I admit that I’ve always been a bit skeptical about books on productivity. I don’t really know why, but I think I just assumed that reading a whole book and developing a comprehensive system for ‘time management’ was overkill. Surely all it needs is a bit of common sense, right? After all, I already make to-do lists, I have a diary and a basic weekly schedule, and I take time out to make sure that what I do gels with my overall goals.
Still, in the back of my mind, I knew I should get around to reading one of the books that everyone recommends. I’d seen the way books like Getting Things Done (David Allen) or First Things First (Stephen Covey) had helped my friends. I’d just never been quite motivated enough to make the time for it myself.
Then a couple of weeks ago, I got my hands on a review copy of What’s Best Next, a new book by Matt Perman (former Director of Strategy at Desiring God, now a writer and consultant). But this is a book on productivity with a difference, as revealed in the subtitle: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.
In a nutshell, Perman has written a rare and vitally important book – one that combines the best insights into time management and productivity with a thoroughly biblical, gospel-centred view of life and the world. What’s Best Next is absolutely brilliant, and a joy to read. I’m so glad I read it, and I can’t recommend highly enough that you read it, too. It will be good for your heart and soul, as well as for your diary.
WBN starts by presenting the Bible’s sweeping vision for life, grounding its view of why productivity matters in the gospel. And this is not a vague ‘God wants the best for your life, so let’s be productive’ or ‘God is sovereign over everything, even over your diary’ kind of overview. This is a deep, gospel-saturated, Jesus-centred vision for life that unfolds with clarity and passion.
The driving force and motive of this book is not productivity; it’s the gospel. Everything else flows from there. Matt introduces the concept of ‘Gospel-Driven Productivity’, showing that God’s glory and the good of others are to be the Christian’s ultimate goal, and that attempts to be effective in our use of time should serve these purposes.
“We could seek to learn all sorts of tactics and principles for making the most of our time and our lives, and there would be some value in that. But the value would be limited if we didn’t know the core idea that integrates everything and allows us to think for ourselves without having to be told all the tactics and principles. The overarching, guiding principle for our lives is love. Putting the other person first equals maximum productivity.”
Matt wants us to see that God cares about our productivity because he cares deeply about our doing ‘good works’ – serving others and glorifying him, doing things that will ‘pass muster at the final judgment’. In essence, he argues that being organised is a way of loving others, since it helps you to make the most of your opportunities to love others and glorify God.
Define, Architect, Reduce, Execute
From here, WBN moves on to outline the nuts and bolts of ‘Gospel-Driven Productivity’. Matt’s approach is summarised in the acronym DARE: Define (know your mission in life, your vision and your goals), Architect (weave the things that matter into your life through a flexible schedule), Reduce (learn to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t fit the big picture), and Execute (making things happen every day). It sounds simple, but in the hands of a skilled practitioner who walks you through the process step-by-step, there really is an abundance of useful material here.
Matt has a straightforward but engaging style of writing that makes WBN an easy read. It’s well structured and easy to follow, and includes summaries at the end of each chapter to allow quick revision. He also has a knack for challenging conventional thinking and grabbing the reader’s attention with some memorable claims and insights. For example, Matt writes, “The only way to be productive is to realise you don’t have to be productive.” Now, that’s a vision that could get me on board!
I confess that, in the first half of this book, I often found myself wanting Matt to ‘cut to the chase’ – to jump ahead and tell me how to get my email inbox to zero, or what kinds of to-do lists I should make. But I’m so glad he didn’t. When the book addresses those things (and it covers a raft of practical tips like inbox zero and your to-do lists), it has so thoroughly grounded them in the gospel that you’ll see why they actually matter, and be properly motivated to take action.
Who’s It For?
What’s Best Next will benefit anyone, regardless of how well organised you already think you are. If you want to start from scratch and develop an entire system for structuring your mission, vision, goals and roles, WBN gives you the tools to do that. If your hopes for this book are simpler – if you want to make sure your current mission and goals are on track, or you want to sharpen up around the edges of how you structure your day, then WBN will help there, too.
Although it’s thoroughly God-centred in its approach, I can even see this being a book that non-Christians could read and enjoy. Could you give a copy to a non-Christian friend, as a way of both helping them and putting the gospel on the agenda in your relationship? I can imagine someone saying: “I’ve been reading this book about productivity and time management. It’s fantastic – it gives some great tips, but it also shows why this stuff matters to God, and how all these things fit into a Christian view of the world. I reckon you’d find it really interesting – why don’t you have a read?”
I believe every person that reads this book will become more effective in their ability to serve God wherever he has placed them: CEOs, stay-at-home mums, teachers, pastors, students, workers or leaders of any kind – you name it. If you’ve ever meant to read a book on productivity, then forget the rest and read this one. You get the practical tips you’ll want, plus a sweeping, biblical vision of why they matter. If you’ve already worked through the other ones, read this one too.
And if you’ve never thought your productivity mattered, ask yourself whether you want to do the best job you can of serving others and glorify God. If your answer is no, read your Bible some more! If your answer is yes, keep reading your Bible – and read What’s Best Next.