#7.2 – WHAT’S BEST NEXT (MATT PERMAN) – PART 2/2

(You can find part 1 of this post here)

We left off at the core principle of making ourselves effective. This part is all about crystallising that principle. It’s about constructing a system that will support your effort to become effective. This system is called DARE: Define, Architect, Reduce, and Execute. Let’s talk about each of this step in detail as we move on.

Define

This step is all about developing your mission statement, knowing your vision (i.e. your overarching life calling, or life goal), knowing your roles (your specific everyday callings in your life), and your goals (creating change at quarterly, yearly, and multiyear increments). Your mission statement should consist of three components:

  1. Core purpose: your overall reason for existence
  2. Core principles: the guiding principles by which you will live your life
  3. Core beliefs: your identity and ultimate destination

These three components should 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, and (4) what the main principles are by which you will guide your life. This is the essence of Chapter 11.

Chapter 12 contains perhaps my favourite quote from throughout the book:

To every person there comes in their lifetime that special moment when you are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to you and your talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds you unprepared or unqualified for work which could have been your finest hour.

 Sir Winston Churchill

We must become ambitious – for the glory and honor of God. It’s such a fatal fallacy to think that we may not be ambitious; we may for the correct purpose. To realise that ambition we need to have a robust life goal. It is a specific aim with a finishing point. Your mission is your chief way, and your life goal is the concrete what. It is a huge objective that is so big that it governs everything else you do, and it will likely take your entire life. Now, how do you come to your life goal? Ask these two questions to yourself:

  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?

If you could do only ONE thing on this planet, what would it be?

That’s your life goal. How to make it happen?

  • Put it in a place where you will remember it and review it
  • Weave it in the structure of your life
  • Utilise evolutionary progress rather than scripting everything out

If you have a hard time figuring out your life goal, newsflash: life still can go on. Do what’s before you with excellence, take steps for fundamental reasons and not instrumental ones, care about who as much as what, increase you opportunity stream, read inspiring books and biographies and watch inspiring movies, stay faithful in prayer, and finally take action and commit.

Now roles, or better: callings. All Christians have a calling, and every area of their lives is a calling. All of our jobs and every area of our life has a dignity and meaning that gives great significance to it. Each role is a stewardship for which we are ultimately responsible to God himself. Maybe you’ve realised by now, Ï have too many hats. How can I possibly organise them? You may start by grouping them into five categories: individual, family, church, social, and professional. For each role, list the corresponding responsibilites you need to undertake. Make sure you live out your  role by:

  • Make it a routine to review your roles in your weekly review, and ask what you most need to do this week to serve your primary roles, any additional roles you can do, and any roles that you are possibly neglecting.
  • Weave them into the fabric of your life.
  • Connect them to your life goal as the means to accomplish it.
  • Keep them from competing. Whenever possible, seek to do things in a way that involves multiple roles.

Architect

This step aims to help you structure your life by living mainly a flexible routine, not a set of lists. Three things are involved:

  1. How to set up your week
  2. What routines to be inserted into your week
  3. How to get creative things done

Why do you need a basic schedule? The reason is simple: people operate best from a routine, not a set of lists. It also keeps you from massive overload, and helps you integrate all of your roles. At the same, it enables creative thinking. You should begin by setting up your week using a time map, or a weekly schedule. Divide your week into time zones, representing the main roles and responsibilities of your life. You may want to divide your day into 30-mins slots, but avoid having too many items. Keep it simple. Make it easy to remember so it becomes automatic and natural to the way you live. There are six routines Perman recommends you to harness:

  1. Get up early
  2. Keep a daily workflow
  3. Have a weekly workflow
  4. Prayer and scripture
  5. Reading and development
  6. Rest

Reduce

Reducing means freeing up some capacity and it certainly is needed if you’re trying to fit too much in your schedule. Why is it needed? Something called the ringing effect explains a phenomenon wherein a system that is nearing its capacity (around 75 percent) can be greatly disturbed by small nuisances. In short, this means that everything is on edge when full capacity is a tiptoe away. In order to be effective, you need to plan everything for around 75 percent capacity only. To get more things done, reduce the number of projects you’re working at once. To get more done, do less.

