Aren’t we all getting a little bit tired of all the books and articles on productivity? Yet we are drawn to them. Because we know that we are here on earth for a purpose, and this material promises to help us discover and live out that purpose.
But somehow so little of it actually delivers. We read it, we get excited about it, and two months later we realize that we really haven’t seen many lasting changes.
I have invested a lot of effort in understanding productivity and emphasizing it in my life. Eventually I came to peace with it. But I only did so after addressing some of the prevailing lies about it.
Lie #1: Productivity Is an UnChristian Pursuit
The shelves at your local bookstore are groaning under the weight of countless books on productivity. Every few months, we hear about the next big book, the next big trend, the next big plan. Someone is always eager to sell you something new and novel. Yet so many of these books look at productivity in a selfish way. They teach you to dream about the life you want, to define success your way, and to chart the goals that will get you there. They teach productivity as the means to the fulfilled life on your own terms.
As Christians we know better. We know that productivity can be a deceptive kind of idolatry. It can deceive us by promising the life we think we want, the life we are sure will bring fulfillment. As Christians, we need to reject much of this material, and rightly so. And yet we do not do ourselves any favors when we throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. We don’t need to reject productivity — we just need to reject those wrong-headed forms of it.
As Christians we are utterly reliant upon wisdom that comes from outside this world. We rely on the perfect, timeless word of God. And through the Bible, God defines productivity for us. He tells us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This is God’s way of defining what it means to be productive — bringing glory to him by doing good for others. Productivity will not bring inner peace. It will not bring fulfillment. Rather, it flows out of the peace and fulfillment we already have in Christ.
If it is true that the purpose of productivity is to glorify God by doing good to others, productivity is not an unChristian pursuit, but the most deeply Christian pursuit of them all. It is a pursuit that ought to give direction to our lives, to our days, to our time.
Lie #2: Productivity Is Only for Professionals
The vast majority of the books dealing with productivity are written for busy professionals. They are marketed to the successful CEO and the frantic real estate agent. It is easy to believe that productivity is a pursuit just for them, and that we do not need to bother ourselves with such things.
But once we have defined productivity as doing good to others for the glory of God, we see that it is a pursuit for every Christian. Productivity is for professionals and students, pastors and plumbers, work-from-home dads and stay-at-home moms. It is for those looking for a job, those between jobs, and those who have retired from their jobs.
It is the universal call to all of God’s people: Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Are you zealous for good works? If so, how do you structure your life to ensure you are doing the most good?
Lie #3: Productivity Is Just About Your Job
Those books on productivity tend to focus on the workplace. They push us to be productive in the area of life that is most visible and that consumes the greatest part of our time. But they rarely speak to life with our families or to who we are when we are alone. In their view, productivity is a nine-to-five pursuit.
But if productivity is doing good to others, it is only just getting started when we leave the office or the classroom. We can do good in all of life. In fact, we are called to do good in all of life. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). If we can even eat and drink for the glory of God, how much more can we glorify him in our friendships, in our parenting, in our mentoring and discipling. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
Productivity is effectively stewarding our gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. You can do this at your job, but you can also do this with your family, with your friends, with your neighbors. You can do this in full view of others and you can do this when you are all alone. Productivity is a lifelong pursuit that reaches into every area of who we are and what we do.
Lie #4: Productivity Is About Getting Lots of Stuff Done
Most of us tend to measure productivity by the volume of our activity, by the number of things we can cross off a list by the end of the day. But at its best, productivity isn’t first about getting stuff done, but about getting the right stuff done. And this then raises the obvious question: What is the right stuff? The right stuff is whatever fulfills God’s calling to do good for others and bring glory to him.
This then calls us to evaluate our lives honestly, carefully, and regularly, to ask if we are actually doing the right and best things. Are you allocating your time in appropriate ways? Are you using your God-given gifts and talents to spur on others to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)? Are you directing your energy, and even your enthusiasm, to those things God calls you to do? Are you living in such a way that you are being productive?
Do More Better
As Christians, we can think about productivity in the best and highest terms. We can be motivated to live for the good of others and the glory of God, and structure our lives to do this.
Life is too short to waste and too valuable to do anything other than stewarding our gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm to do good for others and bring glory to God.
Tim Challies’s book Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity teaches Christian productivity in more detail, including tools for getting things done and the power of daily and weekly routines.