had us in the realm of personal leadership — discovering and determining what the most important things are in our lives.
• The key to effectiveness — putting the most important things first — is knowing what is most important and then weaving it into your life through simple structures and systems. This is the arena of personal management — that is, the practice of putting the most important things first in your life.
• This brings us to the second step in DARE: “architect.” This step is about creating a basic structure for your life by identifying the most important activities from your roles and then slotting them in to create a flexible framework for your week so that it is natural to do them.
• The essence of it can be summarized this way: Structure your life by living mainly from a flexible routine, not a set of lists. To do this well, you need to know three things: (1) how to set up your week, (2) what routines to slot into your week and, because it’s a special case, (3) how to get creative things done.
CHAPTER 14 Setting Up Your Week
• That’s when I realized that just having a catalog of the things I do is not enough. I also needed to have some sort of routine, or framework, into which everything fit. I needed time to work on my action lists. A basic but flexible schedule for the work provides this time. And that’s the missing component.
• We will see this by looking at the four reasons you need to have a basic schedule.
1. People work best from routines, not lists (or, be like George Washington). Washington got an amazing amount of work done, but he didn’t operate from a bunch of lists — just a simple routine. And that is just as true today: people actually operate best from a routine, not a set of lists.
• A basic routine, governed by your mission and roles, is the framework within which you should operate.
• This is not to say that there is no place for creating lists. But the lists we make shouldn’t operate on their own. They should support our routines, and the routines, in turn, can create the time we need to do the things we categorize in our lists.
2. A basic schedule helps keep you from massive overload (I speak from experience . . .). Another problem I had with GTD and relying chiefly on lists is that I always ended up trying to do far more than I had the capacity to do
3. A basic schedule enables you to integrate all of your roles. Creating a basic schedule is not difficult. In line with our core principle of putting the big rocks in first, you simply identify the primary responsibilities from your roles that won’t happen just by keeping them in mind but that need to be given concrete time.
Without a basic schedule in place, it is easy for certain roles and responsibilities to be crowded out of your week.
4. A basic schedule enables (rather than hinders) creative thinking. Having a basic routine channels your ability to focus and protects time for creative work and work that requires sustained focus and concentration.
• So how do you structure your week so that your most important responsibilities are woven into the fabric of your life? You create a prototype week — a time map. A time map is another name for your weekly schedule.
• Instead of starting from scratch each week, you divide your week into time zones, each representing the main roles and responsibilities of your life.
• Notice that your zones are based on your roles, though you don’t have to specify the role behind each zone. All of your roles should be represented in your typical week. But above all, keep it simple.
• You can specify a theme for each day, which can be helpful, and specify the major area (individual, work, family/other) along the left, if desired.
• One especially helpful benefit of a time map is that creating these activity zones will enable you to keep your related tasks together. Putting a basic schedule in place kept me from feeling like I had to always be doing something on my next actions list. I was able to keep the tasks on my lists off my mind because I now had scheduled times when I would actually do them.
• In the end, the best thing you can do is create a time map that is easy to remember so it becomes automatic and natural to the way you live. Not having to refer to it all the time will make things much easier.
• Your time map is a rough guideline, and you need to be flexible with it throughout the day and week.
• There’s another reason that flexibility is important, beyond the fact that it just makes your life and day more interesting and engaging. Spontaneity is a necessary element for innovation.
• My point in suggesting a basic framework to your week is not to eliminate or reduce spontaneous interaction but rather to enable more of it.
• There is one special challenge here: Creative tasks are often unpredictable and thus cannot always be kept within a routine.
• Here are three measures that are helpful in extreme situations, which most people who are seeking to do good work that matters will find themselves in from time to time.
1. Sixteen-Hour Days. I prefer to work sixteen-hour days. Sixteen-hour days solve almost everything. And I find that it doesn’t result in wasting much time.
• If you are inclined to work most effectively in long blocks like this, go for it. But it doesn’t work so well, at least for very long, if you have a family. Note that I’m not saying it doesn’t work if you want to have a social life.
• So, for those of you who (like me) can’t do the sixteen-hour days very often, yet still must deal with the significant unpredictability of many creative tasks, I have two main suggestions.
2. Be Insanely Good at What You Do. If you can’t work sixteen-hour days, you will have to either do less work or shrink down your tasks. Being really good at something allows you to shrink your tasks and get them done quicker. This will allow you to work with quality and quickness at the same time.
3. One-Month Sabbaticals The other suggestion is to take a one-month project sabbatical every year. In this time, work on the large, beyond-the-boundaries projects that just don’t fit into your typical schedule.
• Anyone who is involved in creative work should take at least one month per year to devote to long-term or extra-large projects.
• The key principle here is this: Extreme tasks often require extreme measures. Think creatively not just about your work, but also about how you do it. And if it really matters, you should be able to find the time to do it well.
• Core Point of the chapter: You need to create a structure for your week and have some basic routines in it.
I encourage you to read the entire book and also to check out Matt’s site at http://whatsbestnext.com/. Next time we’ll look at chapter 15.
What’s Best Next Series- Part 9
Chapter 15 Creating the Right Routines
• Regardless of the type of work we are engaged in, there is always the challenge of unpredictability. One important solution, as we saw, is keeping your weekly schedule flexible.
• But there is another solution as well: having the right routines. If you establish the right routines, and execute them well, you’ll gain a lot of flexibility. Here are six routines that can help you to retain balance, flexibility, and enable you to get the right things done.
SIX CORE ROUTINES
1. Get Up Early!
• This is the first practice because it makes each of the other core practices possible. If you don’t get up early, you risk undermining your entire day.
• There is one exception to getting up early: The person who prefers to stay up very late, and is able to make it work. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, is one such example. He is widely known for staying up until two or three every morning.
• In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you get up early or stay up super late. The key is that you need a long period of uninterrupted time to get your basic workflow and key projects done. That’s the principle.
2. Daily Workflow
• I’ve referred to something I’ve called a “daily workflow routine” several times already. This is the core routine you need to establish to keep on top of tasks, keep up with people, and make progress on your goals.
• Basically, it boils down to one hour (or sometimes ninety minutes) of focused, uninterrupted work each day in which you can work through a set of four core tasks:
1. Plan your day.
2. Execute your workflow (including processing your email to zero).
3. Do your main daily activity.
4. Do some next actions or major project work.
• Plan Your Day The first thing to do is plan your day. We will talk about this in more detail in the chapter on executing your day, but at root you need to identify the most important things for the day, list them, and sequence them.
• Execute Your Workflow Executing your workflow consists of processing all your sources of input to zero: your physical inbox, email inbox, voice mail, voice notes (if you use them), and physical notes. By processing your inboxes once a day, you stay up to date without having to worry that you are getting behind or out of date.