What should we do to reduce the number of things we have to do? There are four main avenues:

  1. Delegate: Contrary to popular belief, delegation is not a way to get rid of something you avoid doing. It’s an opportunity to serve by building up the other person. A jargon used here is stewardship delegation. The other individual is given both an area of responsibility and the freedom to choose whichever methods they prefer to accomplish it.
  2. Eliminate: Two components of elimination are getting rid of tasks that don’t need to be done, and eliminating unnecessary parts of the task. Use 80/20 principle together with Parkinson’s Law. 80 percent of your productivity comes from 20 percent of your tasks. Identify things that fall into the ‘trivial many’ so you can correctly identify the ‘vital few’. Parkinson’s Law construes that a task will generally expand to fill the time allotted to it, so reduce the time you allot for a specific task.
  3. Automate: Make your tasks run on autopilot (this is actually something I’m busy with in my job).
  4. Defer: Putting things aside for later and time-activating them.

But I have so many time killers! I’m constantly interrupted by people craving for my attention!

Actually harness them.

Kill multitasking. You can never effectively do two things at once. You can quickly switch between tasks, but it incurs switching costs. Loss of concentration, time to refocus, those are switching costs. Plan your tasks in big time chunks so you don’t switch between menial tasks.

PROCRASTINATE. Yes, you read me right. Get this, motivate yourself to love what you do. There will be a slimmer chance for you to procrastinate. But procrastinate positively. Sometimes we just need to wait until more information is needed to wrap up a task, or you face a very large task that can be effectively solved when broken down. Then do nothing. Don’t do something else.

Finally, turn interruptions into a positive experience. Avoid this as much as you can by planning uninterrupted work time, but in case interruptions are an inevitable part of your daily routine, embrace them and use them as opportunities to do good for others. Minimise interruptions and realise that interruptions can boost your effectiveness.

Execute

Execution can be summarised into the acronym P.O.D:

Plan.Organise.Do.

Planning means planning your week. Create a weekly plan that contains your most important priorities this week and weave them into the design of your week. How to do this correctly? First, pray and review your mission and vision. Then define your priorities for the week by reflecting and reviewing your roles, goals, project, action lists, and calendar. Finally, organise your priorities in a way that makes them easy to do. Organising implies different things. It means separating the large items from the small items. It means pruning and prioritising. It means scheduling anything that needs to be scheduled. It means doing small actions right away.

Organising means managing your email, workflow, projects, and actions. You can manage your workflow by collecting ideas readily, processing correctly (in order, one item at a time, and not putting things back into your inbox), and organising (yes, we do  a lot of organising) items based on need-to-follow-up. Projects and actions can be organised using four types of list:

  1. Weekly priority list ( = this week)
  2. Master projects list (= this quarter)
  3. Master actions list (=this quarter)
  4. Backburner (=someday/maybe)

Project plans can support your projects. A project plan should contain the project’s purpose, principles, actions and info.

“Do” means executing your responsibilities daily. A few principles can help you seize the day effectively. First, plan your day ahead. Write down the three most important tasks you can accomplish today, review your calendar, review your priority list this week, and write down any other things you need to do. Then schedule your day at only 70 percent capacity or less (remember the ringing effect). Make sure you consolidate your time into large chunks. Do the most important thing first, and do it one at a time. Focus on outcomes, and not activities. See your day in terms of people and relationships first, not tasks. As k yourself, how can I build others up? Utilize the key question in the moment: What’s best next?

The last large chunk in the book discusses the repercussions of our improved productivity in organisations and society. Peter Drucker spelled out that modern society’s survival and functioning depends on the effectiveness of large-scale organisations, of which individual effectiveness is an indispensable building block. As individuals we are then called to understand management and leadership. Ultimately, improved productivity should be used for the sake of the poor. It’s a global call for all of us.

