Understanding Productivity in a New Way: What’s Best Next is Now Available! (And Why I Wrote It)

What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done

Finally, after two years of writing and many months of preparing for launch, my book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done has been released and is now availabe.

It has been a long road!

Why We Need This Book (and Why I Wrote It)

I wrote the book because I believe that this is what the church most needs to hear most of all right now, at this point in time. And this is slightly ironic, because this is a very practical book and a practical subject, yet I am more of a theologian by nature. In college I spent most days reading theology, writing articles to remember what I wrote, debating atheists and Jehovah’s Witnesses for fun, and talking about these things with my friends. After college, I studied under John Piper (who wrote the foreword) and got my M.Div. at Southern Seminary. You would have thought my first book would be on theology.

But there are lots of books on theology now (and, to be sure, we need more!). There has been an explosion of them in the last ten years (which, again, is a really fantastic thing). What we are lacking now are solid books on the very practical realities we are all dealing with in this new, ultra-connected world of work (and life!) that has emerged over the last twenty years — and that at the same time address these realities on a solid biblical, theological foundation.

And we absolutely need to address these realities, because productivity, managing ourselves, and getting things done are things we all deal with every day. Further, the Scriptures call us to think about all of life in relation to the gospel. Hence, it is critical that we think about productivity and how to get things done in a God-centered, gospel-driven way.

Yet, there are almost no books out there right now that seek to do that.

There are lots of secular books on productivity which are incredibly helpful (I am indebted to David Allen’s Getting Things Done, obviously, and  many more). But none of these books show how our productivity and the things we do every day connect to God and the gospel. On the other hand, over on the biblical side of things, there are very few books (almost none) that give serious reflection to productivity from a biblical perspective while also providing best-in class productivity practices and tips, of the same caliber of books like Getting Things Done or Stephen Covey’s very helpful First Things First. 

So that’s what my book seeks to do.

More specifically, I seek to do two things.

The First Aim of the Book: Present a Biblical Vision of Our Productivity and the Things We Do Every Day in a Unique, Compelling Way

First, I seek to give a biblical vision for how we are to think about our work, productivity, and the things we do every day. The lack of teaching in the church on how our faith relates to our work is one of the reasons that so many struggle with meaning in their work. I seek to show how amazing and surprising the biblical vision for our work and productivity really is (and how relevant it is). Some of the most interesting and significant things we see here are:

A (More Biblical!) Way of Understanding Good Works

We see that good works are not just rare and special things we do, like going to Africa, or spiritual things like leading a Bible study, but anything we do in faitheven tying our shoes. Hence, our vocations are actually one of the chief arenas in which we can serve and worship God. This gives great meaning to the things we do every day (the greatest possible!).

Why it is Absolutely Essential, and not Optional, to Consider Productivity in Relation to God

Lots of books on productivity talk about organizing our lives around “what matters most.” But God is what matters most! Yet none of those secular books — as important as they are — make that point.

We can’t just assume this, or leave “what matters most” up to whatever we say it is. If God exists, then he is the most important reality in the universe, and therefore to truly care about “what matters most” means to care about and love God – and thus center our lives around him.

Therefore, any ultimately “productive” approach to life will have God at the center. Those who seek to be productive without God can do many great and wonderful things, which are to be commended; but we can only be eternally productive if we do everything we do in Christ and for the glory of God (John 15:5). This book fleshes that out, and shows why it is good news.

Why This Matters for Non-Christians as Well as Christians

This book is also written for those who are not Christians, though I recognize many might not be initially inclined to pick up a God-centered book on productivity.

I tried to write in such a way as to show why it is reasonable to consider the claims of Christ for anyone who cares about productivity. For if we care about being productive, shouldn’t we care about what is ultimately productive forever – namely, living our lives for Christ? It’s worth considering. That’s what I want to say (and show) to those who are not already approaching this from a God-centered point of view. And so, for example, I seek to show how Stephen Covey’s principle-centered approach to productivity (the best yet) naturally leads to something beyond that — namely, a God-centered approach.

While I hope that any non-Christians who read this book will give serious consideration to the claims of Christ, there is also much they will benefit from even if they do not take that path. I believe that, as Christians, we are to serve all people (Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 3:12), and this book will be useful even to those who do not share my faith.

The Second Aim of the Book: Present a Practical Approach for Getting The Most Important Things Done that Actually Works

Then, after giving a biblical perspective for how we are to understand our productivity and work in a new way because of the gospel, I seek to provide a practical approach for improving our productivity in every area of life.

