What’s Best Next? How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done

WBNPermanI suppose it’s fitting I write a review of Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next (WBN) toward the end of a day that I’ve spent piddling,  getting very little done, on the way to working myself up to settle down to watch a movie.

My cousin Nancy pointed me to What’s Best Next, while discussing our recent retirements. For Type A personalities or those of us who obsess over how much time we’re wasting, our first impulse is to prioritize and jump right into finding more time.  That’s universal and, if you don’t believe me, just scroll through the thousands of productivity products and strategies on the web. But, identifying hidden or squandered bits of time here and there won’t bring resolution to the problem. Matt takes a different tack and builds his productivity schema on a foundation of love as the guiding principle in all of life, putting God at the center of our work, in order to define our mission, serving through our work. The subtitle sums it up: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done.

Matt asks the question, “what does it mean to love others in everyday life?” I am struggling with number six today:

Be creative and competent in doing good, not lazy and shoddy.

Now that my only boss is Jesus, I’m having a hard time viewing what I do as real work. I find myself stalling and avoiding a lot more than I did when the USPS was my taskmaster or shepherding a flock of Christians could be a matter of life or death. Somehow, serving others through writing and art doesn’t carry the same sense of urgency: that says something about my relationship with the Lord (insert sad face emoji here). In fact, on page 96 Matt really got my attention with the notion that “slack work is a form of vandalism” and a failure to love others. It “makes life harder for people — just like vandalism.”  What’s the solution to my lackadaisical attitude? The gospel.

God’s love toward me in the gospel changes the order of my work life, my love life, because “ongoing peace of mind comes through faith in Christ expressed in everyday life.” So, “just as we do good works from justification rather than for justification, we are also to do good works from peace rather than for peace.” How refreshing to gain this new, positive perspective! I never could get worked up and angry enough to go into my studio as a tortured abstract expressionist, flinging paint in a kind of cathartic tantrum, in order to walk back out of the room and return to life all wrung out, finding peace in a state of emotional exhaustion. Rather, I seem to work best when I’m not passionately out of control but, rather, coming to my canvas or keyboard with a settled sense of purpose and a plan. Of course, once the work begins, I am faced with problems to solve and obstacles to overcome: that’s why it’s called work! But, now I seem to have the peace of knowing that, usually, I will be able to fix things through editing or painting or even painting or writing the whole thing over. And, the hardest work, those difficulties I have addressed and overcome, could become a blessing to someone. The end goal is not my own feeling of accomplishment or catharsis, but love. The bottom line is this: I’m not seeking peace of mind in finishing the work, but working to finish the process my peace of mind has begun in loving others.

To sum it all up:

A Christian is something before he does anything; and we have to be Christian before we can act as Christians — Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Now, on to the mini- review. This was actually easy to write because Matt summarizes the book this way on his companion web site! When you go there, you will find all kinds of helpful materials not included in the book. Here’s his 500-word synopsis:

Gospel-Driven Productivity in a Nutshell

We need to look to God to define for us what productivity is, not simply the ambiguous concept of “what matters most.” For God is what matters most.

When we do this, we don’t enter a realm of spiritual weirdness, as we might fear. Good secular thinking remains relevant as a gift of God’s common grace. Neither do we enter a realm of over-spiritualization where the things we do every day don’t matter.

Instead, the things we do every day take on even greater significance because they are avenues through which we serve God and others. In fact, the gospel teaches us that the good of others is to be the main motive in all that we do and the chief criteria by which we determine “what’s best next.” This is not only right, but also the best way to be productive, as the best business thinkers are showing. More importantly, when we do this in God’s power and as an offering to him, he is glorified and shown to be great in the world.

In order to be most effective in this way in our current era of massive overload yet incredible opportunity, we need to do four things to stay on track and lead and manage our lives effectively:

  1. Define
  2. Architect
  3. Reduce
  4. Execute

The result of this is not only our own increased peace of mind and ability to get things done, but also the transformation of the world by the gospel because it is precisely in our everyday vocations that we take our faith into the world and the light of the gospel shines—both in what we say and in what we do (Matthew 5:16).

If You Only take 5 Productivity Practices Away from This Book

Learning and especially implementing productivity practices can be hard. It is easy to forget what we learned or forget how to apply it. One remedy is to keep coming back to this book (of course!). But to make this as simple as possible, if you can only take away 5 things from this book, they should be these:

  1. Foundation: Look to God, in Jesus Christ, for your purpose, security, and guidance in all of life. 

  2. Purpose: Give your whole self to God (Romans 12:1-2), and then live for the good of others to his glory to show that he is great in the world.

  3. Guiding Principle: Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others the way you want them to treat you. Be proactive in this and even make plans to do good.

  4. Core Strategy: Know what’s most important and put it first. 

  5. Core Tactic: Plan your week, every week! Then, as things come up throughout the day, ask “is this what’s best next?” Then, either do that right away or, if you can’t, slot it into your calendar or action list that you are confident you will refer back to at the right time.

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