Lots of time management books talk about the importance of values. But that’s not enough, because you can value the wrong things.
My answer — and the answer of the book — is that the ultimate way to get the right things done is to value what God values, and act in accordance with that. This leads us to the counterintuitive notion that love and generosity — not efficiency — are actually the ways to be most productive.
My short ebook How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem is on sale for $4.99 through next Tuesday.
Whereas What’s Best Next gives a comprehensive view of why our work matters and how to be more effective in it, How to Set Up Your Desk takes a very specific area of productivity and shows you how to maximize it.
It’s easy to think that you don’t need to give thought to how you use your desk. But in reality, your desk setup matters immensely because your desk is actually a workflow system. Setting up your desk well minimizes the resistance to getting things done — and makes it a lot more fun.
So in this ebook I outline the basic principles for how to set up your desk well (yes, there are principles for this!). Then I apply them to help you make your whole desk setup more effective so that you can get get things done with minimal drag and get rid of the clutter that so easily sucks your energy and creativity.
(Note that I originally published this as a series on this blog, available for free, but I’ve updated the introduction and added some other things for the ebook. Also, getting the ebook is a great way to help support the blog!)
- Known by their love, and also sound in theology. Both/and, not either/or.
- Engaged in their communities and workplaces and working for the good of others, not retreating to the hills to grow wheat until Jesus comes.
- Not afraid of culture, but not compromising the gospel either. The gospel is unchanging, but it does need to be contextualized.
Shortly after What’s Best Next came out a few months ago, a commenter on another blog said I should call the productivity approach I outline in my book “Scripture-centered productivity” rather than “gospel-driven productivity.”
It’s a good question. Why isn’t it enough to just call it “biblical productivity”? Why do I have to call it “gospel-driven productivity?”
On Not Being Boring
The first answer is simple: The phrase “Scripture-centered productivity” sounds awkward and annoying! The term “biblical productivity” would be a bit better, but that phrase is still just plain boring.
This might seem superficial, but it’s not. God commands us to communicate in ways that are interesting (Colossians 4:6). The phrase “biblical productivity” is just plain boring in most contexts, and so I reject it on biblical grounds.
The Gospel is the Heart of the Scriptures
Someone might say to this “but why do you have to put the ‘gospel’ label on it? Isn’t it actually more accurate to just say ‘biblical’?” My answer is that it is not more accurate. The reason is that the gospel is at the heart of the Scriptures. Therefore, any view of productivity that is truly “Scripture-centered” must necessarily be gospel-centered. I want to draw that connection, because it is essential.
The Essence of Gospel-Driven Productivity
The chief implication the gospel has for our productivity is that the guiding principle in all the things we get done should be the good of others. Just as Jesus in the gospel put our needs ahead of his own, even to the point of dying on the cross, we are to see all that we do as an avenue for serving others — putting their needs ahead of ours, just as Jesus did for us. And we are to do this from acceptance with God on the basis of the gospel, not for acceptance with God.
That’s the heart of what it means to be “gospel-driven” and live a truly productive life. “Scripture-centered productivity” doesn’t capture that. “Gospel-Driven Productivity” does.
What it Really Means to be “Gospel-Driven”
Using the phrase “gospel-driven” also helps capture other thing — namely, that if you say “wait, the term ‘gospel-driven’ doesn’t communicate that to me at all,” then you are not understanding the gospel.
In other words, everyone who considers themselves gospel-centered needs to understand that you cannot claim that the gospel is the center of your life if you aren’t living your life first of all for the good of others rather than yourself.
This means if you are a “gospel-centered” leader, you lead for the welfare of your people first, not your own advantage, comfort, and advancement (Matthew 20:25-28). (This means getting rid of command and control, authoritarian leadership that sees people only as tools to get the job done, rather than as valuable people in the image of God to be treated with respect.)
If you are a gospel-centered business owner, you manage your business to make a real contribution to society, not simply make a profit.
And if you are gospel-driven in the way you get things done (as all Christians should be), then you make the good of others your motive in all you do, rather than just doing things to get to the bottom of your list or increase your own personal peace and affluence.
I see many who claim to be gospel-centered because they really like proclaiming the gospel, but who don’t allow the gospel to guide and shape their actions at work. They are sometimes just as selfish in the way they do things as the world is (often more so! a true irony). This is a terrible testimony and it does a lot of harm. It undermines the gospel and therefore is not gospel-centered in the slightest. We need to change this, and become truly gospel-driven in our deeds as well as words.
Is the Term “Gospel-Centered” Cliche?
It is certainly true that some have attached the term “gospel-centered” to their ideas without actually knowing what it means. When the term “gospel-centered” is used in a trite and superficial way, it is unfortunate.
But when you understand what gospel-centered really means, it is anything but trite or superficial. It is not the “flavor of the month” in Christianity, but rather at the very core of Christianity.