I seek to provide an approach that is simple, yet deals with all levels of our work and lives. Those who love GTD like I do will recognize GTD as a significant part of the framework (and I give many shout-outs to it), but this book is not a re-hash of GTD. I seek to develop it further, and also simplify it in many respects.

I seek to give an approach you can follow even if you aren’t in to having very many lists (though I do believe lists are very helpful and often necessary). Further, my approach is top-down (whereas GTD is bottom-up). I also integrate some of the best insights from books like Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen, Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive, and many others.

Some of the things you will learn in these sections include:

Mission Statements (that work! and aren’t stuck in the 80s…)

Mission statements matter! But many don’t work well for people, because we do it wrong. So we look at how to create a mission statement for your life that actually works (and why this matters).

Identifying Your Life Calling

It is also important to know how to identify your chief calling in life — the one thing you are most fully on the planet to do (note: this is actually something different from your mission statement), and do it in a God-centered way. This can be especially helpful when having to make career decisions and other major life decisions.

Creating a Flexible Framework (Time Map) for Your Week

Even when you know your chief priorities, they don’t happen automatically because systems trump intentions. Hence, you need to weave them into the fabric of your life through a flexible framework so they actually get done.

This is most of all done through creating a flexible time map for your week. In these chapters, we also get some glimpses into how the president schedules his day (I interviewed one of president Bush’s former schedulers in preparation for this book) and how Christian leaders like Al Mohler get things done.

Delegating–in God-Centered Way
We look at how to delegate in a way that actually works and empowers people, rather than treating them like machines or gophers.

If we are to be God-centered in everything, that includes delegation! There is a way to be God-centered in our delegation that we often overlook, and is fundamental to what it means to treat people with respect and dignity (which are fundamental to any God-centered approach to life — if we are to honor God, then we must honor people, who are made in his image; this is non-negotiable, and has to be reflected in the way we go about our work). God-centerd delegation means delegating to people in a way that truly empowers them and hands over real responsibility. It is based on trust. We look at what this means, and how to do it well.

Processing Workflow, Managing Projects, and the Details of Execution
And, of course, we look at how to get things done in the moment by learning how to process workflow and get your email inbox to zero every day, how to manage projects and keep track of all your actions and information through simple project plans, how to plan your week, and the six routines you need to have in your week.

The Last Section: The Results of Gospel-Driven Productivity

Then, in the final section, I show how all of this connects to God’s global purposes, including productivity in our organizations and society, and ultimately world missions. Ultimately, we see that as we are productive in a God-centered way in every area of our lives, God transforms the world through our work socially, economically, and spiritually. (And, perhaps most interestingly, this is precisely what Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:8-17, the core New Testament passage on time management.)

(And Some Other Things)

That’s a quite-extended snapshot of the book, and there are still many, many things I left out! I will be posting on the book throughout the week to give you shorter snapshots and some of the other key take-aways, including the D-A-R-E process that I use to summarize and integrate all of these things in a way that (hopefully) makes it easy to remember.

Some Blog Posts on the Book So Far

Several people have blogged on the book so far, and there are many more posts to come that I am aware of. Here are a few of the key posts so far:

Here are also some other resources on the book you might find useful:

Some Reader Comments

I suppose I should also list some of the endorsements. I’ll post just a few for now, but you can see all of them on the page for the book listed just above.

Perhaps most interesting are some of the comments I’ve received from other advance readers so far. Here are a few:

“This book has such fruit-bearing potential I wish I’d started a blog years ago for the sole purpose of recommending it today. If you struggle to manage the number of things on your plate and want to serve people more effectively with the time that you have, you need to embrace and apply the principles in this book.”

“The table of contents made me want to stay up all night.”

And, here are three of the endorsements:

“This book is simply extraordinary…. I doubt there is a person on the planet who knows both theological issues and time-management literature to the depth and extent Matt Perman does.”

John Piper, founder and teacher, desiringGod.org; author, Don’t Waste Your Life

“In this amazing volume, Matt Perman offers a wealth of practical, real-world productivity solutions, all framed within the context of the Gospel. He provides the know-how and the know-Who we need to be faithful stewards over the gifts we have been given.”

Michael Hyatt, New York Times bestselling author of Platform; MichaelHyatt.com

“As Christians, we are called by God to work with all our heart, because our work is—or should be—directly for the Lord. But beyond platitudes no one has really approached being productive at working, until now. Matt Perman approaches the task not only from his personal experience, but from a Christian worldview. Follow his model to align what you do with God’s purpose in your life—and in particular in your work.”

