I recently finished reading What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, who runs a blog by the same name. The book’s subtitle is “How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.” It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year.
I have read and benefited from a number of productivity-related books (Getting Things Done, Rework, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Making Ideas Happen, The Power of Full Engagement, and Do The Work). Perman draws on many of these excellent books, references their best ideas and, in the end, surpasses them.
What’s Best Next is better than these other books for two important reasons:
- Perman unpacks a robust exploration of how the gospel re-shapes our approach to productivity.
- He delivers a highly practical approach that simplifies many of the overwhelming systems these other books espouse.
I learned a lot from the book. Here are the 6 most significant lessons I took away (the first is the longest):
1. The gospel makes productivity about love.
The most surprising sections of the book were the first two, reframing productivity through the lens of the gospel. I honestly didn’t expect to get much out of them and thought they would be a kind of Christian veneer applied thinly over practical advice. I could not have been more wrong, as these sections demonstrated valuable theological thinking applied to a real-world issue.
Perman argues that God cares deeply about productivity because God wants lots of good to happen in the world. Sadly, however, many people — Christians included — view productivity mostly in self-centered ways: How can I get a lot done? How can I get through my list? How can I achieve peace and contentment by getting organized? How can I feel good about myself because I’m so productive?
But the gospel transforms our productivity in two key ways. First, it makes Jesus our identity rather than our works. Instead of achieving a sense of value by how productive we are, we are free to be productive because we already have value in Jesus. Second, the gospel puts our attention on others so that we seek to love and serve them through our work, rather than serve ourselves.
This was a game-changer for me. I often think of people being in the way of me getting done what I really want and need to do. Instead, people should be a key factor and motivator in deciding what to do and how to do it.
Additionally, loving others means we should seek to be organized and effective in how we get things done. As Perman writes:
“If we are about serving others, then we need to be competent in serving them because incompetence does not serve people.”
2. Everyday life provides many opportunities for good works that honor God.
I loved the “all of life” aspect of this book. One terrific example is when Perman talks about “good works.” He says:
“According to the Scriptures, good works are not simply the rare, special, extraordinary, or super spiritual things we do. Rather, they are anything we do in faith…When you are answering emails, you aren’t just answering emails. You are doing good works. When you attend meetings, you aren’t just attending meetings. You are doing good works. When you make supper for your family, you aren’t just making supper for your family. You are doing good works. When you put the kids to bed, you aren’t just putting the kids to bed. You are doing a good work.”
Isn’t that encouraging? Every day you have countless opportunities to do good works in the name of Jesus.
3. Know what’s most important and put it first.
Perman argues that this is the core principle of productivity. He quotes some other leaders who say the same thing:
Rick Warren: “The secret of effectiveness is to know what really counts, then do what really counts, and not worry about the rest.”
Peter Drucker: “If there is any one ‘secret’ of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.”
Stephen Covey: “The key . . . is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
I appreciated this principle because it forces me to intentionally think about what’s most important. Rather than just being reactive, this principle thrusts you into proactively doing what is important rather than just what’s urgent.
This is what’s behind the middle word in the title What’s Best Next. It’s not about what’s next, but what’s best next. Perman says:
“More important than efficiency is effectiveness — getting the right things done. In other words, productivity is not first about getting more things done faster. It’s about getting the right things done.”
4. Systems trump intentions.
This was a short but profound point in the book, one that I’ve noted before. Perman writes:
“Systems trump intentions. You can have great intentions, but if your life is set up in a way that is not in alignment with them, you will be frustrated. The structure of your life will win out every time.”
This is why leaders need a plan. Without a plan, you will not get done what you want and need to get done.
More than that, you need a simple plan. For instance, like Perman, I found the Getting Things Done (GTD) approach overwhelming. It felt like my job became keeping up with my system. I was serving the system instead of the system serving me. Perman offers some simple, practical ideas that felt like a doable breath of fresh air.
5. Weekly planning is crucial.
One of the crucial systems to establish is weekly planning. This is something I’ve read about in the past but it always sounded too complicated to make it a normal part of my routine. Perman offers a detailed approach to weekly planning, but he also provides a simplified pair of questions that, if done, would provide incredible clarity:
- What do I need to do this week?
- What would I like to do this week?
Think through those questions and put those things on a list or calendar somewhere. If you just asked those two questions, you’d probably gain some ground, especially if part of your thinking involved how you could plan to do intentional good for others.
6. Plan your day.
This almost feels ridiculous to say but — upon reflection — it’s discouraging for me to think about how rarely I plan my day. Too often I just react to whatever’s next on the calendar or whatever email just came in. But recently I’ve been planning my day and it’s amazing how much more effective I am.
Here’s Perman’s simple way to plan the day:
- Write down the three most important tasks you can accomplish today, in light of your calendar and priorities.
- Review your calendar and list any actions this generates.
- Review your priority list for the week and actions list to ensure it is current and identify any other priorities you need to have.
- Write down any other things you need to do in light of upcoming meetings, appointments, and just generally other stuff you want to get done.
Isaiah 32:8 says, “he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands.” Planning your week and day gives you a chance to plan noble things that will serve others and achieve much good.
Buy and read this book. If you already feel like you have good productivity systems, the first few parts will still be valuable in reframing your approach through a gospel lens. If you feel like your systems could use an improvement, the entire book will be helpful.