Several weeks ago I had the privilege of being a guest on Loren Pinilis’s very helpful podcast on Christian time management.
Loren is a great interviewer and I really enjoyed talking with him. I think we talked for almost three hours! He has broken up our conversation into several episodes in his podcast. Here’s the first episode. In it, we discuss:
- The roles of discipline and passion
- How to pursue excellence without being a perfectionist
- What the difference is between a legalistic productivity approach and a gospel-based productivity approach.
- How to approach productivity and life when you’re not really enjoying God’s grace and his love.
- The crucial nature of understanding justification by faith alone and how that affects productivity
- The roles of discernment and uncertainty in productivity
- What it was like writing the book
- What I hope readers take away from the book
I have some great news. The book I’ve been working on for the past two years (or more) is finally done.
The book, which you’ve probably heard me talk about before, is on the gospel and productivity. It’s called What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done and has a two-fold aim:
- Present a God-centered, gospel-driven perspective of our work and all the things we do every day that is motivating, biblical, and encouraging, and isn’t trite, superficial, or reliant on trendy Christian catch-phrases that nobody really understands anyway.
- Give you a practical approach for getting things done — whether at work, home, in your community, or anywhere else — that is solidly anchored in the Scriptures and actually works.
This is what I’ve needed (as I talk about in the introduction and other parts of the book) and what I’ve found so many others need as I’ve talked and interacted with thousands of Christians around the world for the last several years. The subject of how to be effective in managing our work and lives from a biblical perspective is a huge gap in Christian thinking right now that I hope this book can help fill. It’s filled with biblical reflection, practical tips, and (I hope!) interesting personal stories that show the mistakes I’ve made (sometimes kind of funny) just as much as any accomplishments.
I hope the book helps a lot of people. More details on the book to come.
Now, a bit about the blog.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been blogging much for a while. The book is why. It took up all the time I had (and much more) and was absolutely exhausting.
Writing this book was by far the most challenging, difficult, and painful thing I’ve ever done. The worst thing of all is that it just wouldn’t let up. I’d think I was done, then it turned out I wasn’t. I thought I was done again, but was wrong again. And so it continued.
As far back as a year and a half ago, when I completed the first draft, I tweeted that it was the hardest thing I had ever done, times ten. Little did I know…I still had a long ways to go and it would get way harder.
I’ve been trapped in a canyon, fell flat on my face while running in the Wal-Mart parking lot, had horrible nose surgery, and experienced a whole host of other painful realities, and this book was worse than any of them – by far.
But, the book is finally done, for real, and with the publisher (Zondervan) and on track for release this winter. (I actually finished it in early June, but it’s taken me this long to get back above water after the writing process.) I am grateful to the Lord for sustaining me through the process. Without his support and strength, I would have sunk for good long ago, no question.
Now that I’m getting back to a normal workload, here are some of my immediate and longer-term plans for the blog, Lord willing:
- Get caught up on some past things I’ve wanted to post about.
- Do a series on why the book took so long (because I think it’s very interesting).
- Do a whole bunch of other cool and interesting posts and series of posts that I’ve had a bunch of ideas for but haven’t had the time to write.
- Get back into my blogging routine.
- Expand the content on the blog. I have hundreds of articles and dozens of audio messages I’ve been wanting to get posted for a while, and as I can I’ll be getting that content online.
Thanks for sticking with me through this process. I’m excited about the future and, Lord willing, there will be lots of interesting stuff on the blog to come!
I’m sorry for being sparse in posting the last few months. If you haven’t guessed, it’s been because of the book. Winston Churchill sums up how I’ve felt the last few months (last year?):
Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.
I think this book skipped the “toy and amusement phase,” and that I’ve been in that tyrant phase for perhaps the whole time!