B. Joseph Pine II, co-author, The Experience Economy

In Sum: Read the Book!

At the end of the day, I think the best way to experience the book is to read it! So I encourage you to pick up a copy, either in hardcover (Zondervan did an amazing job — it is a truly beautiful book) or for an eReader like Kindle.

(And Share It…)

Last of all: consider sharing the book with others by telling them about it, whether through tweeting this post or any of those listed above, tweeting anything else about the book, or through emailing them the Amazon page (here’s the link again: http://bit.ly/whatsbestnext) or through any other means.

There is a growing movement of gospel-centered Christians that are incredibly good at what they do in their jobs, and are excited about seeing all of life in light of the gospel. This book aims to help give a lift to that movement, which truly consists of all Christians who are eager to serve the Lord to the max with all of their gifts, without burning themselves out in the process.

I hope you enjoy the book and find it very helpful.

And, let me know what you think!

March 4, 2014 | Filed Under Book | Leave a Comment 

My Interview with Seth Godin on the Essence of Productivity and Avoiding Productivity Whining

This is the full version of my interview with Seth Godin on the essence of productivity and avoiding productivity whining, found in chapter 10 of my book What’s Best Next.

March 3, 2014 | Filed Under Productivity | Leave a Comment 

How to Work as a Christian in the Secular Arena

This is a message I gave at a Fortune 100 company recently on how to be a Christian in a secular workplace. I talk about avoiding the twin errors of spiritual weirdness (such as thinking you need to insert the gospel into every conversation, or call attention to God through strange trinkets like the “Faithbook” t-shirt I came across at a truck stop once) on the one hand and, on the other hand, thinking that our faith bears no relation to our work at all.

Then I talk about the chief way that God intends our faith to inform our work: namely, love. Love is to be the guiding principle for Christians in their work, and I show what that looks like and how even many leading secular thinkers are echoing this truth in very significant ways. At the end I talk about the results of going about our work in this way.

Update: Here’s a timeline of the message that Joshua Van Der Merwe wrote up (thank you, Joshua!):

February 21, 2014 | Filed Under Vocation | 1 Comment 

Join the Launch Team for What’s Best Next!

My book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Donereleases March 4. You’ve been hearing about it for a long time now, and thanks for all of the encouraging words that so many of you have sent me over the last couple of years. It’s been a long journey and I’m really excited for its release!

If you are interested in being a part of the launch for the book, I’d love to have you as part of the launch team.

What You’ll Get

Here are some of the benefits of being a What’s Best Next launch team member:

  1. A free electronic edition of the book in advance.
  2. Private Facebook group access.
  3. A half-hour teleseminar prior to launch on Friday, February 28.
  4. A thank you link back to your blog.
  5. A free copy of my ebook How to Set Up Your Desk (not yet published).
  6. A free PDF where I compiled a whole bunch of my research for the book (about 300 pages).

And, most importantly, it will be a lot of fun and you can help me get out a very important message on what it means to base our productivity in the gospel!

What You’ll Do

As a member of the launch team, here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Write a short review on Amazon or other e-tailer site.
  2. Spread the word using your platform during launch week (the week of March 4) and after, whether through Twitter, Facebook, your blog, or all of the above.
  3. Share ideas in the Facebook group on other ways to help get the word out about the book to as many people as we can.

(And, of course, note that you don’t have to be a part of the launch team to do these things (except item 3), so please feel free to do these whether you are a part of the launch team or not!)

How to Sign Up

To become a part of the launch team, just email me through the contact form on the blog by Tuesday, February 25. Send me your name and email, and we’ll get you hooked up with your electronic copy of the book, the Facebook group, and other details. It’s that simple!

(I suppose I should add that the team will be limited to a certain number of people; I’m actually not sure how many yet. But everyone who asks to join the team before we reach that cutoff point will be part of the team.)

More on the Book

You’ve heard some things about the book as I’ve blogged about it during the writing process, and the description is up at Amazon. I’ve also started building out the page for the book here on the blog, where you can see a brief description and all of the endorsements (including the ones I haven’t been able to get to show up yet at Amazon), as well as the link to John Piper’s foreword. I’ll also be blogging more on the book in the week leading up to release (next week).

