Here is an absolutely fantastic and helpful review of What’s Best Next by David Leonard, assistant professor of philosophy and apologetics at Luther Rice University.
David first nails the essence of the book in the opening paragraph: how productivity is about putting the needs of others first. This is not something we often think of when we think of productivity, but it is both biblical and the way to become most productive and make the highest impact.
Then he gets into the specific angle of the review: how What’s Best Next is applicable to scholars and students. He relates it to Andreas Köstenberger’s incredible book Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue, writing:
Whereas Andreas Köstenberger, for example, has challenged scholars to pursue their work with excellence, in terms of demonstrating boldness amidst the pressures of “academic respectability” and displaying integrity in their scholarly activities, Perman highlights for readers the practical steps that might be taken to clear the way for such excellence to be achieved.
To put it differently, if an excellence is roughly identical to a virtue, then it seems the aim of What’s Best Next is to enable Christians to be virtuous stewards of their time and resources, a theme which overlaps nicely with Köstenberger’s emphasis. Christian scholars, no doubt, would do well to reflect on these connections.
This connection to Kostenberger’s book is right on. Kostenberger shows the importance of excellence; What’s Best Next gives some practical steps for making excellence happen in every area of life. And, as Leonard shows, this has great application for scholars and students, as well as those in the marketplace, leading churches, leading non-profits, and leading in their communities.
Leonard’s review also interacts with some of the most unique parts of the book as well, such as how allowing people to surf the internet for fun at work makes people more productive, not less.
How do you choose a career path? You shouldn’t decide it first based on what you are good at. You should decide based on what matches your values (assuming, of course, that your values are in line with correct principles). Sometimes, you may find yourself doing something you are good at but which doesn’t fit with your values. In that case, get off that path.
Peter Drucker nails this, with an excellent example, in his classic article “Managing Oneself“:
What one does well — even very well and successfully — may not fit with one’s value system. In that case, the work may not appear to be worth devoting one’s life to (or even a substantial portion thereof).
If I may, allow me to interject a personal note. Many years ago, I too had to decide between my values and what I was doing successfully. I was doing very well as a young investment banker in London in the mid-1930′s, and the work clearly fit my strengths. Yet I did not see myself making a contribution as an asset manager. People, I realized, were what I valued, and I saw no point in being the richest man in the cemetery.
I had no money and no other job prospects.
Despite the continuing Depression, I quit–and it was the right thing to do. Values, in other words, are and should be the ultimate test.
And, note this as well on how knowing your values (and having them right) can be even more fundamental to success than hard work:
Successful careers are not planned.
They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person — hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre — into an outstanding performer.
On Easter, it is always good to refresh our understanding of the gospel so we can avoid the trap of being pulled away by additions to it that undermine our relationship with God.
Here’s how I summarize it in a call-out box in What’s Best Next, in a chapter where I talk about the relationship between the gospel and good works:
What is the Gospel?
The gospel is very simple: Christ died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead. Paul states it very clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:
I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
It’s not enough to just hear the gospel, or go to church, or have been baptized. We have to believe the gospel. Believing the gospel does not just mean assenting to it intellectually, but relying on Christ crucified and risen for our acceptance with God and right to eternal life.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved….Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-10; 13).
We enter a right relationship with God through faith alone in the gospel, not as a result of any works we do — before or after becoming a Christian. Good works are a result of having been accepted by God, not the means or basis of our being accepted by Him.
Further, you never get beyond the gospel. Once you become a Christian, you don’t “graduate” on to more important realities. The gospel is always “of first importance,” as Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:3). Christ died for the sins of Christians, too — that is, the gospel is not just something we point unbelievers to, but is something we continue relying on every day as Christians. As Christians, Jesus’ death and resurrection continues to be the full and complete basis of our forgiveness and righteousness before God.
In these final days before Easter, it would be a great idea to pick up my friend Justin Taylor’s excellent new book The Final Days of Jesus (co-authored with NT scholar Andreas Kostenberger).