I had an interesting post written up on what has taken so long, but maybe I’ll save that for later. Several times I thought “oh, it’s done,” because of the length, but it still wasn’t what I wanted it to be. One piece of good news is that early on I suppose you could say I was struggling with writer’s block (though Seth Godin says it doesn’t exist!), and so I took the standard advice: just write anything, and you can always revise it and cut it back later. So that’s what I did, and I ended up writing a lot. The process of getting things cut back, however, was super challenging as a result (which is not what the conventional wisdom said would happen!), and I have actually taken out something like the equivalent of 4 books from this. For example, I have one short book almost ready to go on a Christian view of working in your strengths (and how to view our weaknesses). My priority, to be sure, has been this book, though hopefully this is one benefit that has come out of this process.
I plan, Lord willing, on writing many books in the future, and the whole process of writing this book (and all the writing that I ended up doing) will benefit that aim and make future books go much faster.
In the meantime, I’m sorry for the delay and, as Churchill would say, I’m just about to kill the beast. Can’t wait. It’s been fun, but totally brutal as well. The challenges will be worth it if it helps any of you be more effective in the important work you do every day, whether you are a stay-at-home mom or corporate executive. I believe the things we do matter immensely — both big and small, in all areas of life — and that God delights in them if we do them for his glory. I want to help you do them better, and with less stress and more joy, both where you are and in the service of fighting large global problems and reaching the nations.
Last, a word on missions. There is a relationship between our productivity in all realms of life and the advance of the gospel. We don’t need to and shouldn’t seek to justify all that we do simply on the basis of its evangelistic usefulness. Work matters in itself, and our ultimate motive in all things should be love for others and the glory of God. Yet, while the things we do matter in themselves, it is true that they are also a supporting testimony to the gospel and a means by which it naturally spreads. I don’t think small, and so I hope this book can also have the effect of helping equip the church in the task of putting a large dent in the Great Commission. I think a robust doctrine of work is key to reaching the nations, which means that part of the key to finishing the Great Commission is actually affirming that all work matters, not just evangelism and direct missions, and that we should seek to do all we do with excellence, creativity, and competence. And that learning how to work is key to doing everything we do more effectively.
I hope the book will help you immensely (and encourage you!), and keep me in your prayers!
In the meantime, I’m going to try to get back to regular blogging even as I finish up, and I’ll be blogging the Global Leadership Summit tomorrow and Friday.
Here’s one way to state the essence of my book, in the words of Spurgeon:
Be diligent in action. Put all your irons into the fire. Use every faculty for Jesus. Be wide-awake to watch opportunities, and quick to seize upon them.
That’s what I’m trying to help you do, and that’s why I wrote my book.
I spend the first part fleshing out what productivity really is from a Christian perspective and why it matters (namely, so you can maximally steward all your gifts and opportunities and faculties for the glory of Jesus); then in the rest of the book, I lay out practical strategies for actually getting things done in the midst of all the opportunities and distractions that constantly multiply around us.
The biggest influences on my book include, from the old days:
- William Wilberforce
- Jonathan Edwards
- Martin Luther
- John Calvin
- William Carey
- Charles Spurgeon
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- Jim Elliot (though I don’t quote him)
- John Wesley
- The Macadonian Christians in 2 Corinthians 8
- The apostle Paul
- Many others
And from the current days:
- Tim Keller
- John Piper
- JI Packer
- Wayne Grudem
- Peter Drucker
- Tim Sanders
- Keith Ferrazzi
- David Allen
- Stephen Covey
- Seth Godin
- Daniel Pink
- Scott Belsky
- Chip and Dan Heath
- Marcus Buckingham
- Many of my friends
- Christians I’ve met around the world, both online and in person
- Many others
What does someone like the 18th century theologian Jonathan Edwards have to say about productivity in the 21st Century? A lot. You’ll see when you get into the book. I think, perhaps, this conjunction of the old and the new, along with utilizing the best secular thinking within a robust Christian framework, might make it unlike any book you’ve read (in a good sense!). We’ll see.
