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.
Title: What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
Author: Matt Perman
Topic: Work, Christianity, Labor productivity
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:
- Getting organized
- + Adding calendars, setting goals, and formulating long-term aims
- + Identifying values
- + 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:
- Have real goodwill toward the other person.
- Put the other person first.
- Be eager in meeting the needs of others, not begrudging and reluctant.
- Be proactive, not reactive, in doing good.
- Avoid a self-protective mindset and take pains to do good for others.
- 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…