Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Review of What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done

I have increasingly found that it is difficult to keep track of all the different things I need to do. I remember trying to use a Franklin Covey planner and being rather unsuccessful. We even got an official training day to go with it by a guy preaching the gospel of Franklin Covey, that the planner literally saved his life. Add to this that our technological society has made it possible to consume information at a dizzying rate, and it becomes rather confusing what to focus on next. So when I noticed a few good reviews about Matt Perman's book I thought I would check it out.

What's Best Next is a very easy and quick read. You may not even have to read it all but just jump to the highlights at the end of the chapter and resources at the back. Perman designed the book for busy people, but you should not think there are not worthwhile details in the chapters. The book aims to sift through all the business books and productivity books with a Christian lens. The best part about Perman's book is the fact you feel like you don't need to go read the dozens of books out there like it. This is a one stop shop taking all best stuff from books like Getting Things Done.

The book has seven parts and the first two seek to give us the proper motivation and direction for being productive. In the first part he argues that efficiency is not the aim but effectiveness. We ought to view effectiveness, however, with an eternal perspective. We need to be God-centered and other-centered in the things we do. We ought to work out of gratitude and desire to love God and others, not out of a need to make a name for ourselves or gain God's acceptance.

The second part of the book seeks to connect productivity more closely with the gospel. Matt Perman has served in John Piper's Desiring God ministry for years, so it should come as no surprise to those familiar with Piper's ministry that everything flows from the doctrine of justification. This is the only part of the book where I have some criticism. His tagline is "the only way to be productive is to realize you don't have to be productive." There is a lot of good stuff in chapter 7 and it is a very clear explanation of the gospel. Briefly, I think it could have been more clear that because Christ has paid our unpayable debt out of love for us, we now know that we owe him our life and we desire to do all that we can to please him, to love him, in everything we do (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Jn. 5:1-3). Certainly, good works do not earn us favor with God, and our good works flow from our new life in Christ. But it is because we have been united with him, we participate with him by the Spirit to do what we ought to do (2 Pet. 1:3-7; Phil. 2:12-13). On page 121 he interviews theologian Michael Horton and here it gets at these things more clearly.

My nitpicking aside, the best stuff in this book is in part 3-7 (chs. 11-24). He arranges it all under the acronym D.A.R.E. - Define, Architect, Reduce, and Execute. Let me give a few highlights that I think were helpful. The first is to establish routines in your week, not lists. Create the appropriate to-do lists within your routines. The point is to order your life around your purpose and to not let it be dictated too much by external forces. (In Franklin Covey language this was the "third wall" of the non-urgent priorities of others). He also had some helpful tips about handling email, generating more time through delegation and automating, and how to handle interruptions. There is a wealth of good tips here. But, as I was reminded this last week, all these things are recommendations. It is really about getting you to think through some principles to make your work more effective.

Lastly, I really appreciated his emphasis on using your work to love your neighbor and bless people, particularly efforts to alleviate poverty throughout the world. It guarded this book from saying its about God, and then sounding like its really just about you and your productivity. It isn't. It is about God enabling you to become an agent of loving people with all the gifts and resources he has given you.

Silicon Valley is full of super A-types like Matt Perman who can't sit still for more than 30-secs. Come to think of it, perhaps the strongest criticism of this book would be devoting more attention to rest. All in all, I would strongly recommend this, especially to all of the super busy tech people I know. Just make sure your routines include ceasing and remembering you can't do everything. (If only your employers would recognize this!) For as Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

Matt Perman. What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things DoneGrand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.

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