In terms of the status of the book: we are still finishing revisions, but we do have a publication date which I’ll share with you when I have the time.
I just wanted to write this post up because I came across that Spurgeon quote again during the revisions, and wanted to share it with you.
Have a great weekend!
Here’s an excerpt from my book. This is not like most excerpts, probably, because it’s still a rough draft and will likely be improved and re-done before the final version.
I wrote this section a few days ago and I actually don’t yet know where it fits. I tacked it on at the end of the chapter it is relevant to, but that chapter is already mostly done and this brings together some of the ideas from it in a different way. The reason I’m posting it here is because it is largely self-contained and because of the fact that I now have to figure out where it goes (and if it will go in at all)!
So, this gives you not only a sample of the book, but a window into how books take shape.
Here’s the excerpt:
Don’t Wing It!
Just a quick final word on the importance of personal management. The last thing I am advocating is an ultra rigid approach to life. That would be massively boring and, frankly, makes you look mean. I am a fan of discipline, but I am not a fan of strictness. So, be flexible.
But don’t only be flexible. In fact, being flexible implies that there is something to flex — some type of structure and discipline to your life. You need to have that. Different people will have it in varying degrees, and the place where you set the needle is up to you. But you need to do something. Don’t wing your life.
Don’t wing it because, first, it doesn’t work. Scott Belsky points out that even among creatives, who are known for winging it, it doesn’t work:
This book aims to take pie-in-the-sky notions of how the creative process unfolds and bring them down to earth. Creative people are known for winging it: improvising and acting on intuition is, in some way, the haloed essence of what we do and who we are. However, when we closely analyze how the most successful and productive creatives, entrepreneurs, and businesspeople truly make ideas happen [and to his list I would add pastors, non-profit leaders, and many more], it turns out that “having an idea” is just a small part of the process, perhaps only 1 percent of the journey.
And, second, don’t wing it because it’s not biblical. The Bible speaks very highly of discipline and planning: “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4). “He who gathers in summer is a prudent son [note: there is an intentionality here (“in summer”) -- not randomness], but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame” (Proverbs 10:5). “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:3). “Whoever gives thought to a matter will discover good” (Proverbs 16:20). “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Perhaps the most forceful verse, though, is Proverbs 21:5: “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” Note that not planning is analogous to being hasty. Don’t be hasty — don’t live your life by the seat of your pants. Give thought to what you will do with your days and weeks and years.
Don’t be overly rigid (see above) and don’t make your plans independent of God. But do have a measure of thought and intentionality to how you go about your life.
(Note: the next several chapters after this one then go into various practices for improving your productivity and managing your life more effectively, in a biblical and creative way.)
A lot of people that I talk to say “I can’t do everything David Allen outlines in Getting Things Done, but I took away a few key ideas that have made a big impact.” And the main take-away they describe is usually very helpful.
So I’m thinking of having a call-out in the book that highlights the top things various people have taken away from Getting Things Done. I’ve been asking this question of some people I’ve interviewed for the book, and I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.
Just shoot me an email or add a comment below answering this question: “What is the most helpful thing you learned from Getting Things Done?”
One of the things I’m doing for my book is interviewing as many people as I can about their productivity habits and insights. Some of the best insights and practices will likely be incorporated into the book. I might also include short excerpts from some of these interviews as call-outs in the book.
I’ve already interviewed several people, but am refining my questions a bit before doing another round. I’m focusing on Christian leaders, business and non-profit leaders, and anyone who just plain gets a lot done. (One highlight so far, among many others, was interviewing one of the President’s former schedulers — that was very helpful and very interesting!)
So I wanted to ask you: What are some of the questions you’d like me to ask in these interviews? What types of things are you most interested in learning and improving when it comes to your own productivity? And what theological questions about the foundations of productivity would you like to see me ask?
Feel free to email me any questions you’d like me to consider including, or leave them in the comments.