• Do Your Main Daily Activity Whatever your most important ongoing activity is, do it here. If there is something you want to get good at, and which makes a difference for you and others and your organization, don’t leave it to chance or good intentions (even the good intentions of your next action list). Do it as part of a routine every day. The best way to do this is to work it into your daily workflow routine. The importance of working in your strengths has an especially significant application here. One way to know if you are working in your strengths is to ask yourself, “Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?” That’s what you want for your role: You want to be doing what you do best every day.
• Do Some Next Actions or Work on an Important Project. After you’ve been able to work on your main activity, look at your next actions list and knock some off. You might also want to put some time in on any major projects you have going on.
• After Your Workflow Routine After your workflow routine, go on with your day, which means do whatever you have on your calendar or have planned for the rest of the day, whether that’s specific project work or meetings or just being generally available for people.
• A daily workflow routine like this is the only way that I know of to keep current, and it is highly efficient — if you do it in one uninterrupted block. And that’s exactly why it’s so important to get up early. If you try to start this at 9:00 in the morning, it will inevitably be derailed by the ordinary course of the day.
• If you let yourself be interrupted, these tasks can end up taking all day. That’s how inefficient it is not to group these together into a single block. But if you group them all together in an uninterrupted span of time, it goes quickly and you are able to keep an amazing amount of things going.
3. Weekly Workflow The weekly workflow routine is a variation on the daily workflow routine. Whereas the daily workflow routine is mostly for work tasks, the weekly workflow routine is for home tasks. I find that there are many home tasks that I cannot do during the week (such as mow the lawn). The weekly workflow routine (typically on Saturday mornings) is when I do these things.
4. Prayer and Scripture Earlier, we talked about the necessity of maintaining a consistent time of prayer and meditation on Scripture. You can do this early in the morning before doing anything else. This is what works best for most people. Alternatively, you can do it later at night before heading to bed. Either way, don’t neglect it.
5. Reading and Development A few things here. First, this is critical! Second, an easy way to make productivity practices work for you here is to keep a reading list. Third, remember that, as Mortimer Adler has said, “marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.”3 Fourth, you can do more than just read for your learning and growth.
6. Rest. So this one is simple: take at least one full day off each week.
OTHER ROUTINES WORTH CONSIDERING
a. Daily exercise (running, weight lifting, or such)
b. Weekly family night (movies or games every Friday or Saturday night)
c. A day for things you don’t like
d. Having people over for lunch after church
e. Camping with the kids in the back yard every summer
• Excellence happens when you go beyond your schedule. Competence is doing what you need to do. Excellence is knowing what you’re supposed to do, getting it on autopilot, and going beyond. It means having that extra touch that goes beyond simply what you could write down in an article or in a manual. It’s doing what not everyone can do, even if they know all the steps. Seek to be excellent in what you do.
• The core point of the chapter is that there are six routines that are the most helpful for getting things done and staying up to date: getting up early, daily workflow, weekly workflow, prayer and Scripture, reading and development, and rest.
Barnabas Piper has compiled top quotes from What’s Best Next. You can find them here: http://whatsbestnext.com/2014/09/40-quotes-from-whats-best-next/
I encourage you to read the entire book and also to check out Matt’s site at http://whatsbestnext.com/. Next time we’ll look at chapter 16.
What’s Best Next Book Club
• This leads us to step 3 in our DARE process: the need to reduce.
• The architecture you create for your life will never work if you try to force too much into it. So if your prototype week constantly fails and gets blown up, this is not a bad thing in itself. Rather, it tells you something very important: you simply have too much to do. To reduce well, we need to know three things:
• 1. Why doing less actually enables you to do more.
• 2. How to free up time through delegating, automating, eliminating, and deferring.
• 3. How to handle the time killers — not by avoiding them but by actually harnessing them for greater effectiveness.
Chapter 16: The Problem with Full System Utilization
• Researchers have found that whenever most systems — such as airports, freeways, and other such things — exceed about 90 percent capacity, efficiency drops massively. Not just slightly, but massively. This is called the “ringing effect.” The reason is that as a system nears its capacity, the effect of relatively small disturbances is magnified exponentially.
• You see the ringing effect, for example, when you are trying to schedule a meeting for ten people, and they all have to be there. Once everything is figured out, something unexpected comes up for someone and you need to reschedule the meeting again (and then reschedule the other stuff on your plate that is now interfering with the new time). That “rearranging” is the ringing effect. And it takes time away from the productive stuff that you have to do (in this case, times ten). And the effects continue cascading, for as you keep rescheduling, other people involved need to reschedule as well (even if they aren’t part of the group for the original meeting). And on it goes.
• Your projects themselves do this to you, even if no one else is involved. For when you are working on a lot of things simultaneously, they will often “bump into” one another, causing the same type of cascading effect.
• Here’s what this means: In order to get more projects done (and do them better and faster), you need to reduce the number of projects you are actually working on at once. And for organizations and individuals, the ringing effect comes into play not at 90 percent capacity, but already at about 75 percent of capacity.
• Our default mode is to think that in order to get as much as possible done, we need to cram as many projects as possible into a given time frame. Resist this temptation. Everything will take longer and you will discover death by the ringing effect. To get more done, do less, not more.
• The core point of the chapter is that the way to get more projects done is to do less at once, not more, because when you approach capacity, the productivity-killing ringing effect kicks in.
I encourage you to read the entire book and also to check out Matt’s site at http://whatsbestnext.com/. Next time we’ll look at chapter 17.
Chapter 17: The Art of Making Time
There are four main ways to reduce the amount of things you have to do:
• You need to know how to do each of these, but for space reasons I’m going to focus primarily on the most important: delegation.
STRATEGY 1: DELEGATION Why God Does Not Give Us All the Time We Need.
• God hasn’t given us all the time we need because He wants us to rely on other people as well as our own resources and gifts. God has given us all we need, to be sure, but the mistake is thinking that all we need is time. What we need, more accurately, is time and other people (plus some knowledge!).
• The first step in learning to reduce is rejecting the “solo mentality” — the notion that productivity is merely an individual matter. With this mentality you will end up isolating yourself, which is the opposite of what God wants for us.
• God designed the world so that there will always be more things for us to do than we are able to do. This isn’t just so we learn to prioritize; it’s so that we learn to depend on one another. And that’s what delegation enables us to do.
• I believe delegation is the single most important way to free up time. Enlisting others is essential because, when done well, delegation builds others up and deepens existing relationships. This means that before talking about how to delegate well, we have to clear up two common wrong views of delegation.
• Delegation Is Not Simply a Way to Get Rid of Tasks You Don’t Like. Our aim in delegating is not simply to make our own lives better and free up our time. It is also to build up the other person.
• Yet most of the time, delegation is presented as a way to serve yourself, not a way to serve others. This is the second wrong view of delegation, and is out of sync with everything we saw about the nature of productivity in part 2 of this book. True productivity is about doing good for others and making others productive, not just yourself. And delegation is a key way to build up others and help them be more effective, not just you.
• You are not only serving the other person, you are also serving your whole organization when you delegate.