Thus, from all this we can see why a phrase like “Scripture-centered productivity” actually doesn’t communicate my point. Certainly I am trying to say that we are to be guided by the Scriptures in how we think about productivity. But I’m trying to say more. My point is that since the gospel is at the heart of the Scriptures, when we think of the Scriptures we are to first think of the gospel. It is the gospel, not just the concept of Scripture in an abstract sense, that is to guide our productivity.
And to be guided by the gospel is to be guided by love, of which the gospel is the greatest demonstration in all the universe.
This is a fantastic post by Brad Lomenick, who directed the leadership organization Catalyst for years and is author of The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker.
Here’s the start of his post:
Young leaders are the future. They actually are the present as well. Lots of leaders ask me how best to lead the millennial generation, basically those born after 1980. We gather thousands of leaders who fit this category on an annual basis, and most of the Catalyst staff are under the age of 30. I have the privilege to get to hang out with 20-somethings a lot, and I’ve noticed some things very particular to this generation.
I have to admit – I don’t always get this right. As a 100% Gen X’er, my tendency is to lean away from several of these points, and lead how I’ve been led over the years by Boomer and Busters. But I’m working on it….
I’ve managed several teams of those in the millennial generation, and totally agree with Brad on his list. The best news of all is that these principles are not just helpful for leading millenials; they are simply good leadership in general. Because millenials tend to get these principles more than most, they tend to be among the most enthusiastic, capable, and committed team members. That’s why I love working with millenials.
In terms of where I fit myself, I was born just a few years before 1980, so I don’t know if I’m a millennial or not. But I do know this: I don’t fit into Gen X. That puts me in some strange sort of in-between category. Perhaps there should be some category for people born right on the boundary between Gen X and millenials. Here’s the take-away on that for me: while Brad points out that sometimes his tendency can be to lean away from some of these points, my tendency can sometimes be to take a few of them too far. It can be hard to get the balance right.
Here are some of the highlights from Brad’s 20 items:
1. Give them freedom with their schedule. I’ll admit, this one is tough for me.
3. Create a family environment. Work, family and social are all intertwined, so make sure the work environment is experiential and family oriented. Everything is connected.
4. Cause is important. Tie in compassion and justice to the “normal.” Causes and opportunities to give back are important.
5. Embrace social media. It’s here to stay.
7. Lead each person uniquely. Don’t create standards or rules that apply to everyone. Customize your approach. (I’ll admit, this one is difficult too!)
10. Give them opportunities early with major responsibility. They don’t want to wait their turn. Want to make a difference now. And will find an outlet for influence and responsibility somewhere else if you don’t give it to them. Empower them early and often.
12. Partnering and collaboration are important. Not interested in drawing lines. Collaboration is the new currency, along with generosity.
13. Not about working for a personality. Not interested in laboring long hours to build a temporal kingdom for one person. But will work their guts out for a cause and vision bigger than themselves.
18. They’ve been exposed to just about everything, so the sky is the limit in their minds. Older leaders have to understand younger leaders have a much broader and global perspective, which makes wowing Millenials much more difficult.
19. Recognize their values, not just their strengths. It ain’t just about the skillz baby. Don’t use them without truly knowing them.
20. Provide a system that creates stability. Clear expectations with the freedom to succeed, and providing stability on the emotional, financial, and organizational side.
Note that these principles are in contrast to the leadership culture that has typically (though not always) been in place from generations before. That leadership philosophy tended to be authoritarian and based on some strange mindset that you should just be happy to have a job, rather than being committed to making a difference (and being given the freedom to do so).
I’m not saying that leadership mindset is what always prevailed in generations past; but millenials seem to “get” leadership and what it takes to make an impact in the world much more intuitively. That’s why knowing the keys for leading 20-somethings is not just important for its own sake; it also helps anyone (whether a millennial or not) simply understand leadership itself better.
This is a great video of Tony Schwartz speaking at the 99U conference on the importance of managing energy, not just time, in order to be productive.
We often act like our digital devices — as though we can just work constantly without letup. And those who take a break to, for example, hit an art museum or play frisbee golf in the afternoon in an attempt to renew their energy are accused of being slackers.
But renewal is not slacking; it is the key to staying mentally alert and keeping our energy up. While he doesn’t use the examples of frisbee golf and art museums, in this video Tony Schwartz (author of The Power of Full Engagement) makes a great case on how we need to understand better how to manage our energy if we are going to increase our capacity to get things done.
(HT: Asian Efficiency)
Joe Stengele, leadership development manager at Mars Hill Seattle, recently interviewed me on What’s Best Next.
The interview posted today at The Resurgence, and I can say this is I think my favorite interview so far. Joe asked absolutely fantastic questions. This interview gets to the heart of the book and helps bring together in one short spot both the theological and practical messages I’m trying to convey.
That’s what Ed Welch says in his helpful, short article Offer Advice Carefully. And he’s absolutely right.
Why are we so bad as Christians at giving advice? I have my thoughts, but the best thing to do about it is this: stop thinking we know everything about another person’s situation, and realize that when something isn’t a matter of explicit and clear biblical commands, advice is to be offered as an interchange that respects the person’s individuality and more detailed grasp of the situation.