Update: Thank you everyone who joined the team! We had over 100 people sign up, which is fantastic and amazing. If you missed the deadline, there are still many things you can do to help by blogging about the book, writing an Amazon review, tweeting about it, and posting to Facebook. If you would like to formally join the launch team, go ahead and contact me through the contact form here on the blog (link above) and we can still add you to the Facebook group.

February 21, 2014 | Filed Under Book | Leave a Comment 

The Importance of Stating the Obvious

There are many passages of Scripture where we fail to take the main point to heart, either because it seems so basic or because we immediately go to the more complex questions we have.

For example, Hebrews 13:5 says: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” That is an amazing truth! But we often fail to grasp it, because we immediately go to the difficult questions about this text, like: “What if a person stops believing? Will God forsake them then?” That’s an important question to ask, but before we go there, we need to stop and be amazed at what is crystal clear.

And in this text, what is crystal clear is this: God never forsakes his people. Sometimes one person will betray another or abandon another. This happened to Jesus. Judas betrayed him, and the rest of his disciples left him on his way to the cross. The point of this text is: God never does that. He is not like a human being in this way. He always, always sticks with you.

That is amazing! God is not like us, who sometimes fail one another. He never leaves us. That is an incredible promise to trust in.

In addition to missing the sheer force of this simple reality by immediately turning to the more detailed theological issues like perseverance of the saints, we can also miss the force of this reality by thinking to ourselves “well, of course God would never forsake his people. Duh. What kind of God would do that?” And we move on.

We never stop to ask, though, why it is obvious that God would never forsake his people. And it’s precisely because of texts like this, so clearly stating that truth over and over, everywhere. It has become obvious because God has said it so clearly.

It would be possible to conceive of a god who is not faithful. Such a being would not be worthy of the name “God,” but it is conceivable. God has made it clear that he is not such a being. He is faithful, and he is so faithful that he stated this truth so clearly, forcefully, and often that it has become “obvious” for us — a given — so that we never have to wonder about it. But in having it as a given for us, it’s easy to take it for granted. So, let’s not do that. When we see amazing truths that we almost take for granted stated in the Scriptures, let’s not take them for granted. Let’s marvel at them once again and be grateful, not missing the obvious truth in our quest to ask the deeper questions (as important as those are). 

The Bible affirms the importance of stating the obvious. For if the obvious was never stated, it would never have become obvious.

February 19, 2014 | Filed Under Theology | Leave a Comment 

Good-to-Great Organizations Do Not Rely on Lay-offs as a Strategy

Important words from Jim Collins in Good to Great:

The good-to-great leaders were rigorous, not ruthless, in people decisions. They did not rely on layoffs and restructuring as a primary strategy for improving performance. The comparison companies used layoffs to a much greater extent.

I’ve heard some people say that Jim Collins’ metaphor of “get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus” is advocating lay-offs as a central tool the managers strategy. That is an utter and complete misunderstanding. A careful reading of his chapter on “First Who, Then What” in Good to Great reveals the exact opposite. (Note: This misunderstanding does not just, or even mainly, reside with folks that are trigger-happy with layoffs; it also comes from sincere people that I’ve heard express concern about business ideas being wrongly used in the church. The great news here is that this is a misunderstanding of Jim Collins’ metaphor, and his teaching coheres with and upholds a biblical view.)

Further, and just as importantly, you need to correctly define who exactly are the people that need to be sent off the bus. It’s not people that are in a department you might be downsizing (which is a bad strategy most of the time in itself, but sometimes happens), for he says “If you sell off your problems, don’t sell off your best people.” (Translation: If you do have to close a department or division, keep the talented people who were working in that department, and are committed to the vision.)

The people you fling off the bus are the people that are not on board with the values of the organization. The people that are passionate for what the organization stands for are to be kept at all costs. You simply cannot have enough of such people.

Yet, so many organizations do the reverse. Their leaders see people, including those most passionate for the vision, as expendable based on how they as leaders are seeking to conceive of the strategy. They have failed to grasped Jim Collins’ core point: first who, then what. That is, you get the right people on the bus first (that is, the people who love the mission and values of the organization) and then, through an empowering management model (rather than top-down approach), you decide where to go.

Or, as John Wooden, one of the best coaches in history, had to say: you move from the people to the playsnot the reverse.

Lay-offs and top-down leadership are absolutely contrary to good to great management.