His book goes through the last week of Jesus’ life, culminating in the crucifixion and then the resurrection. We often think we “know the story,” such that we take it for granted. But it is amazing how much more there is to learn, and Justin’s book is a great guide.
And, of course, the book remains extremely relevant after Easter, since the death and resurrection of Christ are eternally significant and the foundation of our faith.
You can see more of my thoughts on Justin’s book from the post I did a few months ago when I interviewed him.
You might also be interested in his recent article for Christianity Today on Five Errors to Avoid in Preaching Your Easter Sermon, which include:
- Don’t say Jesus died when he was 33 (he was probably 37).
- Don’t bypass the role of women as witnesses to the resurrected Christ (this is a theological reminder that the kingdom of Christ turns the world’s system on its head, and also great evidence for the truth of the resurrection, as the disciples would not have included this detail if they made it up since the testimony of women in 1st century Judaism was so lowly regarded).
- Don’t focus on the suffering of Christ to the extent that you neglect the glory of the cross in and through the resurrection (Jesus did not stay dead! He is off the cross and reigning today.)
As an aside, I liked Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus, but I like Justin’s book way more!
If you live in or around central Iowa, you are invited to a workshop I’m doing on What’s Best Next on Saturday morning, April 26, from 9:00 – noon.
I’ll cover things like these:
- What is productivity really, and why should we care about it? And how does our work connect to God’s purposes?
- The DARE process for getting the right things done, in all areas of life.
- Very tactical processes for staying on top of email, planning your week, delegating, and going about your day in a way that is not annoying or overwhelming.
The seminar will be at Zeke’s, at 3329 Lincoln Way, Ames, IA 50014. You can learn more about it and register here.
It would be great to see you there!
Traditional View (TV): Do more in less time.
Gospel-Driven Productivity (GDP): Do the right things, and you can care a lot less about efficiency.
TV: Use the right techniques.
GDP: Be the right kind of person. Then, use smart techniques.
TV: Seek peace of mind and fulfillment.
GDP: Seek to do good for others first, and make a contribution. Peace and fulfillment will follow (and so will suffering!—but of a different kind).
TV: Minimize work and maximize money.
GDP: Do hard things and find joy in your work as a fulfillment of your calling. Maximize meaning, not money.
It is a fantastic review with a superb summary of the book. And here’s something especially unique about Hugh’s review: he comments on the final section of the book, where I show how personal productivity connects to the productivity of our organizations and society, and therefore why it is important for us as Christians to understand economics.
That’s a very important section of the book to me. I almost had to cut it out due to length, in fact, but insisted that we keep it (though I still and to cut that section in half). I also show how a concern for the productivity and well being of all of society is not just a modern idea, but is clearly and significantly expressed by even the great 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards.
The bookstore is on campus in the Honeycutt center.
I’ll talk a bit about the book, answer questions, and I think some other things. Also, they will be giving away some copies.
So if you are in Louisville, and especially if you are a student at SBTS, it would be great to see you Monday morning!
If you are going to be at Together for the Gospel this week, my friend Alex Chediak and I will be doing an author meet up and we’d love to see you. It will be in the lobby of the Galt House on Tuesday night from 10:00 – 11:00, after the final panel. (Note: the lobby is in the first floor of the Suit Tower.)
It will be very informal. Stop by to say hi and hang out a bit, and we’ll also have a brief Q&A time about our books — so bring your hardest questions. We will also be giving away some free copies of our books.
I love really, really, really hard questions, so the harder the questions, the better. Further, you can ask questions about anything; our books would be the best, but you can ask questions about the sovereignty of God, the Trinity, social justice, leadership, social media, hard passages in the Bible, or anything else. Literally anything and everything.
We’ll give some free books to people who ask the best and most difficult questions. (I recognize, of course, the irony there, because if you are asking questions, you’ve probably read the book and thus don’t need one! but then you’ll have another to give away.)
