Confession. I do not read productivity books. It’s not that I'm opposed to them. Honestly, they've just never been on my radar. I do have methods for getting stuff done (many of which I now know are inefficient—no more using my email inbox as a to-do list), but until recently I’ve never thought much about them. Matt Perman changed that. What’s Best Next tackles the how-can-I-get-stuff-done through the lens of the gospel. Matt says,
“What we see here is that there is no distinction between learning how to be productive and learning how to live the Christian life altogether, for both are about how we are to live in this world for the glory of God . . . . With the specific issue of productivity, then, we will likely utilize the same best practices as non-Christians in things like processing workflow and getting our email inboxes to zero. But when it comes to the motive and foundation of our productivity, the gospel brings in some radical transformations” (66, 67).
And what Matt does through out What’s Best Next is just that. He develops and builds on the best practices of other productivity champions (so again he’s using the same tools), but he relentlessly sees these tools through a vision of life that’s God-centered. That transforms the why of productivity. We are no longer seeking productivity for productivity’s sake—rather we are seek to be productive for the glory of God and to serve and love others. That sounds familiar right? Jesus says the law is summed up in love God and love your neighbor. Productivity is one simple way we can do this. “Love is the guiding principle of the Christian life, and generosity is the chief way love manifests itself in the world of work, our communities, and society” (86 see also 133). He goes on to say,
“Or at your job, if you haven’t mastered the skills of your job or aren’t seeking to do so, you aren’t serving your employer and coworkers as well as you should . . . . Mediocre work is not Christian! We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We do not serve ourselves incompetently. We should not treat our neighbors—which include our coworkers and employers—this way either. The help we offer has to actually help” (92 see also 99).
He goes on to the apply this overarching Christian principles to practical issues of productivity like having a mission and goals in life, deciding on what to do when and how, or clearing your inbox out. He also encourages us to establish routines and large frameworks/windows to accomplish our tasks in. “A basic routine, governed by your mission and roles, is the framework within which you should operate” (197) and later “If you leave yourself to the whim of inspiration, you will never get to your work. But you have a routine in place, you will often find the inspiration you need to get your work done” (199). But the issues of love, service, generosity, and God’s glory are always looming.
One of my favorite sections in What’s Best Next is his discussion on creating a workplace where people are valued as people. He discusses not treating people “as simple gophers” (236). Or how businesses hurt their culture by treating employees like children instead of letting them manage themselves and take breaks within the flow of the day to achieve maximum productivity (248-49). He even includes an argument for why Facebook may be good for productivity at work (249-50).
“If you are worried that your employees are going to spend too much time on Facebook, you’ve hired the wrong people. Not because you’ve hired people who have the ‘audacity’ to use Facebook on the job, but because you’ve hired people who don’t know how to use Facebook rightly and incorporate it effectively into their overall lives” (250).
What’s Best Next is a book that everyone should read. It’s helped me in my normal nine to five job and also in my work as a writer and editor. My wife is currently reading it. It would be a huge help to busy moms who are looking to manage insanely busy homes or balance work outside of the home and inside of it. Also, because of the strong gospel foundation, it would be well suited for elders to discuss together. Or even small groups of Christian business men. Honestly, it is truly a book for everyone because we all must be productive to love God and neighbor to the best of our ability.
Editor’s Note: Check out Matt Perman’s “How to Get Things Done in a Gospel-Driven Way: What’s Best Next in 500 Words” for a helpful synopsis by his book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. He is covenant member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.