Productivity, Work, Vocation

     Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
     – Ephesians 5:15-16

     “Gospel-driven productivity calls us to use all that we have, in all areas of life, for the good of others, to the glory of God…to be on the lookout to do good for others to the glory of God, in all areas of life, and to do this with creativity and competence. This also means actually knowing how to get things done, so that we can serve others in a way that really helps, in all areas of life, without making ourselves miserable in the process through overload, overwhelm, and hard-to-keep up productivity systems.
     Thus, we as Christians are called to put productivity practices and tools in the service of God’s purposes. From a biblical perspective, productivity isn’t just about getting more things done; it’s about getting the right things done. We must effectively do the work that matters in order to bring glory to God, serve the common good, and further his kingdom in the here and now.”
     – Matt Perman, A Biblical View of Productivity

     MP: At first it might be hard to see how productivity is about Jesus, because so much productivity thinking looks at things simply from a secular perspective. What do calendars, to-do lists, and cool moleskine journals have to do with Jesus?
     But, of course, they have everything to do with him, for “all things were created by him and for him” (Col. 1:16). All of our productivity practices and all of the cool productivity tools out there ultimately exist for the glory of Jesus Christ. That means they are to be used to bring honor to his name. Productivity is about Jesus because glorifying him is the ultimate purpose of all that we are doing when we are being productive.
     This is even evident if you look at things from a secular perspective. For example, lots of productivity books talk about accomplishing “what matters most.” But God is what matters most! Hence, if we truly want to be productive, we have no choice but to think about this in relation to God. Otherwise we are abstracting productivity from its ultimate goal and thus not truly accomplishing “what matters most.”
     MP: The gospel both saves us and, once we are saved, gives us the wisdom by which we are to live. This is why the New Testament consistently roots the Christian ethic in the cross of Christ. Christian giving (2 Cor. 8:9), Christian leadership (Matt. 20:25–28), and Christian behavior in general (Phil. 2:3–11Rom. 15:2–3) are all rooted in Christ’s example of putting us before his own interests, even to the point of death on a cross, that we might be saved.
     This means that, first of all, the gospel changes our motive in getting things done. The goal of our productivity should not be first of all our own personal peace and affluence, as some otherwise very helpful books like Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek make it. Instead, the goal of our productivity should be to bring benefit to others—to make a contribution and make life better for people, even to the point of sacrificing ourselves and own interests if necessary, to the glory of God.
     Second of all, the gospel changes the means through which we become productive. The key to being productive is not to put yourself first, but rather, like Jesus, to be generous and put the other person first. Look at things from the other person’s point of view, and do the things that meet their needs. That’s what it really means to be productive. The cross means that we need to have a radically other-centered view of our productivity.
     Third, the gospel is the power source of our productivity. By realizing that we are accepted by God apart from our good works (that is, apart from our productivity), the pressure is off. We are free to be productive for the good of others because we want to, not because we are compelled, constrained, or forced to. This unlocks the true power source of maximum productivity: love.
     MP: So often when we are planning our days or weeks, we just take the things that are in front of us, prioritize those, and think that’s our work. But that’s really just prioritizing the urgent. What we need to do is prioritize the important. And the important things might not even be on our calendar yet or in our email.
     Urgent things press upon us; important things often don’t press upon us. That’s why they are so hard to do. They require us to take initiative and be proactive. Being able to do this is the essence of being a mature person, and shows why personal leadership and character are actually at the heart of true productivity.
     The goal of our productivity should be to bring benefit to others—to make a contribution and make life better for people.
     This means that we shouldn’t first ask, “What things are vying for my attention, and how do I organize them?” Instead, we should first ask, “What things are most important for me to be doing, and how do I make sure that I am able to move ahead on them?” The former is reactive, while the latter is proactive.
     MP: I loved interviewing Bubba. He had so many helpful insights it was incredible. One of the most important things he talked about was the importance of theologically informed values.
     Lots of time-management literature talks about the importance of values. But, as Bubba pointed out, there is actually something that comes underneath our values—namely, God’s truth. That is theology. So as Christians, we need to make sure we not only have our values clarified, but that we have the right values in the first place. And this means having theologically-informed values.
     Also super helpful was Mike Allen, chief White House correspondent at Politico. He talked about how service is the key to productivity. I loved that, because that’s at the heart of the book. To make serving others your mode of operation is not only right in itself, but also benefits you because that’s exactly the kind of employee people like to promote—namely, those who are proactive in making good things happen for others, rather than just seeking their own narrow interests.
     We are free to be productive for the good of others because we want to, not because we are compelled, constrained, or forced to.
     MP: Definitely a moleskine journal. Even if you are almost entirely electronic, there are still times you need to write things down. Having a capture tool that has good style to it makes you want to use it more, just because it’s fun to use. And the best capture tool in this regard is the moleskine journal.
     MP: Wilberforce is the great evangelical social reformer from the late 1700s and early 1800s who put an end to the slave trade in the British Empire. He is one of my heroes, and a hero of the book, because he embodies the true meaning of a productive life—doing good for others creatively, competently, and abundantly.
     One of his biographers said he “lived to do good” and that he “lacked time for half the good works in his mind.” He was always planning and implementing initiatives for the good of others. That’s how we are to be as Christians; Christ redeemed us that we would be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14), like Wilberforce.
     MP: The first answer is obvious, but often overlooked: God commands it. We are told to “make the best use of the time” (Eph. 5:16), use all our gifts and abilities for Jesus (Matt. 25:14–30), and be like the ant that is both self-governing and diligent (Prov. 6:6–8).
     The second reason is that living a productive life enables you to do more good for others, which is our ultimate call as Christians (Matt. 5:16). When you are more productive in your work and life, it benefits people. We should seek to do all the good we can, and therefore we should seek to learn about productivity practices so that we can be more abundant in doing the good we are called to do.
     This also means that we should use some of the time we save through our increased productivity to do good for others in ways that go beyond our jobs and daily lives. One of the best ways to do this is to engage in the fight against large global problems, such as extreme poverty, illiteracy, and disease. Because of technology, we can now carry on much of that fight from our living rooms, such as through lending to entrepreneurs in the developing world throughKiva, or encouraging missionaries on Facebook.
     This is a much better use of the time we save than just using it to have more fun, yet almost no time-management books make this point. But this is one of the main things I want to say: Use your increased productivity not to pursue more peace and affluence for yourself, but to seek the benefit of others.
     As you do that, you will ironically find more peace and joy than you ever imagined: “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Prov. 11:24).”