• This intent behind true delegation — that is, to build the other person up — implies something about how we delegate. It implies that most of the time we should practice stewardship delegation rather than gopher delegation. What Technology offers some creative ways around the challenge of having nobody on deck to delegate to? Here are two:
o 1. Ask for volunteers on Twitter or Facebook.
o 2. Consider a virtual assistant.
• The most important thing you can do is have an ongoing mindset of involving others in your work.
• The distinction between stewardship delegation and gopher delegation highlights the second wrong view of delegation we need to avoid. In gopher delegation, you hand people specific tasks as the need arises and are closely involved in supervising how they do them.
• In this approach, the other person doesn’t grow because this relationship doesn’t require the other person to use their wisdom or judgment or insight.
• One of the best ways to free up your time, let alone develop the other person, is to get rid of the tendency to use gopher delegation.
• Gopher delegation can be efficient when your aim is just to get a bunch of tasks done. But it’s not very effective because it doesn’t increase the capacity of the other person and, hence, the organization.
• Stewardship delegation, on the other hand, has the aim of not just getting tasks done, but of building others up through the accomplishment of tasks.
• Stewardship delegation delegates the task — or, more often, an area of responsibility — and allows the individual to determine their own methods for accomplishing the tasks. The focus is on achieving the intended results, not on how they are done (as long as they are done in alignment with the overall guidelines and values). The one delegating hands over true responsibility for the accomplishment of the task to the one being delegated to.
• In their book First Things First, Stephen Covey, Rebecca Merrill, and Roger Merrill point out that there are five components of effective stewardship delegation: desired results, guidelines, resources, accountability, and consequences.
1. Desired Results. Desired results are the things that need to be accomplished. It is the what — not the how.
2. Guidelines. So, give the guidelines and point out any wrong turns they should be aware of. But note that you are giving guidelines, not detailed rules.
3. Resources. Let the person know the budget available, if relevant, and the other people who might be helpful to consult or who are available to help if accomplishing the task is going to involve more than just one person.
4. Accountability. You don’t need to define accountability for every task delegated; that would get tiresome. Accountability just needs to be in place for the overall context of the relationship. This means everyone knowing what the standards of performance are and when the regular reviews are.
5. Consequences Again, this should be defined not for every specific task but simply as part of the framework of the relationship. This would include both the good outcomes if the delegated responsibility is fulfilled and what will happen if it isn’t.
• Note that the manager here is no longer a detailed supervisor but instead becomes a source of help.
• Rather than evaluation being something that comes from the outside in — a manager giving critique and recommendations — the person will primarily be evaluating themselves.
• It is true that delegation means that some things will be done less effectively — at first. And, there is a higher up-front time investment. But it is worth it, because the aim is not just efficiency, but building people up, and because this increases capacity for the long term — which is always both more effective and efficient.
• There are times when any of us may need more guidance and help. That help comes when someone is willing to help us grow and build us up to greater independence.
STRATEGY 2: ELIMINATION In addition to delegating tasks and responsibilities, we can utilize a second strategy for reducing our workload: elimination. Elimination has two components: getting rid of tasks that don’t need to be done and, when doing a task, eliminating the parts of the task that aren’t necessary.
• The best strategy for elimination is to use the 80/20 Principle together with Parkinson’s Law. The 80/20 Principle states that 80 percent of your productivity comes from 20 percent of your tasks.
• Hence, identify the things that fall into the “trivial many” so you can devote more time to the “vital few.”
• Parkinson’s Law states that a task will generally expand to fill the time allotted for it.
• Hence, to keep your tasks from taking longer than they need to, reduce the time you allow for doing them.
• This doesn’t work as well with innovative tasks, though. Parkinson’s Law is a tactic for efficiency, but it doesn’t always translate into long-term effectiveness. Still, it can be useful.
• Once you’ve identified the right tasks to be doing, harnessing Parkinson’s Law is a good way to increase your efficiency on tasks where greater efficiency will not reduce quality.
• The magic happens when you combine them to harness the power of both together. Here’s how to do this: Decrease the number of tasks you have to do by eliminating what is not important (the 80/20 Principle), and then force yourself to focus only on the essential parts of those tasks by giving yourself tight deadlines (Parkinson’s Law).
• This limits what you do to what is most essential, and then within that framework, you are forced to do your tasks in the most efficient way.
• Containing your tasks is essential to keep your framework in place. It means simply being on the lookout for ways to do your tasks that enable them to fit within the structure you have to do them.
• The principle here is to preview your task before you actually do it.
STRATEGY 3: AUTOMATION Automation means putting your tasks on autopilot so that they happen on their own without your having to even think about them (or, at least, without your having to think about them much).
STRATEGY 4: DEFERRING The final strategy is to defer — which simply means putting things aside for later.
• But the best way to use deferring as a strategy for productivity is to time-activate the task. If a great idea comes to you, but it’s not realistic for you to do it in the next week or two, put it in your calendar or tickler file and set a time down the road to come back to it. Then do it right then when it comes up again.
• All four of these strategies — delegating, eliminating, automating, and deferring — will help you to “kill” the tasks and projects that threaten to overwhelm and defeat you, but each approach utilizes a different way of accomplishing this.
• The Core Point of the chapter is: Put first things first, and stop doing second things. The fundamental ways to reduce are through delegating, eliminating, automating, and deferring (DEAD).
I encourage you to read the entire book and also to check out Matt’s site at http://whatsbestnext.com/. Next time we’ll look at chapter 18.
Chapter 18 – Harnessing Time Killers
• The second component of reducing is overcoming and eliminating the things that eat up our time and get in our way.
• Getting rid of everything in our lives that seems counterproductive may, in fact, be counterproductive. So we are going to look not simply at how to eliminate some of the most common time wasters but also at how to harness those time wasters and turn them into productivity machines.
• To multitask is to do two or more things at once that require mental focus. Multitasking seems like a way to save time but actually costs more time and is, in fact, impossible. It is inefficient because it makes both tasks take longer. But it is also impossible because you cannot literally multitask. The human brain simply cannot focus on two things at once. God is the only multitasker.
• So what are we actually doing when we think we are multitasking? We are actually switchtasking. That is, we are switching back and forth between tasks. As a result, multitasking (or, better, switchtasking) incurs switching costs.
• Some studies indicate it takes about five minutes to get back into things after being interrupted. And, you are less likely to gain momentum and get in the zone — which multiplies the cost.
• With some tasks, the switching cost might be worth it. Switching costs aren’t always bad; we just have to take them into account.
• This helps us see when switchtasking can be beneficial, though: if an interruption comes, quickly assess whether the value of the interruption will be greater than the time and focus you will lose on your current task. If it’s significantly greater, go ahead.
• There are times when you are doing two things at once, such as jogging and listening to your iPod. But in these cases, you aren’t multitasking, you are background tasking. The reason you can do this is because only one of the tasks (or neither!) requires mental focus. In these cases, what you are really doing is a series of small tasks in rapid succession. You are engaging in rapid refocusing.