February 13, 2014 | Filed Under Management | 3 Comments 

Interview with Justin Taylor on The Final Days of Jesus

I recently had the chance to interview Justin Taylor on his excellent new book The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Livedwhich he co-authored with New Testament scholar Andreas Kostenberger.

The book is fantastic and makes the events of Jesus’ final week real in a new way. I continually found myself marveling at what Jesus did for us as they retold the story in an integrated way from all four gospels, together with theological commentary and insights. I highly recommend it.

Here are some of the blurbs for the book:

“This is a book about the most important person who ever lived during the most crucial week of his life. If you want to get to know the person and teachings of Jesus in the context of an engaging story with practical commentary, this book is for you. It is biblical, personal, and transformational.”
Darrin Patrick, Pastor, The Journey, St. Louis, Missouri; author, For the City and Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission

“You may be wondering what can be done to make Christ’s last week come alive in ways it hasn’t before. It would help to understand the historical background and cultural script a little better, but you don’t want a big book. It would help, too, if your authors were trustworthy, knowledgeable evangelical scholars who could write clearly for laypeople. Look no further—this is the book for you!”
Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary

“A clearly presented overview of the most important week in world history. Brief, helpful comments illuminate the biblical story and bring home its enduring and life-changing message.”
Douglas J. Moo, Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies, Wheaton College

Justin and I go way back to college, where we both got interested in theology and apologetics and studied them together on the side at a secular university. Then we were able to take the things we would learn and defend our faith in secular philosophy classes. So it was fun to interview him on his new book and also talk a bit about some of our experiences learning apologetics together early on.

Here’s the interview:

February 11, 2014 | Filed Under Theology | Leave a Comment 

The Cornerstone of Winston Churchill’s Time Management

It is fascinating that when you study the most effective individuals throughout history, you see the same theme coming back again and again in how each of them managed their time. The key was focus and concentration on a few very significant priorities, always keeping in mind what is centrally important at the moment (that is, what’s best next).

We see this especially in Winston Churchill. Here’s how Steven Hayward very effectively summarizes Churchill’s approach in Churchill on Leadership: Executive Success in the Face of Adversity:

Despite his wide-ranging attention and interests, he always kept in mind what was centrally important to the moment. He was always able to focus his full concentration on the immediate task at hand, and he sent clear signals to his subordinates when an inquiry or directive was of special importance. “When his mind was occupied with any particular problem,” Sir Ian Jacob wrote, “it was relentlessly focused upon it and would not be turned aside.” Ultimately this served as the cornerstone of his time-management system. 

….His general method of work…was to concentrate his personal attention on the two or three things that mattered most at any given moment, and to give to each of these all the time and attention that it merited.

This is the same observation Peter Drucker made about effective executives in the midst of his 50 years of observing them: “Effective executives put first things first, and do one thing at a time.” That’s the key.

Note one misunderstanding we can fall into, however, about what it means to focus on a few core priorities. It doesn’t mean that you are getting less done and doing fewer things overall. Rather, it means you are doing more things overall. That’s why you do one thing at a time — precisely because you have so many things that need to be done. Hence, you focus on one thing at a time because “doing one thing at a time means doing it fast. The more one can concentrate time, effort, and resources, the greater the number and diversity of tasks one can actually perform” (Drucker, The Effective Executive).

So the key is you identify that which is centrally important, and work on that all the way until it’s done. Then you work on the next thing of central importance until it is done. And so forth. (And, of course, above all of these and governing the choices you make about what to do next are just a few, overall, chief goals for the current quarter or year or season.) Drucker summarizes this well:

Effective executives know that they have to get many things done — and done effectively. Therefore, they concentrate — their own time and energy as well as that of their organization — on doing one thing at a time, and on doing first things first.

February 6, 2014 | Filed Under Productivity | 1 Comment 

4 Principles for Setting the Right Priorities

From Peter Drucker in The Effective Executive:

February 5, 2014 | Filed Under Decision Making | Leave a Comment 

Why Do So Few Organizations Get Going on Their Good Ideas?

They are too busy on the tasks of yesterday.

Drucker:

There is no lack of ideas in any organization I know. “Creativity” is not our problem. But few organizations ever get going on their own good ideas. Everybody is much too busy on the tasks of yesterday….

The need to slough off the outworn old to make possible the productive new is universal. It is reasonably certain that we would still have stagecoaches — nationalized, to be sure, heavily subsided, and with a fantastic research program to “retrain the horse” — had there been ministries of transportation around 1825.

January 25, 2014 | Filed Under Innovation | 2 Comments 

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