My book, obviously, is What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, which is about how to get things done and be productive in the new economy, in a gospel-centered way. It first gives a biblical vision for understanding our work, productivity, and the things we do every day; then, it gives a practical approach for improving our effectiveness for the glory of God in all areas of life (something which is sorely lacking right now in the church, in my view).
Alex is the author of several books, including Thriving at College and his latest, Preparing Your Teens for College. His books are about far more than college — at root, they are about what it means to be a mature adult and live life in a Gospel-centered way as a self-governing, competent individual. Hence, they are very related to the issue of productivity, as productivity is ultimately rooted in character and competence — which is what both of Alex’s books are ultimately about.
We look forward to seeing you!
Stephen Covey, in his stellar book First Things First:
For most people, the large majority of waking time is spent communicating or interacting with people — or dealing with the results of poor communication or interaction.
Effective interdependence is core to the issue of time management. But the traditional literature essentially deals with it in a transactional way. This transactional approach grows out of the mechanical, controlling, managing “things” paradigm. People are essentially seen as bionic units to whom we can delegate to get more done, or as interruptions to be handled efficiently so that we can get back to our schedule.
But fourth-generation interdependence is not transactional; it’s transformational. It literally changes those who are party to it. It takes into consideration the full reality of the uniqueness and capacity of each individual and the rich, serendipitous potential of creating synergistic third alternatives [see note below on why these aren't just buzzwords] that are far better than individuals could ever come up with on their own.
Fourth-generation interdependence is the richness of relationships, the adventure of discovery, the spontaneity and deep fulfillment of putting people ahead of schedules, and the joy of creating together what did not exist before.
In other words: Just as leadership can be transactional or transformational, so also our approach to productivity can be transactional or transformational.
In leadership, the transactional view sees people merely as means to an end. They are a tool to accomplish a task, rather than also being valued in themselves. In a transactional view, people are viewed as expendable. If this person can’t do it, then that person will. Instead of adjusting jobs to fit people, people are “adjusted” to fit a standardized view of a job (all in the name of “efficiency,” of course; note: this hardly every works out well for people!) People with a transactional view say things like “why is this taking you so long? I’m not paying you to learn, I’m paying you to get a job done.” Truly horrible. I mean that.
In transformational leadership, people are not seen as a means to an end. People are valued as well as tasks. People are seen as important and valuable in their own right. Thus, the goal becomes not simply to get tasks done, but to build people up in the accomplishment of tasks. This is the only view of leadership consistent with the Scriptures, which teach us that people are created in the image of God, and thus are always to be treated with respect, value, and love.
As with leadership, so also with productivity. In the transactional view of productivity, we think of others either as tools to help us get more done, or interruptions who are getting in our way. This is disrespectful and unbiblical, just as transactional leadership is.
The correct view of productivity is transformational. People are not merely means to help us get more done, or obstacles to doing what we really want. Rather, relationships are seen as part of what it means to be productive at all. True productivity comes from working with others, and doing so in a way that recognizes and values their individuality and seeks to help them grow through the process of creating something great together.
The essence of the transformational view of productivity or leadership or anything else is this: see people as people who are valuable for their own sakes, having been created in the image of God, and thus even when you have tasks to accomplish, make the aim not to “get things done through others” but rather to “build people up in the accomplishment of the tasks.” Value people as well as tasks, and more than tasks. For it is the effect you have on people that is the true measure of your productivity.
Here’s the note I mentioned: Covey is often criticized for using terms like “synergy” and “paradigm” too much. I think that’s a very wrong-headed criticism. Sure, lots of people use those terms not knowing what they are talking about. That’s annoying.
But when someone who actually understands such terms uses them, it’s not something to criticize; it’s something to pay attention to. If we criticize people every time they use a word that has become “common,” we undermine all teaching. For teaching is about making important concepts universal. If we then make fun of those concepts because they have become so common, haven’t we then undermined the whole enterprise of teaching?