• Both background tasking and doing a series of small tasks in rapid succession have their place and should be utilized to increase your productivity. You just need to know which tasks are not compatible with switchtasking.
• The best way to overcome procrastination, then, is to love what you do.
• There are three keys to reading really fast:
1. Purpose. Determine your purpose in reading the material.
2. Preview. Preview the material through a quick scan before you do your main read.
3. Pointer. Use your finger or a pen as a pacer to keep your speed up.
• The best type of motivation is to want to do the things you have to do — to be pulled toward them by a desire to do them and make a difference and serve others — rather than to be pushed toward them through carrots and sticks (rewards and punishments). Intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation every time. When you like your work, procrastination typically becomes a nonissue.
• If you love what you do but still find yourself procrastinating from time to time, there are three main tactics to help. First, often the reason that we procrastinate is that we just aren’t ready.
• We might need more information or there might be some precedent tasks we need to do first that we haven’t identified.
• Second, if the task seems overwhelming or highly unpleasant, break it down into small chunks.
• Third, in cases in which you are most significantly tempted to procrastinate, the best thing to do is procrastinate positively: do nothing. Not something else, but nothing.
• So make procrastination a nonissue if you can, and know how to deal with it if you must. At the same time, recognize that procrastination can be used to make you more productive in certain circumstances, if used right.
• Procrastination can be a form of applying Parkinson’s Law. By waiting to do the task, you shrink the time available and make it more efficient.
• When Procrastination Makes Sense
1. Efficiency is the top priority.
2. You are dealing with known territory.
3. The consequences of falling over the edge are not great.
• Interruptions take the form of phone calls, unplanned stop-ins, emails, conversations, and so forth. They can be a huge time suck, and beyond that, they are bad for innovation and flow.
• In fact, I would argue that rather than trying to minimize interruptions, we should have an effective strategy for avoiding them and — alternatively — embracing them.
• First, if you try to minimize interruptions throughout the day, you will likely just be setting yourself up for frustration. A better approach is to have an uninterrupted work zone during your day (I prefer mornings) or sometime in your week when you can do your focused, solo work. This can be as long as you need. Then, for the rest of the day (or the other times in the week), you are available for people and interruptions. However you do it, the concept is to create chunks of time when you avoid, rather than just minimize, interruptions and then embrace them during defined periods.
• Second, while we should seek to minimize interruptions, they can be opportunities to do good for others and be of use. You can’t — and shouldn’t — eliminate the possibility of all interruptions (at least as a constant way of life). Interruptions should be seen as a chance to do good.
• We need to both carve out time for focused work and then also weave into our days the flexibility to be freely available so that we can recognize interruptions as opportunities for productive interaction.
• There is a both/and here: Minimize interruptions. And realize that there is a way to make use of interruptions for maximum effectiveness.
• As we saw in the chapter on routines, the best way I know to do this is to start your day early so you can segment it into a period of focused work for a few hours, followed by a time when you are more freely available.
• Many companies restrict employee access to social networks, personal email, and other sites, thinking that they are distractions that waste time. This is a classic case of not trusting people and failing to treat them as adults. It also reflects an outdated notion of work.
• Research shows that employees who are able to surf the internet at work are 9 percent more productive. Why is this? It’s because of the way work is broken up.
• For self-motivated people, time spent on Facebook is actually productive. It is productive for building networks and spreading truth. Both of these build people up, and thus increase productive capacity. Research bears this out by showing that employees with extensive online networks (such as through Facebook, LinkedIn, and so forth) are actually more productive than those without them.
• Facebook and other online networks and interaction help us refine, spread, and gain ideas. These are three core competencies in the era of knowledge work.
• The core point of the chapter is: Eliminate time killers such as multitasking, procrastination, perfectionism, and interruptions not simply by eliminating them but by harnessing them for good.
I encourage you to read the entire book and also to check out Matt’s site at http://whatsbestnext.com/. Next time we’ll look at chapter 19.
Execute: Do What’s Most Important
• Now that we’ve identified what’s most important (step 1, define), woven it into the fabric of our lives through a flexible framework (step 2, architect), and eliminated the unnecessary (step 3, reduce), it’s time for the last step: execute. Execution is about living out our priorities every day, on a moment-by-moment basis.
• Execution boils down to a three-part process:
1. Plan. Define your priorities for the week so your direction is clear and you aren’t tossed to and fro by everything that comes your way.
2. Organize. As new input — reference material, action items, projects, steps to take on your projects, and so forth — comes your way, know how to slot what you can’t do immediately into the right places so you can get it done at the right time.
3. Do. This is where the rubber meets the road. Execute your priorities and take action, doing this in accord with your overall mission, aims, roles, and goals so that you don’t just get things done, but get the right things done.
The “plan” step, then, is about planning your week, the “organize” step is about managing workflow, and the “do” step is about making your projects and actions happen — along with just navigating your day in the moment.
Chapter 19 – Weekly Planning
• There is one simple practice that, if you do nothing else, will keep you on track. That practice is weekly planning.
• The “execution” step in DARE starts with creating a basic plan for your week because the core principle for getting the right things done is to determine what’s most important and do it.
• The basic principle for planning your week is this: identify what is most important for you this week, and slot those priorities into the design of your week. In other words, put the main things in first, not second.
• There are three steps to a solid, easy-to-do weekly review:
1. Pray and review your mission and vision.
2. Define your priorities for the week.
3. Organize your priorities in a way that makes them easy to do.
STEP 1: PRAY AND REVIEW
• Prayer is essential for our planning, because God is the one who ultimately makes our plans effective.
• Your weekly planning serves your prayer life by helping point you toward the most important items for prayer in your life at this moment.
• You don’t want to create your mission, vision, and long-term goals only to never look at them again. The weekly review is the perfect time to revisit these items without creating additional work.
STEP 2: DEFINE YOUR PRIORITIES FOR THE WEEK
• There are five parts to this step. The first three involve brainstorming an initial list, and then the last two involve pruning the list into your defined priorities for the week. 1. Reflect. The first step in identifying your priorities for the week is to stop, reflect, and ask yourself, “What are the most important things for me to do this week?”
• Two questions are helpful here:
1. What do I need to do this week?
2. What would I like to do this week?
• First, review your roles. These are the different callings and areas of responsibility that we discussed earlier. For each role, adapt the same two questions from the previous step: ask, “What do I need to do this week in relation to this role?” and, “What would I like to do this week in relation to this role?”
• Second, review your long-term goals and any shorter-term goals. Identify any steps you want to take directly on them this week (if relevant — many goals are best pursued indirectly, but oftentimes there are still concrete steps that can and should be taken), and any projects that might need to be created as a way of moving them forward.
• To keep initiatives that last longer than a week in motion, review your projects list at this point and write down any large steps or small and easy-to-do tasks that are important to move forward this week. After this, review your actions list for any actions that are critical to get done that week. Finally, review your someday/maybe lists for anything you would like to make active that week.
