As we think about goals and priorities for the new year, we are frequently reminded of how often we have failed to reach our goals of previous years. Apparently only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions successfully accomplish their resolutions.
In our mission organization, we are asking all of our members to put together an Individual Growth Plan for 2015. Being intentional about and planning our learning is important. People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions. But planning is only the first step. Unless we carry out the plan, we are no further ahead at the end of next year.
How do we make sure that we get the most important things done? How do we prevent our lives being crowded out by the tyranny of the urgent, leaving our good intentions and learning plans just gathering dust in our file cabinets?
To deal with this very real problem, I recommend a relatively new book (published March 2014) by Matt Perman on personal productivity – What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. In contrast to many other books that seek to help you organize your life, Perman recognizes that God must determine our priorities and the purpose of our lives is not to make our lives comfortable and wealthy, but rather to bring glory to God and serve others in love. As Matt’s blog says,
“Unique to any other book about maximizing personal productivity, What’s Best Next is a God-centered, gospel-oriented perspective that addresses the proper motivation to drive your productivity — serving others, to the glory of God.”
In the book itself, Matt says, “This is a book about getting things done and making ideas happen, with less friction and frustration, from a biblical perspective.”
But I think John Piper says it even better:
The book is really about how to be so satisfied in God that the power of this joy is released “to love people better in the midst of the current, very challenging environment of our modern, technological, constantly interrupted knowledge work era.”
The first part (actually Parts 1 & 2) of the book lays a biblical and theological foundation for productivity, showing that God really cares about us getting things done, but that the key is not becoming more efficient (getting more things done) but becoming more effective (getting the right things done). Throughout the book, multiple references to various themes of Piper’s preaching and writing ministry can be found. Avoiding wasting your life, seeking the glory of God above all, and focusing on God’s global mission and the centrality of the Gospel are all woven into the discussion of productivity. This Piper-emphasis is not surprising since Matt Perman served as director of strategy for Desiring God, a ministry which John Piper founded.
Then in Part 3, 4, 5 and 6, the author outlines his 4-step process of becoming more productive. This section is filled with practical tips and great ideas for becoming more productive. Perman is a great fan of GTD (Getting Things Done by David Allen), but he sees some shortcomings in the GTD process, and proposes some amendments that I agree, strengthen it.
Perman uses the acronym DARE: Define, Architect, Reduce, Execute. Define is about identifying what is most important by writing a mission statement, your personal vision and your life roles. Architect is about designing schedules and structures that enable you to be productive and flexible through tools like weekly time maps and daily planning. Reduce is about freeing up time to do what is most important, following good principles of delegation and avoiding multi-tasking among others. Finally, Execute addresses the actual follow-through of the productivity plan, and talks about managing your email, workflow and projects.
After reading these sections, I immediately saw a number of ways that I could apply these ideas to my own life and ministry. I have already put together a weekly time map, started outlining my weekly priorities at the beginning of each week, and greatly improved how I handle projects (including projects like writing for this blog).
In the last section, Perman seeks to relate personal productivity to the bigger picture of how we serve our communities and our world through organizations and world missions. I think this section is the weakest, maybe because the section is so introductory. But this is not to say that the book has little relevance to missionaries like myself. On the contrary, the book is tremendously relevant to full-time Gospel workers like myself whose ministries are not defined by an 8-to-5 work schedule or a daily list of assignments from a local supervisor. Just don’t expect that last chapter on missions to be the most helpful.What’s Best Next is complemented by a toolkit of downloadable articles and tools on Perman’s website.
Is this a book that you should read in 2015? A number of reviewers have given it very high marks, with one even saying that if you can read only one book beside the Bible this year, this is the book you should read. To help you decide, let me quote some more from John Piper’s introduction:
This book is simply extraordinary. This is largely because of the way God has wired Matt Perman. His mind is saturated with biblical truth, and he is passionate, sometimes to a fault (as you will see in his personal stories), about being effective for the glory of Christ. Those two traits have combined to produce a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated book that, without blinking, gets into stuff like Al Mohler’s midnight productivity and Seth Godin’s method for carving out time for work that matters. I doubt there is a person on the planet who knows both theological issues and time-management literature to the depth and extent Matt Perman does. This combination is at times mindboggling.