     “Several months ago a friend of mine asked me 3 questions on productivity for his blog. Here’s what I wrote so that it is easily available here as well:
     1. What’s the most common mistake people make in trying to develop a system for productivity?
     There are a lot of wrong turns that people make here, but I think the biggest one is that they simply seek to make their system capture and organize their existing work. We shouldn’t first ask “what things are vying for my attention and how do I organize them?” Instead, we should first ask “what things are most important for me to be doing and how do I make sure that I am able to move ahead on them?” The former is reactive and the later is proactive.
     2. In the last three months, what has been the most helpful insight that has helped you be more productive?
     Peter Drucker’s comment that “effective executives put first things first and do one thing at a time.” My workload has been larger than normal the last few months, and that makes it tempting to splinter myself and move on too many fronts at once. Drucker reminds me to avoid this trap. First, you don’t have to do everything. Instead, identify what is most important, and start there. Second, build momentum by doing one thing at a time, bringing it to completion, and then moving on to the next thing (what’s best next). You might think this makes it take longer to do things, but it actually saves time. The scarcity of time is precisely the reason we need to do one thing at a time.
     3. In a nutshell, what is the most important and fundamental principle for being productive?
     I would actually say: realize that you don’t have to be productive. By this I mean: your significance does not come from your productivity. It comes from Christ, who obeyed God perfectly on our behalf such that our significance and standing before God comes from him, not anything we do. Then, on that basis, we pursue good works (which is what productivity is) and do so eagerly, as it says in Titus 2:14.
     When it comes to day-to-day application, the main principle is this: The key denominator of effectiveness is not intelligence or even hard work, as important as those are. It is the discipline to put first things first. You need to operate from a center of sound principles and organize and execute around priorities. This means that instead of prioritizing your schedule, you schedule your priorities.”
     – Matt Perman, 3 Questions on Productivity

     “How does productivity fit with theology?
     Theology gives significance to the practical. The practical helps advance theology. It’s not that we have theology over here, here’s practice, let’s do these practical things that will help theology; rather, we can think theologically about the practical. That means we realize that the practical things we are doing are part of the good works that God created us in Christ Jesus to do. So when we’re doing practical things, we’re actually doing good works. That’s a theological understanding of the things we’re doing every day.
     Is it somewhat an American ideal to be productive? Could you take your message to another country and communicate a similar idea?
     I want to define it as getting the right things done. Sometimes that means just being with people rather than accomplishing tasks. Being productive on a Tuesday night might mean saying, I’m not going to do e-mail tonight. I’m just going to hang out with my family. Biblically speaking, productivity is about fruitfulness and serving people. So there doesn’t need to be a tension between being productive and having relationships, because productivity exists for the sake of people. We need to define productivity not simply in terms of work products—get as much done as possible—but what are the things, tangible and intangible, that serve people and make life better.
     People who are in creative fields might need to spend time just thinking about their next creation. Where does idea generation fit into productivity?
     Here’s one of the ironic paradoxes of productivity. Usually the most productive thing you can do is not have your schedule jam-packed. You need to have white space in your schedule. That’s where a lot of the ideas come from. With graphic design, one thing you realize is that white space is a good thing, on the page or onscreen. It’s the mark of an amateur to try to cram as much as possible on the page and leave no white space. You don’t want to crowd everything you possibly can into every possible moment you have.
     Let’s say it’s 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon and I’m just spinning my wheels at work. I might go home for the day. We have sort of like a results-oriented work environment; the idea is do what you need to do to get the job done. So I’m going to go home and hang out with my kids and go for a walk. Sometimes I might go to a movie. That creates the space for ideas to come. Solutions to hard problems result from that. Then, because I took two hours to just say I’m not going to be productive, I get ideas which might save 20 hours or more later.
     Do you have tips for ministry leaders or people who are trying to be effective in their ministry?
     Here’s one. Put the most important things in your schedule first and do those first. The less important things will find their places, or maybe they shouldn’t be done at all.”
     – Matt Perman, A Theology of Workflow


     – Tim Challies, Productivity
     – Tim Challies, How To Get Things Done: Organization & Systems
     – Tim Challies, How To Get Things Done: Finding the Right Tools
     – Tim Challies, How To Get Things Done: Time, Energy & Mission
     – Tim Challies, How To Get Things Done: Define Your Areas of Responsibility
     – Tim Challies, How To Get Things Done
     – Tim Challies, All Those Things I Will Leave Undone
     – Tim Challies, The Lost Virtue of Self-Control
     – Tim Challies, The Spasmodic Hercules

     “A small daily task, if it be daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules.”
     – Anthony Trollope

     “Busy is a decision. You decide what you want to do and the things that are important to you. And you don’t find the time to do things—you make the time to do things. And if you aren’t doing them because you’re “too busy,” it’s likely not as much of a priority as what you’re actually doing.”
     – Debbie Millman

     “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to scripture, faith and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
     – D.A. Carson

     “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
     – 1 Timothy 4:7-8

     – Matt Perman, Monday Morning Motivation