• Next, look at your calendar for the week to identify anything you might still need to prepare or do in advance of any meetings, travel, or other events coming up. Write these things down as well.
• Being proactive in doing good for others should be implicit in the brainstorming you did based on just reflecting on your week and reviewing your roles, goals, and projects. But it is also important to give special focus to it by asking questions like these:
1. What actions can I take against injustice this week?
2. Who is in need, and how might I be able to help?
3. What can I do proactively for the good of my family, my neighbors, my coworkers, and my community?
4. What action can I take, even if small, in the fight against large global problems like extreme poverty, lack of access to clean water, lack of shelter, communicable diseases, and the advancement of the gospel?
STEP 3: ORGANIZE YOUR PRIORITIES IN A WAY THAT MAKES THEM EASY TO DO
• Even though you’ve been focusing on the most important things, you now probably have a list of more things than you can do. Further, some items will be large and others, though essential, will be small. Now it’s time to organize them and cut what you won’t be able to do.
1. Separate the large items from the small items. This will allow you to have a more realistic picture of your load for the week.
2. Prune and prioritize. You probably have a list of maybe seven to thirteen big things and maybe twenty or more smaller things. Now you need to ask yourself whether it is realistic to accomplish these things this week.
• The main thing to do in this step is to look at the large items and reflect on what the time commitment might be for these items. If it seems like too big a load, you are going to need to eliminate some (using the DEAD formula that we saw earlier).
• Identify the top three to five items that are most important and that you will actually be able to do, and keep those. The rest you can delete (or put somewhere else if you want to reconsider them next week). Then rank the remaining items in order of importance.
3. Schedule anything that needs to be scheduled. Some of the large items might be fuzzy, such as “spend time with my family” or “remember to eat less.” Others might be specific tasks, such as “code home page for site redesign.”
4. Do the small actions right away.
• With whatever time you have available now that you have your week planned, it is helpful to knock out as many of the small actions that you identified as you can so that the number of small items that remains on your weekly list is very small or nothing.
• You have now created your priority list for the week — as well as updated your calendar, goals, projects, and actions if desired. Simply having done this prepares you for the week. Now, keep this list before you through the week and review it in your daily planning to keep these priorities top of mind and make sure they happen.
TWO OTHER TIPS
1. Don’t skip planning, even when you are super busy. Feeling busy is the reason you ought to plan.
2. Seize unplanned opportunities throughout the week.
The core idea of the chapter is: Plan your week! The simplest way to do this is ask two questions of yourself: “What do I need to do this week?” and, “What do I want to do this week?”
I encourage you to read the entire book and also to check out Matt’s site at http://whatsbestnext.com/. Next time we’ll look at chapter 20.
Chapter 20: Managing Email and Workflow.
• Many of us feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information we receive each day. Emails flood our inboxes and cry out for a response, meetings generate notes and action items, phone calls need to be returned, ideas occur to us ad hoc, and, yes, there is still some paper-based input that comes our way. How do we process all of this stuff?
• The goal of this chapter is to outline some simple practices that will enable you to manage all of your daily inputs (especially email) in a simple, effective way that helps you maintain a sense of relaxed control. You should be able to use this chapter to go through any inbox and take it from whatever point it is — even if it’s your email inbox with fifteen thousand emails — and get it down to zero.
• The process for managing your workflow can be divided into three parts: (1) collect, (2) process, and (3) organize and act.
STEP 1: COLLECT You can’t process the input that is coming your way if you don’t capture it.
• I don’t believe in getting frustrated by email and complaining about how much email we receive (although on a bad day it can be tempting). Keeping on top of your email is a way of serving people.
• Here are three ways to get people to send you less email:
1. Send less email yourself.
2. Send better emails.
3. Use meetings effectively.
• When a good idea strikes you, or an action point for you arises in a meeting, or a coworker suggests a useful project in the hallway, write it down. You can do this electronically through your action manager on your mobile device, or physically by carrying a journal with you.
• In addition to simply having a capture tool, the second principle here is to have one you like to use. This applies not just to capture tools, of course, but to any productivity tool you make use of, because if you have good tools, you’ll want to use them. This in turn makes your work a bit more enjoyable, which pays dividends for your productivity.
STEP 2: PROCESS The Three Rules of Processing Stuff.
• David Allen gives the three cardinal rules of processing in Getting Things Done, which apply here:
1. Process in order.
2. Process one item at a time.
3. Never put anything back into your inbox.
1. Process in Order -This is crucial: don’t jump around your inbox. That in itself simply feels disorganized, and on top of that, it creates more disorganization.
So go through your inbox in order and process each item to completion as it comes up.
2. Process One Item at a Time – This is really a corollary to going in order. Finish processing the email or item you are working on before going to the next. Don’t do it halfway and then move on. Deal with it decisively, then move on.
3. Never Put Anything Back into Your Inbox -Your inbox is not for storing things. If there is an email that you will need to refer to later, your inbox is not the place for it. Likewise, if there is an email that seems hard to process, you can’t skip it and leave it in your inbox for another time.
• The Two Questions When Processing- When processing anything, there are two questions to ask: 1. What is this?
2. What’s the next action?
• “What is this?” comes first because before you can know what to do with something, you need to know what it is.
• Once you know what it is, you can then determine how to handle it (that is, define the next action). And that’s the essence of processing: With each email or other piece of input you are processing, define what needs to be done about it.
STEP 3: ORGANIZE AND ACT With any item that you are dealing with — whether an email, regular mail, voice mail, ideas you’ve jotted down, or anything else — there are only five possible things you can do with it: 1. Delete it. 2. File it. 3. Do it. 4. Delegate it. 5. Defer it
• Do Not Check Email Continually If you continually handle your email in real time, right as it comes in, you will not be able to focus on your other tasks.
• The first two apply when there is no action required; the last two apply when there is an action required (which you would have defined in the previous step).
• When No Action Is Required
1. Delete it. With most stuff, this is easy and takes about a quarter of a second.
2. File it. When the item contains information you want to keep for the future, file it.
When Action Is Required
1. Do it: the two-minute rule. When it comes to items that require action, the most useful tactic is the “two-minute rule” made famous by David Allen. This means that if you can do something in two minutes or less, do it right away. It’s typically faster to do a brief action right away than to defer it or delegate it.
2. Delegate it. If something needs to be done, but doesn’t have to be done by you, delegate it. By email, this can be done by forwarding the email with some background.
3. Defer it. If something is going to take longer than two minutes and you cannot delegate it, defer it. There are two ways to defer. First, you can defer the item until you are done processing your email or inbox.
• Writing better emails is a big way that we can make other people’s lives a little simpler and a little better. And it saves you time as well. The aim is for your email to have a big impact with a minimal time investment from your reader. Here are seven keys to do that:
1. Make the subject line specific so the person knows right away what the email is about.
2. State the purpose of the email or the required action first.
3. Give the background second.
4. Keep your paragraphs short.
5. Close by clarifying the next steps.
6. Don’t forward emails without summarizing the point at the top.
7. Always be encouraging, and realize that being neutral sounds negative in email.
• The second way to defer an item is to put it on a list.
