Guest post by Ashley from Circling the Story
I don’t know about you, but I default to feeling overwhelmed when it comes to being productive around the home. I can’t find my car keys; laundry is usually clean but not folded or put away; and who knows where my child’s field trip permission form is five minutes before we head out the door? Sound familiar ?
Don’t even get me started on how I can so easily spend my online time.
I’ve always thought if I could just get the best system then all my home-keeping woes would be solved. As long as I could follow a routine, or a check-list, or get the perfect day planner, then I’d be productive, satisfied and be living the life of meaning I’d envisioned.
But instead of more order and peace in my home, I’ve felt paralyzed by the sheer options when it comes to productivity. Additionally, as I’ve thought about my giftedness and weaknesses, about what my family needs from me, and how to accomplish goals, I’ve come to a startling realization.
My lack of progress or organization is not ultimately about things or online time, it’s about my heart that looks to things to make sense of me. It’s how I look to “likes” and retweets to see if I’m accepted.
It’s not about finding the right system: instead it’s about a stronger love.
The perfect plan is never going to fix the problem of my heart. To that end, I’ve picked up the book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way you Get Things Done by Matt Perman. It’s absolutely, fundamentally changed my categories and motivation for my job as a wife, mother, and writer.
Matt Perman was the senior director for Desiring God ministries and is a speaker and writer on leadership and productivity. What’s Best Next not only helps you develop a gospel-driven concept of productivity, it also will help you “reshape the way you think about productivity” (20). It also provides “practical approach to help you become more effective in your life with less stress and frustration, whatever you are doing” (20). This book unites the why with the how.
What’s Best Next is readable though detailed, encouraging and ultimately helpful. The book is broken down into seven parts. The first part concerns making God supreme in productivity. Perman emphasizes it is God who is always what’s best next. It’s His glory that we are to be focusing on (rather than our own) and that we are to serve Him for His glory.
Now if you’re not a Christian, there is still a ton of information you’ll find helpful. But if you are a Christian, expect this book to revolutionize you’re thinking about your To Do list.
The second part surrounds what Perman calls gospel-driven productivity. That is, the good news of Jesus is the guiding motive by which we are empowered to discover “what’s best next” as well as the criterion for deciding how to use our time. There are lots of great, even good, things that we can give our attention to. What we need to do is run it through the framework of the gospel to determine what we are called to do.
So how do we do this? How can the gospel provide a framework for productivity?
Perman encourages his reader to see the small, daily tasks we do as holy; tasks that add up as we consider what’s best next. He writes,
Be creative, competent, and audacious in doing all the good you can for the world, in big and small ways, both right where you are and in the cause of global good, to the glory of God, according to your gifts and abilities. Use technology and productivity practices to help you do that. And, as you do this in the power of the gospel, the world will change. (325).
The last two sections of the book help you to execute and live this out. To his credit, Perman glorifies the everyday, knowing that it is in the dailyness of our lives — in carpool lines, at the dinner table, in meeting friends for lunch or business meetings — that we actually live out the gospel. Perman reiterates that we do the most important thing first, because we so often get sidetracked from the “tyranny of the urgent,” as C.S. Lewis said.
Perman reminds his reader throughout the book to look to Jesus as our foundation. Not even productivity or a good system or clearly defined limits on our online time can ultimately make us happy or give us our self-worth. As we first seek God’s glory, out flows an attitude of service, that seeks the best of our neighbor rather than our own self-interest. Perman emphasizes that we need to then figure out what’s most important and then put that thing first. Then, he recommends planning your week every week. Little steps that work out practically a gospel-driven productivity.
Since reading What’s Best Next, I’ve begun to commit what I want to do in new and radical ways to God. That means that what is best — the good of my neighbor — might mean that I forego laundry that day so I can have a cup of tea with a mama who’s hurting; but it also might mean that I buckle down and do the laundry as clean, folded (and put away!) clothes best serves my family, who are also my neighbors. Perman provides a vocabulary that not only helps me accomplish the main task first each day — whether that’s writing or scrubbing the floors — but also helps make sense of the small things in light of the bigger story.
Perman’s book is a very practical tool that gives you categories to rethink how your life reflects the glory of God and to break it down in practical ways. If you’ve every felt overwhelmed by all there is to do and how you fit into it all, Perman’s book is for you.
So, what about you? Where do you feel overwhelmed? How do you work at organizing your days? How can we work at figuring out the intersection between the daily To Do list and our goals and dreams?
Ashley Hales writes at her blog, Circling the Story, and the collaborative blog, The Mudroom. She is passionate about helping women tell their scary brave stories. She’s mama to 4 littles, wife to her pastor husband and holds a Ph.D. in English. She’s giving away her free ebook, The Power of Story and How to Tell Yours here. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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