DISCUSSION

This book makes an enjoyable read, although it demands you to invest a good amount of time to really internalise the content. The first remark didn’t come until I was summarising this book. There’s too many things to be conveyed. While Perman is consciously aware of the problem with David Allen’s Getting Things Done of abundant to-do-lists, Perman actually has too many (nested) lists. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’m squeezing too much juice. There are actually too many useful points. Nevertheless, I highly recommend you to sit down with a bunch of highlighters and sticky notes. Consider reading this book a personal study session. You may even want to summarise the book for yourself using a personal notebook.

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Let me know what you think of this book!

The next review will be on a cyber security book on phishing.

 

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#7 – WHAT’S BEST NEXT (MATT PERMAN) – PART 1/2

Time for another business book review!

Although you might not find this book sitting in the “Business and Management” shelves in your favorite bookstore, this is essentially a business book. The difference is that most of the arguments are built around biblical perspectives, so there’s a higher chance that you’ll have to teleport yourself to the “Spirituality” department.

This book is amazing because it combines two seemingly unfitting topics: Christianity and productivity. And this book is both a Christian living book and a productivity book. You can’t say it’s either of the two. Perman spends more than ten chapters to make his point in both areas. It’s both biblically sound and managerially robust.

Because of its extent, I’m forced to split my review into two parts to avoid producing a post that requires half an hour of your undivided attention. In this part, I’ll focus on the biblical principles used by Perman to lay a solid foundation on why we need a Christian view on productivity. In the other part, I’ll present the practical part of the book on how you can drastically improve your productivity.

Matt Perman has the correct resume to write this book. He holds an MDiv from a seminary and also a Project Management Professional certification. Previously he served as Senior Director of Strategy of John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries. Perman maintains a gospel-driven productivity blog, What’s Best Next, which carries various supplemental resources to the book. 

DESCRIPTION

Title: What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done

Author: Matt Perman

Topic: Work, Christianity, Labor productivity

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SUMMARY

This part of the review covers the first two parts of the book, namely First Things First: Making God Supreme in Our Productivity and Gospel-Driven Productivity: A New Way to Look at Getting Things Done. They collectively make up the first ten chapters of the book. Perman starts big; in the preface he lists twelve myths on productivity and busts them open. For example, he believes that productivity is not about getting more done faster, which is in reality efficiency. Productivity, per Perman is more about effectiveness. Another myth he decimates is that productivity is best defined by tangible outcomes. He argues that productivity is about intangible – relationships developed, connections made, and things learned.

The introduction is essentially a short summary of the book. He asks the reader to first acknowledge that it is hard to get things done and that we need a Christian approach to embrace productivity. He then lists reasons of why we need to care greatly about personal productivity. For example, a good productivity approach enables us to be more effective in doing good for others and that managing ourselves well enables us to excel at work and in life. He goes further by explaining the concept of gospel-driven productivity and building blocks of this notion.

It is hard to become productive these days because we have not updated yet our tactics and strategies from the industrial economy that emerged in the 20th century. Borrowing Drucker’s term, we are now standing in the era of knowledge economy, where we are no longer ‘industrial workers’ but ‘knowledge workers’. These obsolete tactics render us unprepared to meet the challenges of ambiguity and overload that color this era. Efficiency, contrary to popular belief, is not the answer. Effectiveness is.

It doesn’t matter how efficient you are if you are doing the wrong things in the first place.

Yes, you can get the wrong things done. Sometimes efficiency can even make things worse. This happens when you become an expert at doing the wrong things, which is the definition of unproductivity. It can also potentially hamper innovation and makes us shy away from creating intangibles.

That’s why we need God in our quest to become productive. Thus far, we have recognized four generations in time management:

  1. Getting organized
  2. + Adding calendars, setting goals, and formulating long-term aims
  3. + Identifying values
  4. + Identifying principles

Perman believes it’s time for a fifth generation: God-centeredness. This is because God is ultimately foundational to true principles and He ultimately defines what the rights are to get done. Moreover, He is “what matters most”. The Bible is packed with passages showing that God actually wants us to be productive. The Creation story shows the first mandate ever given, which is to be productive. In the era of Jesus’, there is the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, which shows that God cares about ROI. Being productive requires intentionality (Eph 5:15-17). As Christian, our motives should revolve around loving God and seeking to serve Him.

