“I don’t want you to do more stuff or take on more projects or complete more tasks. Not necessarily. I don’t want you to work longer hours or spend less time with your family and friends. I want you to do more good. I want you to do more of what matters most, and I want you to do it better. That’s what I want for myself as well (5).”
Challies nails what should form the foundation of every productivity goal and system. The goal of productivity is not to add a another plate to your life with a bunch of “todos” but to rather arrange your existing todos to flourish in life. One of your goals might be to spend more time with your family. Or maybe you have a healthy work/school/family balance but you are always rushed at completing your projects. Being more productive in this sense would allow you to manage your time and more efficiently work to improve the projects at hand. Regardless of what your goal is remember don’t become more productive so that you can do more in you life but rather how can you do what you are currently doing better. The more aspect can come later when you have a grasp on your own efficiency with the tasks that you do have on your plate now.
One of my biggest complaints with productivity blog posts/articles/books with a theological foundation is that they become too “Christianized” and the advice ends up littered with out-of-context proof texts and twisting and forming scripture to fit ones productivity goals. Some do this better than others but on the whole I am continually disappointed with productivity advice from an explicitly Christian perspective.
Recently I was lamenting to a friend about this problem and I remember thinking why can’t someone just lay down some solid theological foundations and based upon those write a productivity book.
Finally, enter Tim Challies.
The first chapter serves exactly this purpose. He calls it a “productivity catechism” that lays out the foundation for the rest of the book. Hallelujah. Finally. I find the catechism to be a helpful primer preparing the reader for the practical and helpful advice that comes later without much of the cheesy Christaineeze.
Challies defines productivity as “effectively stewards your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.” This simple definition fits with what I was arguing above should be at the heart of any productivity system: to learn how to use the time you have wisely.
A productive person is not about finding all the latest tools, tweaking the most intricate systems, or learning all the shortcuts but forming yourself into a new person (24). Productivity only happens with a life change in the individual. The way you go about your life needs to drastically change in order to transform into an efficient person. All the outside help in the world will not aid you in becoming more efficient if you are still a lazy and distracted individual.
The rest of the book comes boils down to a modified (and simplified) Getting Things Done (GTD) system. This includes figuring out what all your responsibilities are in your life and putting them on paper (ch. 3), stating your mission (ch. 4), picking the right tools (ch. 5), collecting your tasks (ch. 6), plan your calendar (ch. 7), gather your information (ch. 8), live the system (ch. 9), and maintain it (ch. 10). Challies' writing is simple and clear. Each of these chapters is filled with sound advice and practical examples, solidifying the content of the chapter. He also includes two bonus chapters on email (don’t skip!) and 20 tips.
For this review it is not necessary to go into all the details of each chapter or even summarizing them. The book is already short and to the point (perfect for a productivity book). I would recommend this book both to those who are looking for a helpful guide for becoming more efficient in their life, or, if like me, you have read much on productivity systems (especially GTD based systems) you will find little tidbits of helpful pointers throughout the book. For example, a short section on expecting interruptions provides two potential pitfalls that one might run into when dealing with interruptions. First, the fear of man, which means that you are keen on pleasing people that you end up saying yes to everything. And second, pride, which signals that you already know best so you will say no to everything (95).
Is this the only thing you should read on productivity? Probably not. I imagine Challies would agree. This is a basic introduction and primer to get you started on your feet and it serves it’s purpose well. Another book I would recommend in conjunction with this is the classic Getting Things Done by David Allen. This book goes into more details and stands as the foundation of the GTD system. Remember, everyone’s productivity system will look different for each individual so don’t think that you will have to fit the mold of someone’s system. Take the best of what your read and hear from others and incorporate it into your life. But remember, knowing a lot about productivity won’t make you more productive. That takes the hard work of transformation, focus, and discipline. The tools and system just help you along the way.
Now get to work!