Better Productivity Is Not Merely Efficient, It’s Effective

I’ve worked through all of Matt Perman’s excellent new book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, in an Adler-esque “structural” fashion, and now I’m enjoying a deliberate reading. Being sort of a GTD and lifehack geek myself, I was really interested to see this. Sometimes books in this department get a bad rap. Many of them deserve it, but you shouldn’t think of this book as yet more fuel for the self-help addicts. This is a book for everyone.

Perman blends his rich understanding regarding approaches to productivity with a theological foundation. The resulting effort allows us to see our responsibilities, opportunities, and time from a biblical perspective. There is so much I’d like to share, but I believe one critical thing to recognize initially is the inadequate understanding of productivity many of us share:

When most people think of productivity, they think of efficiency—getting more things done in less time. This is a natural response to the villain of overload that we saw in the previous chapter. When we see so many things coming at us, our tendency is to speed up. This isn’t always bad, but if this is our first and primary solution, it will backfire.

While efficiency is important, it works only when we make it secondary, not primary. It doesn’t matter how efficient you are if you are doing the wrong things in the first place. More important than efficiency is effectiveness—getting the right things done. In other words, productivity is not first about getting more things done faster. It’s about getting the right things done. (p. 43)

An understanding of productivity weighted heavily toward efficiency doesn’t account for so many aspects of the Christian calling. Think about your family, ministry, and other relational responsibilities. Would you say that time spent developing those relationships is “productive”? If we only think in terms of deliverables, we will be tempted to say that it’s not. Working with people often isn’t efficient, but it’s nevertheless highly important and significant. If a friend wants to get breakfast, but I have a ton of email to deal with, I may be tempted to think that I’m not spending my time wisely. If I think merely in terms of efficiency, I may feel like we’ve wasted the last hour or so because I have no deliverable to show for it. Thinking about these efforts in terms of effectiveness can free us for meaningful labors and ministry.

I’ll have much more on this title in coming weeks, including a review on Reformed Media Review. In the meantime, please do yourself a huge favor and pick up a copy of this important book.

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