In Part 2, Perman gradually builds the definition of “productivity”, drawing pieces of the notion from individual chapters. This begins in Chapter 4, where he defines productive things as things that pass muster at the final judgment and receive the verdict of being “eternally productive”. To be productive is to get done what God wants to be done. What does God want to be done? Good works (Matt 5:16, Eph 2:8-10, Tit 2:14, John 15:16). 

It’s not only about doing good works, it’s also about being fruitful in doing good works (1 Thess 5:15; John 15:8; 2 Cor 8:2; 9:6,8; 1 Cor 15:58; Prov 3:27; 11:24-25; 1 Tim 6:17-19). We are to make the best use of our time. As John Wesley put it:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.

Being productive is then doing all the good you can, and it’s not just about the spiritual things; it’s anything we do in faith. This also means that productivity is about other people, not about you. It’s about becoming a useful person and making contributions. By no surprise, the guiding principle is love. Love is at the heart of Christianity. We are most effective when we seek the good of other before ourselves. To have love as the guiding principle of our lives means that the continual mindset in all we do should be, “What will serve the other person? How can I benefit my neighbor?”. Loving others means six things:

  1. Have real goodwill toward the other person.
  2. Put the other person first.
  3. Be eager in meeting the needs of others, not begrudging and reluctant.
  4. Be proactive, not reactive, in doing good.
  5. Avoid a self-protective mindset and take pains to do good for others.
  6. Be creative and competent in doing good, not lazy and shoddy.

Counterintuitively, putting others first is actually the best way to be productive at work. Many books have spoken about the benefits of generosity, which are bigger at your end than at the other person’s end. Read for example Love is The Killer App by Tim Sanders and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.

The only to be productive is to realize that you don’t have to be productive. Perman makes his point by explaining the doctrine of justification by faith and not by works. Christianity is not about moralism. If we were to do good in order to become justified, we wouldn’t do them for others’ sake. We would selfishly accomplish things for our own sake. Nothing we do can add even one bit to our justification (and ultimately, salvation).

This relates to the misconception of ‘peace of mind’, which is often equated to ‘the feeling when you’ve ticked all your to-do list boxes.’ It is far more than that , and it definitely should not depend on what we do. The ultimate peace of mind comes, in the same way our justification does: through faith. It is best expressed in day-to-day life, and it can only be found outside of ourselves. Our identity is not defined by our productivity, but in what Christ has done for us. Even if every single thing breaks down, our identity remains intact.

Only secure people can serve. Insecure people are always worrying about how they appear to others. They fear exposure of their weaknesses and hide beneath layers of protective pride and pretensions. The more insecure you are, the more you will want people to serve you, and the more you will need their approval. – Rick Warren

True and lasting effectiveness stems from character, not personality. It looks at who we are. Psalm 1 tells about the “blessed” person who “yields its fruit in its season… in all he does.” Everything works for his own good. Virtue and character are what it takes to live a productive and fruitful life. Being a person of character is the greatest success, and it leads to being able to make the most of our time in the decisions of everyday life, as it becomes the source of our ability to determine what’s best next. God works through our renewed understanding (Rom 12:2) to enable us to determine the best course of action (Eph 5:10,17). How do we then make character flourish? By meditating on the Scripture (Psalm 1:2) and praying.

The core principle of making ourselves effective is by learning to be able to lead ourselves before managing ourselves. What is the core principle to productivity? Know what’s most important and put it first. If we do our activities this way, the smaller stuff will fall into its place. The Bible tells us to work with priorities (Matt 6:33). Decide what really matters first: God and His Kingdom, and then do it. Knowing what’s most important is personal leadership, and putting it first (into action) is personal management. These two things are equally important in harnessing productivity. Personal leadership is about objectives, and personal management is the tactics you use to reach those objectives. Within personal leadership, you have mission, vision, long-term goals, and roles. Within personal management, there are projects, calendar, action lists, etc. Be aware that the things within personal management may strangle you, so always ask yourself over and over: what’s best next? This is the core idea.