• The core point of the chapter is to implement basic principles of workflow management for processing and executing massive amounts of new material, action items, ideas, and requests.
• The immediate application is to get your email inbox to zero!
Next week we’ll look at chapter 21.
Chapter 21: Managing Projects and Actions
- In the process for managing workflow, we saw that actions that can’t be done right away should be deferred to a projects list or an actions list.
- However, there’s a problem. It’s easy to put things on our lists and then never look at them again for months (if ever); it’s easy to end up with so many things that we simply get overwhelmed by our lists; and it’s easy to simply be frustrated by not being able to figure out how to organize these lists in a way that makes sense and minimizes our cognitive workload (a key principle for any good workflow system).
- There are basically two types of tasks that come our way: large tasks and small tasks. If you keep both types of tasks on the same list, the small ones tend to crowd out the larger ones, making it hard to focus on what is most important. Hence, I recommend keeping the large tasks and small tasks distinct. The large tasks are projects. The small tasks are actions. The large tasks, then, go on your projects list, and the smaller tasks go on your actions list.
- I define project according to the more common definition of any large initiative that produces a unique result and has an end point.
- I reserve my actions list for smaller things — things that don’t feel like actual projects.
- Actions and pieces of projects that need to be done this week, and those that can be done in the future. Hence, I have four basic lists:
- Weekly priority list (= this week)
- Master projects list (= this quarter)
- Master actions list (= this quarter)
- Backburner (= someday/maybe)
- Large initiatives (projects, as I’ve defined them) that you need to complete or make progress on over the next three months go on your master projects list. It is helpful to divide this list into “personal” and “professional,” but beyond that you don’t need to group your projects into larger categories; just list them as a straight list.
- You want to keep your list down to about four to seven projects for work and four to seven projects for your personal life. Having many more than that makes it hard to stay focused on a few key priorities and is a sign that you need to reduce.
- Large ongoing areas of responsibility can also go on your projects list (for example: “client acquisition” or “blogging”); just don’t overdo it or you will quickly overload.
- There are, of course, lots of smaller things that need to be done that fall outside of these four to seven initiatives. These things go on your actions list, which I recommend creating as the last project in your projects list. This keeps you from having dozens of categories, without having to ignore the legitimate stuff that doesn’t fit into one of your main four to seven areas or projects.
- The weekly priority list is a list of your main priorities for the week — most of which are big items.
- We’ve all had the experience of putting something on a list and never looking at it again.
- The weekly priority list, combined with weekly planning is the answer to that.
- To keep your projects in motion, during your weekly review define a particular slice of the relevant projects on your master projects list that can be done this week, and put that chunk of the project on your weekly priority list. Likewise, to keep your master actions list in motion, identify specific actions to bring up to your weekly list when doing your weekly planning. Additionally, this is a great list to review between meetings or when you just want to work ahead.
- If a sizeable task comes up that can be done in less than a week, and you want to do it this week, then put that directly on your weekly priority list without putting it on your master projects list.
- Within your weekly list, you can list specific subtasks for each of the priority items, if desired. It’s also helpful to have a category simply called “everything else” for small stuff that needs to be done that week but doesn’t group into a larger category (nonproject actions).
- The backburner list is what David Allen calls the “someday/maybe” category, and it is an extremely helpful concept. Things you don’t need to move on this week or within the next three months or so go here, along with any other interesting things you might want to do someday but don’t have an essential commitment to.
- Since the result is that you can end up with a lot of items here, I recommend keeping these items outside of your normal task management system as checklists in text-based documents (like Evernote). I also recommend grouping them not necessarily by area but rather into categories like “books to read,” “trips to take,” and so forth.
- Again, no approach to organizing your lists will work if you do not regularly review those lists. Having a routine for reviewing your lists (the weekly review) and a place to put your immediate priorities (the weekly priority list) are the key ways to keep your projects and actions from dropping into the abyss.
- This brings us to one of the most helpful, simplest, quickest things you can take away from this book (after weekly planning). It’s the concept of creating simple, back-of-the-envelope project plans. I have found this to be almost as valuable as anything I’ve learned on productivity in the last ten years.
- A project plan is simply a text file where you can list all the actions involved in the project, along with any other information you want to keep in the front of your mind and any brainstorming you want to do.
- Not all projects will have all these categories, and some projects will have a few others, but here are the most common categories in my project plan
- Actions (which can be further grouped into stages or subcategories)
- The purpose is what you aim to accomplish with the project. The principles are any high-level standards or values that you want to be embodied in the project and that govern how you will carry it out. The actions section is where you list upcoming steps on the project.
- My weekly priority list contains the reminder that I need to work on part of the particular project that week, and then I go over to the project plan to brainstorm the specific actions I need to take on the project. I then work down the list, and all of the actions on the project are nicely kept together so I can see the progress I’ve made and what’s next.
- If you keep your project lists in a task management system such as OmniFocus or Outlook, you can create your project plan right in the notes field of the project.
- In addition to a project plan, a project might have other support material, details, subplans, blueprints, and other things that might need to have their own documents. These just go in your file for the project so you can refer to them as needed.
- If there is something you have to do on a regular basis, create it as a repeating task in your task management program. This is the way you keep responsibilities and routines in motion.
- First, as with your general next actions, so also with your repeating tasks: you need a time to work on them. I find that the best way to do this is to make reviewing — and then doing — your repeating tasks part of your daily workflow routine. Second, it works best to keep your repeating tasks grouped together.
- The key to your repeating tasks, such as the daily workflow routine, is to get those tasks out of the way quickly and in their entirety. You don’t want to have them hanging over your head all day. Knock them out quickly so you can move on to other things.
- Here are two tactics for making your memory immediately better at remembering names, your seat number on the plane (so you don’t have to look at your ticket fifty times), ideas, and other things that you need to keep in mind when it’s not efficient to write them down:
- Association. Take the item you need to remember and connect it to something else in your mind.
- Chunking. The fewer things you have to remember, the easier it is. If you have several items to remember, find a common characteristic that allows you to think of them in groups.
- What about single actions that you need to do down the road, at a certain time, and can’t do right away?
- Instead of putting the item you want to consider in the future in a physical tickler file, just create a task for the item in your task management program and schedule the task to come up on the day you need to deal with it.
- The most important question is, What is on our project and action lists? Do we come up with projects and initiatives that only meet our own needs, or do we look for ways we can meet the needs of others and do good for them as well?
- Our projects lists are a tool to help us brainstorm and prioritize proactive initiatives for the good of others.
- The core point of the chapter is to distinguish projects and actions, and have four main lists: weekly priority list, master projects list, master actions list, and a backburner list. Use project plans to keep track of project details, ideas, upcoming steps, and any other information you need to keep track of instead of letting it all float around in your head in the hope that you’ll remember it at the right time.
