For whatever reason, I’ve been borderline obsessed with productivity systems and workflow efficiency for the last several years. The book most influential to me on the topic was Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, which I read originally for a seminary class back in 2006. Allen’s system is wonderfully effective at helping us assimilate the complex flow of information in which we are immersed into an actionable format. There were certain hiccups as I implemented the system, but it gave me principles for data capture that were hugely helpful.
Some time later, a good friend from seminary with whom I had read Getting Things Done recommended Matt Perman’s 2014 book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (available at Grace Bookstore & Café). I waited over a year to get the book, but when I finally got into it, I was so impressed that I wanted the book to be on your radar screen. After all, this site is all about training people to be more effective disciple-makers, and Perman argues that productivity and effectiveness in disciple-making are intrinsically linked:
Both [productivity and discipleship] are about how we are to live in this world for the glory of God…The way we go about handling our email, making appointments, running meetings, attending classes, and running the kids to where they need to go are not distinct from the everyday life of sanctification that God calls us to but are themselves a fundamental part of it. (pages 66–67)
The book begins in parts one and two with concepts foundational for a Christian understanding of work and calling, as Perman explains that “the things you do every day are good works…the purpose of productivity tactics is to amplify your tactics in those good works” (page 79). Part three, called “Define,” helps the reader articulate a personal mission statement complete with guiding principles and core beliefs, state life goals, and clarify his or her roles. Part four follows with instructions on how to craft a flexible weekly schedule that allots an appropriate amount of time to each of those roles, and guidance on how to create the best routines.
With all of this in place, the reader is prepared to discuss task reduction (part five), daily and weekly execution of tasks and projects (part six), and the implications of the biblical view of productivity on society and world missions (part seven). It is in parts 3–6 in particular that Perman helpfully builds on the best concepts in Getting Things Done while improving its process by emphasizing daily and weekly planning.
It isn’t usually fair to review a book without pointing out criticisms, so I’ll mention a minor one here: at times the organization of the material within chapters seemed a little off, and the chapter divisions were occasionally clunky, with some chapters appearing to me to be less dense than others.
Overall, though, this is one of the best—if not the best—books I have read on productivity. As such, I give it five out of five stars. On any topic it is difficult to address both the big picture and the details, but Perman manages this with unusual skill in What’s Best Next. What Perman has given us is a practical framework not just for getting things done, but for getting the right things done, based on the highest-level perspective possible: the perspective of God himself as expressed through Jesus Christ.
What helpful books have you read on this topic recently? Please leave us a comment below.
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