Getting more done. Sigh. Bring on the low-grade guilt, memories of shipwrecked New Year’s resolutions, and the “I-am-so-lame” feeling as we watch productive people owning their to-do lists.
Productivity is a huge topic and major cultural itch. A search of books on the topic in Amazon yields some 36,000 hits. And it’s not a new issue. Fairly productive guys like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin had their secrets. Jonathan Edwards, a time-management guru, preached an excellent exposition of Ephesians 5:16, entitled, “The Preciousness of Time, and the Importance of Redeeming It.”
In our day, veteran ninja-blogger, Tim Challies, also knows a few things about productivity. In addition to doing normal human things, ministry, and writing books (e.g. The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, Sexual Detox, and a theological critique of The Shack), he is probably best known for feeding the Christian world from his A La Carte and blog for about 12 years now. So, his new book, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity, comes from real testing.
Challies writes to help us “do more of what matters most,” and “to do it better” (5). From the beginning, he avoids a pixie-dust solution to a giant problem. Some productivity books throw out commands that may work for some, but without discussing a lot of the necessary plumbing to implement the change. And that’s the problem.
Anyone can tell you what they’re doing that works. It’s quite another thing to shepherd someone through change. I think this book does a fine job of that and I recommend it for a few reasons:
- We are reminded that Scripture is our most powerful help for productivity.
God’s Word addresses all things pertaining to life and godliness. Productivity falls into the “life and godliness” category. Challies hits that at the right place, the beginning of the book. In doing so, he gives one of the most helpful definitions of productivity: “Productivity is effectively stewarding my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God” (16).
- The book rightly teaches that getting stuff done is, first, a doxological-theological issue, not anthropological-sociological.
This world is God’s world. Time is God’s time. People are God’s people. So, any discussion of productivity needs to begin here. However, many productivity books have the theme of man-centered, selfish-ambition in common, and miss this element. Challies puts productivity back in its appropriate place by couching it in the attributes and glory of God.
He writes, “The simple fact is, you are not the point of your life . . . God created you to bring glory to him” (11), and, “The Bible assures you that good works are any deeds . . . done for the benefit of other people and the glory of God” (13).
Productivity failure is first a failure to embrace and apply some attribute of God or truth of Scripture (23). Further, prayer is indispensable to biblical productivity as it a demonstration of our need for God in all our doings (93).
- The reader is guided through the necessary inward change so that the outward change of improved productivity can effectively occur.
One of the difficulties in improving productivity is that you actually have to improve, which means you have to change. You need to do something, and do something different. Instead of piling on a new to-do list, Challies shepherds the reader through the crux of change in his helpful section on the foundation of productivity (10–16). He writes, “Productivity is not what will bring purpose to your life, but what will enable you to excel in living out your existing purpose” (10).
Productivity is a worship issue. Underneath the itch is something more. There’s more going on than bagging books and defeating deadlines. We can become a Jedi-productivity-master, yet still live in a way that is displeasing to the Lord and given to self-worship. Productivity is not first about what you do, but who you are. Which means a productivity problem is a who-I-am problem.
And it’s the gospel of Christ which enables and motivates us each day to live productively for the glory of God (25). “No amount of organization and time management will compensate for a lack of Christian character, not when it comes to this great calling of glory through good—bringing glory to God” (25). Which is why the reader will likely be more motivated to implement the nuts and bolts of chapters 5–10 after the heart has been affected by chapters 1–4.
While he touches on the issue more than most (including a good, brief mention of pride and fear of man on pp. 95–96), I would have liked to see a few more paragraphs unpacking the idolatry involved in both the productive and unproductive life, since the thesis of the book is grounded in the glory of God. Doing so might foster greater understanding, and thus, repentance, and thus, change.
- This is a book I could give to non-Christians as somewhat of an evangelistic tool.
Every person wants the productivity-itch scratched. This book will scratch it while also beginning to address far deeper issues of one’s soul before God.
Though the book is primarily geared for Christians, there are some sections which bring in the not-yet believer. In the “Productivity Catechism,” a simple God-man-redemption theology is introduced, providing evangelistic fodder. The finished work of Christ-crucified for sinners applies to productivity. And Challies makes that refreshingly, and evangelistically, evident.
- It’s a realistic approach to productivity.
We actually can’t do it all and even Challies gets that. And we are not good at everything. “It is far better to dedicate lots of attention to those areas in which you are particularly talented or gifted than it is to dedicate minimal attention to the many areas you are not. . . . You haven’t begun to live a focused and productive life until you have said no to great opportunities that just do not fit your mission” (40).
Motivation, which is good to overcome inertia, is not enough to sustain the new habit, however. Times of motivation should be harnessed to implement habits in a system of effective tools that will sustain (78–9).
- And of course, the book is practical.
Just about anyone will find the “3 Essential Tools” section (47–49) helpful. In it, Challies introduces a few software tools (and walks you through the software!) to implement a critical productivity principle: “a home for everything, and like goes with like” (49). The downfall, however, is if you are a pen-and-paper person or don’t know what Evernote or Todoist are, you may be overwhelmed with some of the computer-based suggestions.
And for those skeptical of such tools, who pride themselves on only relying on their brain for productivity, Challies writes: “Though the brain is perfectly capable of remembering much of life’s mundane information, it is better to dedicate it to more important matters. . . . This approach enables you to give your limited memory to only the most important facts and information” (67). Further, these tools are to become workers for us, and not the other way around (78). And if all of that isn’t enough practicality for you, the book concludes with 10 pages of productivity bonuses (109–119).
A final warning: though buying and reading a new book on productivity may feel productive, it’s going to take more than that. You are going to have to implement the book’s suggestions. But as you do—no matter your profession or walk of life—it’s going to help you do more better.
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Eric Davis is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Eric holds both an M. Div. from The Master’s Seminary and an M. A. in Biblical Counseling from The Master’s College. He and his wife, Leslie, have three children.