Next week we’ll look at chapter 22.
Chapter 22: Daily Execution
• How do you decide what to do in the moment and get the most important things done without unnecessary distraction and friction?
• This chapter will give you nine principles for making each day as effective as it can be. These principles can be utilized whether or not you keep project and action lists.
• Plan your day. The most important planning you do is your weekly planning. Planning your day is simple and can be done in four steps:
1. Write down the three most important tasks you can accomplish today, in light of your calendar and priorities.
2. Review your calendar and list any actions this generates.
3. Review your priority list for the week and actions list to ensure it is current and identify any other priorities you need to have.
4. Write down any other things you need to do in light of upcoming meetings, appointments, and just generally other stuff you want to get done.
• Here’s a quick way to summarize the process: Reflect on what has to be done, reflect on what you want to do, and consider your goals and projects to fill in the gaps.
• There are two other helpful tips for making your daily list maximally effective.
• First, consider having two parts to it, as Scott Belsky suggests in Making Ideas Happen: “When it comes to organizing your Action Steps of the day — and how your energy will be allocated — create two lists: one for urgent items and another for important ones.
• Second, create your list in a place that is easy to access and update.
2. Schedule your day at only 70 percent capacity or less. Don’t fill your day to the brim with appointments and tasks. That is a recipe for failure and frustration, let alone missing out on some of the most important and interesting aspects of life.
• There is a second reason for not scheduling yourself at full capacity: you operate better when you have space to think.
3. Consolidate your time into large chunks.
• There are two ways to consolidate your time into large chunks. First, when you architect your week (as we discussed in part 3), you need to design your days with large stretches of uninterrupted time for important work. Second, as you go about your day, think in terms of blocks of time, rather than small discrete actions.
4. Do the most important thing first. This is the fundamental principle when it comes to day-to-day execution: Do what’s important first, not last.
• One of the biggest obstacles to doing first things first is what I call “the trap of the small stuff.” We easily fall prey to the idea that before we can get to the big things, we need to get these smaller things clamoring for our attention out of the way. Resist this inclination; it’s a trick. The small stuff inevitably multiplies.
5. Do one thing at a time. When you are extremely busy, it is especially tempting to work on too many fronts at once. Avoid this trap. Instead, identify what is most important and start there. Then build momentum by doing one thing at a time, bringing it to completion, and then moving on to the next thing.
• Concentration saves time. Once you’ve selected the most important task, it is crucial to stay focused and work it through to completion. This is the essence of discipline.
6. Focus on outcomes, not activities.
• You need to keep your eyes focused on what you are here to contribute, not simply do. You need to direct yourself to effectiveness — the right outcomes — not mere activity. Therefore, don’t ask yourself, “What tasks need to be done?” Ask yourself, “What outcomes need to be accomplished?” Then determine the activities that will get you there.
7. See your day in terms of people and relationships first, not tasks. Creating connections and interacting with people make up the most important parts of your work.
8. Ask in everything: How can I build others up? This brings us back to the fundamental principle behind everything: You are here to do good for others, to the glory of God. All productivity practices, all of our work, everything is given to us by God for the purpose of serving others. Therefore, we need to be deliberate about this in all of our work — both the work we get paid for and the work of running our households. This means not simply doing the things we do for the sake of others; it means building others up in the very act of doing what we do. The aim needs to be not simply to get our tasks done but to build people up in the accomplishing of our tasks.
9. Utilize the key question in the moment: What’s best next? That’s the key question in the moment: What’s the best use of my time, right now? Asking this question helps you overcome the temptation to distraction that often happens after an interruption. After an unexpected visitor or interruption, recalibrate by asking yourself, “What’s the best use of my time now?”
This is the “secret” of those people who “do so many things” and apparently so many difficult things. They do only one at a time. As a result, they need much less time in the end than the rest of us.
Next week we’ll look at chapter 23. Won’t you join us?
Chapter 23: Productivity in Organizations and Society
- There are actually four components of productivity: productivity in life, work, organizations, and society. As Christians, we will care about increasing our own — and others’ — effectiveness in all of these areas. We should seek to make our organizations more productive as well as our own personal workflow habits. And even beyond that, we should seek to make our society more effective so that everyone’s lives can be improved on a large scale.
- A rightly oriented Christianity causes us to care not only about ourselves and our families but also about our communities, cities, and society generally.
- The role of Christians in praying for and seeking the good of their societies is essential to the long-term prospering of their societies.
- While the point of Christianity is not first to make society a better place, the call to do that is an implication of the gospel simply because the gospel sends us into the world to serve in love.
- What does it mean today for a “truly Christian spirit” to lay itself out for the good of its community and society in our current context of mass affluence and mass technology? One thing it implies is that we need to be more concerned than ever about seeking the good of our organizations because large-scale organizations play a much more critical role in society today than they did in Edwards’ day.
- Individual effectiveness is also essential for the proper functioning of society, since individual effectiveness is a building block of organizational effectiveness.
- Personal effectiveness has an impact on the spirit and culture of an organization, creating an environment that calls forth the best from everyone. This raises the sights of everybody and creates an environment that calls forth their best. This is good for everyone individually and for the organization.
- So how do we help make our organizations more effective? First, we need to become more effective ourselves. Second, we need to run departments, divisions, and organizations themselves more effectively.
- We need to understand effective management and leadership if we are going to serve our organizations as effectively as we can. Our organizations cannot flourish without a good understanding of what it means to run an organization well.
- So we need to not simply aim to do good in all areas of life, but be diligent in seeking to learn what actually will do good. We need to be smart about doing good. Good intentions are not enough. We need to do good that actually helps.
- Management matters immensely for the health of society. Free society is not ultimately sustainable without effective organizations and, therefore, effective management.
- Knowing how to build and run organizations does even more than serving our organizations themselves. It serves all of society and everyone in it.
- One of the most important things for making society more effective is to understand economics because one of the biggest impacts on our organizations, for good and ill, comes from the economic policies instituted by the government. As citizens, we need to understand sound principles of economics so that we can implement them if we are in positions of leadership, and support them even if we are not.
- Just as caring about effective management and leadership is a form of love because it pertains to how we treat people, so also caring about economics is a form of love because it pertains to the structural context that enables people and organizations to be better or worse off.
- As with leadership, so also with economics: one of the best ways to grow in our understanding is simply by doing some reading. Thomas Sowell’s book Basic Economics: A Citizens Guide to the Economy is the best place to start.
- Core Point of the Chapter: Productivity is not just about personal productivity. There are four dimensions of productivity: life, work, organizations, and society. In order to be effective in making our organizations more effective, we need to understand the basics of management and leadership; in order to make society more effective, we need to understand economics and government.
- Immediate Application of the Chapter: Manage well in your organizations, and support good management practices! And be personally effective. This not only enables you to be more effective and serve others better, but also strengthens your organization.