One mark of bad advice, Welch notes, is that it is dispensed “quickly and casually.” Here are three examples he gives that I think most of us have encountered (and been incredibly annoyed by, even though they seem “spiritual” at first; Welch shows why they are not):
You just need to trust God. This advice sounds biblical, but the word “just” shows that it is tossed out as a platitude. The person might already be trusting God, it sounds superior—it is bad advice.
You need to forgive the person. This too seems to be a biblical exhortation, but it does not have the humility to realize that there are other biblical themes about God’s compassion or his stand against injustice that might be more relevant. Better to say, “I think that we should talk about forgiving this person, but Scripture says a lot to us when we have been hurt. What do you think are God’s good words to you now?”
You need to tell your boss what is bothering you or take it to a superior. This is bad advice because it never took the time to listen and recognize that the person was not asking for advice, but she was hoping to have a friend with whom she could share her struggles. This advice comes from the notorious “let me fix you and move on to someone else” school of advice.
Fantastic examples. Then he adds:
My point is not that it is wrong to give advice. It is that in our haste and casual handling of Scripture, we confuse our advice with “God has said . . . .” This can be disrespectful because we’ve offered a blanket statement without much thought to the particulars involved. Or maybe the person was not even seeking advice but only someone to listen. We need to be sure we know what the person is asking for before we start talking.
I’ve turned one of the most popular series on this blog into an ebook, which I’m releasing today. The book is How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem, and it’s available for your Kindle.
I believe that being productive starts with your worldview — you need to know your purpose and why it’s important to be productive at all. But once we have that worldview in place, it is crucial to also understand and utilize the best strategies and tactics we can find and develop.
The question of how to set up our desks is an area that affects all of us consistently, yet has received almost no good treatment. The common idea seems to be “just do what works for you.” But far from creating greater freedom, this notion actually creates inefficiency and annoyance. While it is true that we each have our own personal style, it is also true that there are certain fundamental principles applicable to everyone that make for an effective desk setup. If you don’t understand these principles, you will have an annoying, less effective workspace.
In other words, it is possible to have a smooth-running, efficient desk setup that will make make your desk setup both more efficient and more enjoyable to use. And this will increase your productivity, since when we like the way we have things set up, we not only use them more efficiently but are also inclined toward more productive behaviors.
This ebook shows you how to do that with your desk. It shows you how to get it set up right — in a way that serves you and is not annoying, and is based on sound principles that make sense and that you can apply to any situation.
Here are three endorsements:
“Matt Perman has served me so well in applying a Steve Jobs-like approach to my workflow: simple, intuitive, elegant, and efficient. I’ve followed most of his advice about setting up my desk (as well as processing my email), and it works beautifully.”
–Andy Naselli, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis; Research Manager for D. A. Carson; Administrator of the theological journal Themelios
“Your desk is probably standing in the way of your effectiveness at work. So are your email, office supplies, and task management systems (or lack thereof). Matt Perman is the master of all of these areas. His well-researched and documented methodologies have revolutionized the effectiveness with which I live out my callings in life.”
–Matt Heerema, Pastor of Stonebrook Community Church; Director of Mere Design Agency
“Sitting here in my office, I am able to look around at a well-ordered and organized system thanks to Matt Perman. This book drastically helped me with my physical workspace, and the results have been tremendous. I will now use this book for all new staff in our department.”
–Chris Misiano, Senior Director of Campus Recreation, Liberty University
This would be a good book for readers of What’s Best Next who want to go deeper on the tactical side, but you don’t have to have read What’s Best Next to benefit from this book. It will help anyone, anywhere, who is interested in implementing, as David Allen has said, “smooth running, silent systems” for greater productivity.
I don’t mean to be so blunt, but it’s true! Keith Ferrazzi nails this once again in Never Eat Alone. His words are especially significant given that he is one of the most connected people in the world:
I have a confession to make. I’ve never been to a so-called “networking event” in my life.
If properly organized, these get-togethers in theory could work. Most, however, are for the desperate and uninformed. The average attendees are often unemployed and too quick to pass on their resumes to anyone with a free hand — usually the hand of someone else who is unemployed looking to pass on his resume.
Imagine a congregation of people with nothing in common except joblessness. That’s not exactly a recipe for facilitating close bonds.
The problem with “networking events” is that they are typically based on the “me first” model of networking, which we’ve refuted in the previous posts. If you are networking first of all for what you can get out of people, you’ve blown it. That’s not networking — that’s schmoozing.
Real networkings is first about the value you can bring to others. Certainly, your own needs do matter, and it is right and legitimate to seek help from your network (in fact, it is essential and, when understood rightly, actually another way of helping). The problem is when your own needs become your first priority, when networking is abstracted from mutual interest, and when networking is abstracted from what you have to offer without thought of return.
That’s what’s wrong with most networking events. They are artificial and canned. But when you are interested first in other people for their own sake, then you don’t need networking events. You will naturally encounter people at places of common interest, such as conferences and events, which are the best places to “network” (= meet people!) in the right way.