I can't remember many seasons of life in which I haven't felt at least a little overwhelmed by all the things I need to do. In high school I completely overcommitted myself frequently, culminating in a month in which I went to Uruguay and Argentina for two weeks, planned and carried out our Junior/Senior banquet, and performed in the school play, all in the span of four miserable weeks.
Not learning my lesson, one semester in college brought about a very familiar plot--a week in Italy, planning and carrying out the Junior/Senior banquet and another large off-campus activity, and playing spring volleyball. Oh, and, you know, taking classes.
There have been other times since then when I just take on too much. But generally I've prided myself on my ability to accomplish so much in so little time. In fact, I may have even thrived somewhat on the stress.
But there comes a time when you see this kind of life takes a toll on yourself and everyone around you. When you're doing so many things at the same time, it's almost impossible to do everything well.
So the Lord graciously sent me an intervention. He gave a chronic overcommitting procrastinator a new outlook on the tasks at hand in the form of a fantastic book, What's Best Next by Matt Perman.
Perman takes the best in productivity literature and boils it down to what works, what doesn't. and what he would change. But rather than keeping it on a level of practical implementation, he starts from the heart. So he instructs readers on the matter of "Gospel-Driven Productivity."
I've heard it said that Jesus was the most productive person who ever lived, because He always did the will of the Father--He was always doing just what He needed to, at just the right time, and nothing else.
This reoriented my view of productivity--as Perman says, "productivity is not first about getting more things done faster. It's about getting the right things done" (p.43).
He goes on to discuss Ephesians 5:17 as the "fundamental New Testament passage on time management." Here's what Ephesians 5:15-17 says:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
On this passage, Perman writes, "This passage speaks of time management as not being chiefly about applying correct principles to our lives but being about understanding 'the will of the Lord' and doing it. Productivity is specifically about doing 'the will of the Lord.' It's about specifically orienting our lives and decisions around God's will. We are to ultimately be Christ-centered, not just principle-centered" (p.55).
Once he has laid this foundation, Perman then discusses how being productive means doing all the good we can, based on the above passage and others (like Ephesians 2:10, where we see God created us in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared for us to walk in them). But rather than seeing "good works" in terms of doing big, important, spiritual things, we see our daily work is a good work. Perman says good works are "anything we do in faith, which includes the mundane activities of everyday life like raising kids, going to work, and even tying our shoes" (p.78).
I won't go on to summarize the whole 325-page book, but I will write briefly about what was the most revolutionary part of the book for me. I have frequently felt like I wanted to do more to serve others--even just bringing meals to people who are in need--but couldn't figure out how to squeeze that into what I "need" to do.
So Perman says, "the good of others is to be the motive and criteria for all that we do. The good of others is 'what's best next'" (p.87). We see this throughout Scripture, including from the Great Commandment in Matthew 22. Love for others should characterize our lives.
Here are a couple of quotes on this topic, although I wish I could just reprint the whole chapter:
"How should we love others? The same way we love ourselves [Matt. 22:39]. Which means: take the energy you have for meeting your own needs and use that as the measure of the energy you use in seeking the good of others. Desire and seek the good of others with the same passion, creativity, and perseverance as you seek your own. [...] It boils down to one thing: How would I want someone else to treat me? And then the gospel amps it up: How did Christ treat me? Go do that" (p.88-9).
He quotes Charles Spurgeon: "'Let us be on the watch for opportunities of usefulness; let us go about the world with our ears and our eyes open, ready to avail ourselves of every occasion for doing good; let us not be content till we are useful, but make this the main design and ambition for our lives'" (p.89).
So, we see that productivity is about doing the will of God, which means loving Him and loving our neighbors as ourselves. And, loving Him by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
But isn't that just adding one more thing to an already overwhelming schedule? How can I be on the lookout to do good for others, when I can't even find time to read my Bible or get the laundry done?
And that is the purpose of the book--identifying the driving force behind our productivity (the gospel), and giving us the tools to become truly productive. Perman gets super practical, and the chapter on email might have revolutionized my life.
I can't recommend it enough, people.
And just as a personal note, I have never met Matt Perman, but we have corresponded a bit and let me just say this--this interaction is probably the best advertisement for the effectiveness of his book as anything I could have read from someone else. I have watched him live out this idea of looking for ways to love others by doing them good, as he reached out to help me with my book and went out of his way to help someone he didn't even know. I am so grateful, and honored to see first-hand the true effectiveness of "Gospel-Driven Productivity."
So what about you? Are you an overcommitter? A procrastinator? Any fun stories to look back on?