Next time we’ll look at chapter 24.
Chapter 24: The Greatest Cause in the World Productivity, world missions, and how our faith relates to our work.
• The concern of the Christian does not end with the good of our organizations and society, as important as those aims are.
• Because productivity is concerned about making life better for others, it will be concerned about getting the gospel of salvation to the 2.87 billion people who still have no access to it and taking action on behalf of large global problems that are keeping millions in poverty around the world.
• We are not only to preach the gospel (though that is most foundational) but also to meet physical needs. We know this for several reasons. First, this is the example Jesus himself gives. Second, the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, which is at the heart of the Christian ethic, teaches us to care about the full range of human needs because that is how each of us loves ourselves.
• Third, the Scriptures teach us that meeting the full range of people’s needs is part of the righteousness God requires.
• Further, we are not only to bring relief to those in need, but also work against the unjust social structures that have led to their oppression.
• Further, God’s call is that we make a large dent, not a small dent, in helping the poor, because the needs are large, not small.
• Since Gospel-Driven Productivity is about putting our productivity practices — and all that we have — in the service of God’s purposes, that means we will put our productivity practices in the service of fighting large global problems and bringing the gospel to all nations. This is at the heart of Gospel-Driven Productivity, whose essence is the recognition that we glorify God by loving others as Christ loved us, and that we are to go to extremes to do this because Jesus went to extremes to help us. In fact, the call to use productivity practices to engage in fighting large global problems is an especially interesting aspect of the biblical teaching on productivity.
• God calls us to use productivity practices for the sake of the poor.
• Hence, we are not simply to give money to help those in need (though that matters), but we are also to think hard about how to take the best actions on behalf of the poor and then create plans to make them happen.
• Knowing how to make plans and overcome the gap between vision and reality helps us to take action for the poor, and conceiving wise initiatives to help lift the poor out of poverty and advance the gospel among the nations ought to be one of the chief uses to which we put our increased skills in productivity.
• The call of God is to serve right where we are and to go beyond. One of the chief ways we can go beyond is by using some of the time our improved productivity frees up to engage in the fight against large global problems.
• Technology provides the opportunity to do this on a greater scale than ever before. The solution to large global problems is in sight.
• We need to remember that serving the poor is about more than just dropping off material goods. We need to understand economics and sound principles of poverty relief so that we can serve in a way that actually helps.
• We also need to ditch the superiority complex and see ourselves as partners who listen and come alongside, rather than people who think they have all the answers and come in and do all the work.
• I suggest a simple starting point: First, use your increased productivity skills to carve out some time once a week, or perhaps each night, to take a few steps in the fight against large global problems.
• Second, for any who are involved vocationally more directly in the fight against large global problems (whether through working or volunteering at a nonprofit, ministry, church, or even business), use the skills you’ve learned in this book (planning, defining, architecting, reducing, and executing) to increase your effectiveness in your work.
• See everything you do, in all areas of your life, as means of serving God and others.
• Paul is essentially saying that through living in a Christ-honoring way among unbelievers in the world — in the context of our jobs, communities, trips to the grocery store, and everything else we do in everyday life — the light of the gospel shines through our behavior, with the result that some people come to faith.
• The result of living our Christian lives — wise in all respects, in terms of how we manage our time and our jobs, as well as making sure to speak up about the gospel — is that many people around us will come to faith.
• Four Reasons the Doctrine of Vocation Is Essential to Missions
1. It shows how everyone can be involved in more ways than just giving and sending.
2. It shows that the gospel has social implications, not just personal implications.
3. It shows us how to use our faith in a tactful way in the public arena.
4. It is in our vocations that we take our faith into the world and the gospel spreads most fully. Whatever your job is, wherever you are, it is both meaningful in itself and a means of advancing the gospel. It is through your work that God changes the world.
• The true effect of being productive and “making the most of the time” as Christians will be the transformation of our communities, cities, societies, and nations for the sake of the gospel. Being productive in our lives is not separate from our task to transform the world through the light of the gospel; it is an integral part of it.
• We can go even farther and say that nonministry vocations are the key to the spread of the gospel globally, because our vocations are the chief way we bring our faith into the world. The gospel spreads through our vocations.
• We must have a robust doctrine of work if we are going to reach the nations with the gospel.
• Let’s finish the mission. To do this, we need to start thinking about how to complete the Great Commission. At the center of our thinking needs to be the recognition that productivity is one of the chief means through which we transform society and the gospel spreads — both here and abroad.
• The world changes especially when institutions change, and institutions change when the people within them change.
• By being effective right where we are and working within our strengths and interests, we are not only effective ourselves, but we also move our industries forward.
• To change the world, first change your world. Be a positive influence for good in your family, your workplace, your community, and the nation. If thousands of people are intentional about changing their world by living out biblical and common grace principles in each of their vocations, the whole world will be changed.
• The Core Point of the Chapter is: A concern for the good of others leads inevitably to a concern for missions. Our vocations are how we carry our faith into the world, and as Christians one by one, and together, seek to serve others in their vocations to the glory of God, the light of the gospel shines and the world changes.
Next week we’ll complete our review of this excellent book.
- You’ve now learned why the discipline of personal productivity matters and how to increase your effectiveness in work and life. Use what you’ve learned for good! Make the goal of your life to show the greatness of Jesus Christ by doing good for others, and organize your life around this purpose.
- Recap What’s Best Next in 500 Words Gospel-driven productivity in a nutshell: We need to look to God to define for us what productivity is, rather than to simply subscribe to the ambiguous concept of “what matters most.” For God is what matters most.
- In order to be most effective in this way in our current era of massive overload and yet incredible opportunity, we need to do four things to stay on track and lead and manage our lives effectively:
- If you can take away only five things from this book, take these:
- Foundation: Look to God, in Jesus Christ, for your purpose, security, and guidance in all of life.
- Purpose: Give your whole self to God (Rom. 12:1 – 2), and then live for the good of others to his glory to show that he is great in the world.
- Guiding principle: Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others the way you want them to treat you. Be proactive in this and even make plans to do good. 4. Core strategy: Know what’s most important and put it first.
- Core tactic: Plan your week, every week! Then, as things come up throughout the day, ask, “Is this what’s best next?” Then, either do them right away or, if you can’t, slot them into your calendar or actions list so that you will be sure to do them at the right time.
The Online Toolkit You will find the following resources online for free at www.whatsbestnext.com/toolkit
In the recommended reading for developing a vision for your life, Matt suggested Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. I have read the book before but with the reminder from Matt, and in light of the recent decisions about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, I’ve decided to read it again. Next week, I’ll start a chapter by chapter look at this excellent book, which Matt describes as:
“An excellent, short read showing us that justice is at the heart of the Christian life and how justice is brought about in our lives by God’s generosity to us in the gospel”. Hope you will read the book along with me.
April 8, 2022 at 2:27 pm
Wow, awesome overview of the book. Very helpful!