To be continued here

#6 – #STRUGGLES (CRAIG GROESCHEL)

It’s time for another review! I try my best to maintain a variety of posts, and I hope I’m not repeating the cycle too soon. The title starts with a hashtag… did I make a typo error? No, the title of the book comes with a hashtag, and there’s a pretty good chance you can already guess what this book is about.

To be honest I forgot why I wanted this book. I bought this book shortly after it was released, which doesn’t happen too often. Nevertheless, I didn’t regret the purchase. It is one of the few books I completed in a few sittings.

Craig Groeschel is a heralded pastor in the U.S. One of the most well-known fruits of his ministry is the popular YouVersion Bible App. He pastors LifeChurch.tv, which I believe live-streams its services every Sunday. There’s a bunch of videos of his sermons on Youtube and he is very active on social media.

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Image courtesy of Amazon

 

DESCRIPTION

Title: #struggles: Following Jesus in a Selfie-Centered World

Author: Craig Groeschel

Categories: Social media, Technology, Christian life, Spiritual growth

SUMMARY

Allow me to start with the introduction; it’s a very honest and relatable piece of writing.

“We’re busy, but bored.

We’re full, but empty.

We’re connected, but lonelier than ever.”

 The problem per Groeschel, is that technology solves an old problem, but creates a new one – a bigger one, perhaps. We try to escape from real-life struggles but at the same time migrate them to the virtual world. Envy, jealousy, unnecessary comparison, lust and greed still exist. It’s just that they now exist in the world of ones and zeroes, hence the #struggles. Groeschel states that we need to regain #control, and that there are particularly eight areas of #control we need to regain:

  • Contentment
  • Intimacy
  • Authenticity
  • Compassion
  • Integrity
  • Encouragement
  • Worship
  • Rest

For each area, there is a chapter exclusively devoted to address them in detail. The first value to redefine is contentment, which is easily killed by us comparing ourselves with other people virtually. There are basically three types of envy you potentially harbour: financial and material envy, relational envy, and circumstantial envy. There’s only one cure to the envious: Christ. Until we let Christ be all we need, constant discontent will always drag us. How do we put this to practice? As straightforward as it sounds, stop comparing. We also need to celebrate other people’s successes, and cultivate a heart of gratitude. As Solomon said a few thousand years ago:

… for the happy heart, life is a continual feast (Proverbs 15:15, NLT)

The second problem is intimacy. It’s so easy to label someone a “friend” nowadays. Being connected in a specific social media platform instantly makes you befriend somebody else. We’re now also very accustomed to immediate affirmation and instant gratification as metrics of friendship. This results in what scientists call deferred loneliness. Instant gratification defers our opportunities for loneliness that can develop into more meaningful relationship. We even develop this millennial disease called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Now, how do we solve this issue? Be present. Presence is powerful. Get together with people instead of using Hangouts. Be physically present when you can.

A person-to-person conversation can go to amazing places that texting back and forth will not go.

Make sure that the person you’re with is the most important person in the world when you’re together.

Instead of FOMO online, what you really should be afraid is missing out on the people in front of you.

 

                Now, authenticity. The online world is a perfect place to put on veils and masks so nobody (or at least as few people as possible) can see the real you. We not only filter our shots of our lunch, but also our identity. We cherry pick which sides of our lives can and cannot be seen by others and create multiple versions of ourselves for all kinds of reasons.

Social media practically trains us to present a self that isn’t honest.

Okay… so how should I behave then? Beth Moore once said: “Be authentic with all, transparent with most, and intimate with some.” Everything we say must be true but not everything true should be said. Don’t overshare. We have to drop the veil. Don’t pose as somebody else. The danger when you are so used to showing your filtered self is that you may not be able to know your true self.

That is scary.

