Many years ago, I heard a quote attributed to Thomas Edison: “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” I have been haunted by quotes like this all my life.
On the first page of What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, Matt Perman puts his finger on the problem that has dogged me—and I suspect many of you—through our careers:
Most of us are feeling that we have way too much to do and too little time to do it in. As David Allen points out, the process of managing our work is often messy and overflows its banks. “Behind closed doors, after hours, there remain unanswered calls, tasks to be delegated, unprocessed issues from meetings and conversations, personal responsibilities unmanaged, and dozens of emails still not dealt with.”
In the next paragraph, Perman, blogger and former content strategist at Desiring God, sums up the frustration we all feel at the end of many a long day of work when we didn’t finish what we really wanted to accomplish.
This is especially unfortunate because we live at an incredibly exciting time in history. Many of us love our jobs and find the world of work exciting. We have more opportunity to do good than ever before and more opportunity to do creative, challenging work than perhaps at any point in history.
Many of us believe the thing holding us back is a failure to understand how to be more productive and better at managing our time and resources. Over the years, I’ve read countless books on productivity and time management, gone to numerous seminars, and used almost every system from the paper-based Franklin-Covey planner to my current high tech adaptation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
And yes, while this quest has brought a certain level of organization to the chaos of my life, I still haven’t found a system for managing everything that works especially well for me.
Perman suggests that the aim of What’s Best Next is to reshape the way we think about productivity. He then presents a practical approach to help us become more effective in our lives with less stress and frustration, whatever we may be doing:
We often think of productivity as getting concrete things done—e-mails sent, widgets made, and assignments completed. These things are important, but they do not exhaust the scope of our productivity. More and more, productivity is about intangibles—relationships developed, connections made, and things learned.
What’s Best Next successfully achieves this goal by offering something unique in comparison to other books in this genre. Part one (“First Things First: Making God Supreme in Our Productivity”) and part two (“Gospel-Driven Productivity: A New Way to Look at Getting Things Done and Why it Matters”) lay out a solid biblical why for getting things done by exploring the bigger picture of productivity in God’s purposes. This idea of 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,” Perman explains, “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.”
The second portion of the book (parts three through six) moves from practical theology to practical application. This how element—the basis for most books written on the subject—includes topics like planning your week, delegating, procrastinating, managing e-mail, and overseeing projects. Yet even in this section, Perman pulls together the best secular thinking on productivity and filters it through the lens of his gospel-driven model.
He explains that this idea of gospel-driven productivity also entails “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.” This new perspective, he says, means we as Christians are called to “put productivity practices and tools in the service of God’s purposes.”
However, these lessons don’t just apply to us as individuals; they have global significance. In the final final section of the book (part seven), Perman discusses why our work and productivity have significance beyond ourselves, introducing the “Four Dimensions of Productivity:” personal life, work life, organizations, and society. He quotes Jonathan Edwards:
Christian love . . . disposes a man to be public-spirited. A man of a right spirit is not a man of narrow and private views, but is greatly interested and concerned for the good of the community to which he belongs, and particularly of the city or village in which he resides, and for the true welfare of the city in which he is a member.
Perman aptly expands on this quote, applying it to our modern context and showing how—with the right habits, a good understanding of leadership and management, and a basic knowledge of economics—one individual can affect an organization, which can in turn affect the world for the glory of God. He concludes by noting:
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.
Be forewarned, this is not a book you can skim through to pick up a couple of good ideas. As one reader writes, no one has “thought more deeply about the relationship between the gospel and productivity. You will find in these pages a unique and remarkable combination of theological insight, biblical instruction, and practical counsel that would change the world if put into practice.”
In the final analysis, Perman demonstrates from a biblical perspective that productivity isn’t just about getting more things done; it’s about getting the right things done. What’s Best Next shows us how to effectively do the work that matters in order to bring glory to God, to serve the common good, and to further his kingdom in the here and now.
What’s Best Next is a book that I wish someone had given me 40 years ago.
This review by Hugh Whelchel was first posted at The Gospel Coalition. Hugh is executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics and author of How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work (WestBow, 2012). Whelchel has a master of arts in religion and brings more than 30 years of diverse business experience to his leadership at IFWE.
Editor’s Note: What’s Best Next focuses on productivity in the workplace, but it easily lends itself to domestic productivity as well. Almost every principle that is focused on an outside work environment has application for those working in the home as well, but a study leader will have to make that connection outside of the text.