Playing chess with a fifth grader should have been easy. Maybe it would have been if I had played a little more since seventh grade when I first learned and if I had chosen an easier opponent. My nephew, however, is a member of his chess club at school and handedly beat me as I made several foolish moves in our first game. This first defeat was clearly not enough for me as I chose to play him again the next night and lost again. Somehow, though, the thrill of the game, the strategy involved and the pacing came back to me and I was actually able to beat him on the third try. I suspect that I may not win again for a while as my nephew seems to have a few more tricks up his sleeve, but that won’t stop me from trying.
Strategy, planning and thinking ahead have always been a core part of my DNA. Most years, I take time in late December to read a book on time management and productivity to get me prepared for the New Year. Very often, I have returned to trusted favorites like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey or Getting Things Done by David Allen. This year, I chose Matt Perman’s new book, What’s Best Next and I am really glad that I did. His unique skill at applying Biblical truth to the principles and concepts of productivity proved thought provoking and challenging.
One of Matt’s key ideas is that being more productive is not simply about being more efficient so that we can get our work done, but it is about creating more time in our lives to truly serve others. His overarching theme in the book is the concept of Gospel Driven Productivity that he defines as, “putting the other person first, and being on the lookout for ways to do this.” This seems counter-intuitive as serving others often feels like it can suck the life out of us. Here is what Matt has to say about that, “…we are here to serve, to the glory of God. We are to be in this world not for what we can get out of it but for what we can give. According to the Bible, a truly productive life is lived in service to others. Being productive is not about seeking personal peace and affluence because God made us for greater goals.” He sums it up by saying, “The best way to be productive is to put others first. This is both what the gospel teaches us and the most exciting life”.
I have to confess that my desire to be reminded about productivity principles on an annual basis has not normally been primarily about serving others. Most of the time I am consumed by the tasks and opportunities in front of me and am looking for ways to get it all done. As I read Matt’s book it struck me that my motivation has been all wrong. While there is no harm in getting more done and being efficient does have its benefits, it can also have life crushing side effects if not properly balanced. David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, had been an influence in Matt’s life prior to writing his own book and not always a good one. While he found himself getting more done, he also found himself taking on more than he should have and being overwhelmed in the process.
Taking Matt’s ideas to heart has given me real joy in planning for the year ahead. I can plan my week with only 70% of the time slots filled in, as this will allow for “planned flexibility”, and not feel guilty. In addition it will allow for more divine appointments in my week as unplanned “interruptions” turn into spontaneous brain storming sessions and new ministry innovations. Most importantly, as I truly apply Biblical principles to productivity in my life, I create the space that I need to be able to serve others well.
Matt’s book concludes with a wonderful Spurgeon quote that I include here as a motivation for all that God has in store for 2015.
“Let us be on the watch for opportunities of usefulness; let us go about the world with our ears and eyes both 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 of our lives.”