Only Christ can remove our veil. Our identity comes from who you are following, which better be Jesus and not anyone else. We also have problem with being desensitised. As social media thrives, empathy plummets. Noble causes become easily abandoned, people become more self-obsessed, we have a hard time becoming sensitive to what really matters, and we are trained not to interact directly as often as we used to. The original Greek word for the word “compassion” means to be moved as to your bowel. Yes, compassion should be pretty similar to having butterflies fly in your stomach. However, having compassion alone is not enough. True compassion requires action.

To say you care but then not act is not to care at all.

And here’s what I love: When you get outside of yourself, God changes lives. But sometimes he does what you least expect – the life He changes most is yours.

The next thing on the list is integrity – which is “who you are when no one is looking”. Groeschel deals with lust, conviction, and peace in this chapter, supported by various statistics of how dangerous technology is in attacking our integrity. The reconciliation begins with us being honest with ourselves and starting to put protective controls in place. Technology also sometimes robs us of our peace, which can be measured by how content we are. There is no other way to resist these unceasing temptations but to submit to God (James 4:7-8).

Scrolling down the list brings us to encouragement. It is about using social media to encourage people, by at least not contributing to the problem. Being quiet when you don’t need to speak up and not gossiping. I like how gossiping is being defined: talking about a situation with somebody who is neither part of the problem nor part of the solution. Spectating is also participating in gossip. We need to carefully reflect and ask what draws us into gossiping, why it makes you feel rewarded, even if someone else looks bad? We need to ask ourselves before we post anything: Will my post become helpful or hurtful?

I strongly advocate the THINK formula for this case:

Is it True?

Is it Helpful?

Is it Inspiring?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Kind?

In this era of oversharing, you should also avoid sharing things that do not belong in public domain. Keep what’s private, private. Then, ask yourself if you’re actually permitting or even encouraging others to gossip. You shouldn’t associate with those who gossip. Consider yourselves warned, though: even if we obey these three rules, we will sometimes be shot with slander, but we must endure. Expect persecution, but endure it.

Let’s now talk about restoring worship. There is a great chance we’re practicing idolatry with social media. Idolatry is taking anything and making it more important than it should be in life. Timothy Keller eloquently sums it up as:

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

We need to stop and reflect: Are we being seduced? Are we placing too much value to something that’s not important? God has always wanted the first place in our lives. He should be first. Anytime He’s not in the first place, we will seek for satisfaction somewhere else, and it turns into a vicious cycle until He sits in His rightful place.

Finally, Groeschel brings us to the topic of rest. Every chapter opens with several quotes, and I can find one of my favourites here:

Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. – St. Augustine

I didn’t know that something called nomophobia exists. It’s the fear of being without a mobile device (hence no mobile). We constantly distract our minds and never let it shut down and rest. We indeed have freedom to do many things, but because we can do it doesn’t mean we should do it. We should not be mastered by anything. There’s a great tip to practice this: be still. Be completely still for five minutes. Also plan some good defensive and offensive strategies. Turn off your social media notifications. Commit to a dedicated time of solitude every day.

To conclude, Groeschel invites the reader to really acknowledge that a problem actually exists. This is hard because the longer a problem persists, the more discouraged you become, the more excuses you make and the more you learn to compensate. You cannot change what you are willing to tolerate. To be able to change, you need to want to change.

DISCUSSION

Overall, I like this book for its heads-on-ness. It’s spiced up with your usual “pastor humor”, although sadly there’s a fair amount of hashtag abuse #throughout #the #book. At the end of the book, Groeschel prescribes the Ten Commandments of Using Social Media, which in my opinion is highly relevant to us. These include: #3: Use social media to facilitate, not replace, real relationship, #6: Do not post out of emotion, and #10: Do not base your identity on what people think. The book is lightweight, and it can certainly be finished within a few days. Nothing “too theological”, but it’s filled with lots of careful dissection of various bible verses. Finally, Groeschel also inserted practical safeguards for you to apply in the form of “protective” apps and programs for your devices.

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Let me know what you think of this book by leaving comments!

The next review will be on a business book about productivity.