I’ve read several books on productivity before. They range from being focused on the big picture of your purpose and goals, or the nuts-and-bolts of how to structure your work day and not be buried by email.
Christians need to be discerning when reading such books because following the suggestions of secular authors might cause you to reject Christian priorities, idolize work, or do whatever you can to get ahead.
What Christians need is a theologically balanced work on productivity with both the big picture and nuts-and-bolts in mind. That is exactly what Matt Perman, former director of strategy at Desiring God, does in What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.
The overall structure of the book follows the model of many of the Apostle Paul’s epistles: first laying a theological grounding and then following with practical application.
The theological side of the book seeks to make God supreme in our productivity, while changing our thinking about mentality to conform to Scripture. The practical side of the book is structured in the acronym D.A.R.E.: Define, Architect, Reduce, Execute, followed by a special section called “Living It Out.”
The book is a self-described “horizontal dimension of Christian hedonism”–that is:
…how to be so satisfied in God that the power of this joy is released to ‘love people better in the midst of the current, very challenging environment of our modern, technological, constantly interrupted knowledge work area.
Perman writes for people who do ‘knowledge work’, which is that, “you not only have to do the work but also have to define what the work is.” This means that your schedule is not preset–but rather one which you need to mold with the ultimate productivity question, “What’s best next?”. That foundational question seeks to have us do the right work at the right time to best achieve our goals.
The aim of the book is to:
…reshape the way you think about productivity and then present a practical approach to help you become more effective in your life with less stress and frustration, whatever you are doing…I want to help you live the life that God has called you to live, and to live it with maximum effectiveness and meaning.
Perman stresses the value of a robust theology of productivity and clearly describes how our productivity can be a channel for glorifying God and living a life of worship. On the horizontal level, productivity is about loving others by doing good to them for the glory of God.
Perman is very well-read and interacts with a number of Christian theologians and secular authorities, including: John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Charles Colson, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Peter Drucker, Stephen Covey, and David Allen. Throughout the book, Perman scatters helpful interviews with a variety of people including Tim Challies and Seth Godin, and shares his personal productivity victories and struggles, strengthening the personal applicableness of the book. The brief chapter summaries are a helpful feature and something I will reference in the future. Perman is generous in pointing to helpful resources on each of the topics covered: books, articles, and blog posts on Perman’s blog.
I’ll admit I did not expect the last section (Living It Out) to be what it was. It applied what we learned previously to the world of Christian organizations and missions, which was helpful for thinking about my work at Leadership Resources. I also appreciated his brief mention of why a good understanding of economics serves the poor and allows us to love them by really helping them out of poverty. (A book that discusses economics and helping the poor is Wayne Grudem’s The Poverty of Nations and an organization I’ve seen live it out is HOPE International.)
If you haven’t read Kevin DeYoung’s book Crazy Busy yet, I would recommend it for a brief and encouraging read on how Christians should view busyness and productivity. If you want a deeper and more comprehensive discussion of productivity from a Christian perspective, I would highly recommend What’s Best Next.
Perman’s theology of productivity is thoroughly biblical and his application extremely practical. This is a book for everyone trying to pursue God’s calling in their vocation and would be a great book for both young Christians starting in the workplace or seasoned professionals looking to ground their productivity mindset in the gospel of Christ. I wish I read this book right after college as I stepped into the workplace.
What’s Best Next might just transform the way you get things done and worship God at work.
Title: What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
Author: Matt Perman
Pages: 340 pages with appendicies
What’s Best Next Online Toolkit (on Perman’s Blog)
Seth Godin’s Interview with Matt Perman (YouTube)
The Resurgence Interview with Matt Perman on What’s Best Next
A 43-Minute Summary of the Book: What’s Best Next by Matt Perman