Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, March, 2014. 352 pp. Hardcover, $19.99.
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Every now and then, a book comes long that is actually life changing. Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done is one of those books. Looking at the subtitle, this shouldn’t be surprising. If the gospel is what Christians claim it is, it certainly ought to transform how we get things done, and radically so. Perman’s book is aimed at both unpacking the connection and helping tease out how it affects your day to day work. 1
He does this in 7 parts. The first, “Making God Supreme in Our Productivity,” takes four chapters and debunks the first four productivity myths. Here, Perman is explaining how our understanding of who God is should connect to how we get things done. Having a God-centered understanding of our day to day activities puts them into a context that prizes effectiveness over efficiency. It also means that our work stems from a love of God and love of our neighbors. In the end, the most unproductive thing we could do is attempt to be super productivity while ignoring the role that God plays.
In the second part of the book, Perman moves from the God-centered, gospel foundation of productivity to its initial application in our day to day lives. If our understanding of productivity is truly God-centered, it affects the core motivations we have in getting things done. Ultimately, we should want to be productive for the good of others, not just to feel better about ourselves. Because we stand fully justified before God, we are not earning a status and thus are able to freely do good works out of love for our neighbors. What’s more, we do not have to feel the burden of needing to have everything under control. Our peace of mind comes from resting in the gospel, not getting everything done or having the perfect plan to do so. Further, redeemed productivity is animated by prayer and helps us to know what is most important, put that first, and then focus on doing what’s best next.
With this theology foundation in place, the next 4 parts of the book unpack Perman’s approach to getting things done. It can be summarized in the acronym DARE:
Part 3 covers how to “Define” your tasks. That is, know what’s most important and what needs to really get done. In order to really know this, you need to have a life mission statement as well as a thorough understanding of the various roles you fulfill in life. Ultimately, your mission is to go and make disciples, bringing glory to God in all that you do. Your vision on the other hand, relates to your calling, and is the specific way you are going to fulfill the mission. Because of this distinction, you can fulfill the mission but miss your personal vision. That’s not ideal, and what Perman writes in this section should help you clarify your understanding of mission as your particular calling and vision.
Having defined your calling and roles, it is much easier to actually plan what you need to be doing. Part 4 explains how to architect this out. The key is to actually plan on a week to week to basis and to focus more on setting up routines rather than endless to-do lists. I’ll probably have more to say on this in a later posts as I found this especially helpful. Readers who have used David Allen’s Getting Things Done will probably find Perman’s tweaks helpful. I am familiar but haven’t been utilizing it, but I can see how Perman has gotten around a typical problem people run into when managing individual tasks vs. larger projects (and where the line between the two is). It’s not a radical enough shift to through people off, and if you don’t use GTD, it’s not a huge issue.
Once you’ve defined and planned (“architected”), it is important to know when and how to reduce what you do. This is the focus of part 5. One key is to only schedule to 70-75% capacity rather than entirely filling up your plate. You need a flexible schedule to account for, well, life. If you’re always scheduled full to the brim, there are always going to be things that don’t get done and you’re probably going to carry out a very frustrated existence. By only planning for 70-75% you’ve reduced your day to day load and will actually be more productive in the long run. Helpful also in this section is the chapter on harnessing time killers and working with interruptions and procrastination.
Finally, you actually need to get things done. Execution is the focus of part 6, and Perman has many valuable insights. Particularly helpful is the chapter on processing e-mail, in which he suggests you can, and then explain how you can get to inbox zero everyday. I’ve been doing this for a while thanks to Mailbox app, but that’s probably another post as well. The insights on e-mail are part of Perman’s overall helpful tips for processing what comes your way. He relies heavily on Allen’s system in GTD, but he makes it his own and has clearly put a lot of thought into optimizing it further.
Before bringing the book to a close, Perman offers one last section on how to live out the system he is suggesting. He also connects it to larger concerns about the improvement of society and being responsible citizens of the kingdom of God in this world. After this, there is a toolkit section that includes a helpful 500 word summary, a list of recommend further reading, and a link to the online toolkit for further resources from Matt.
As I said in opening, this book is truly life changing. The reading of the first couple parts really opens your eyes to see productivity in a God-centered way. It helps to redeem management books and the like by setting them within a gospel-centered framework. The life-changing part of the core 4 parts I think comes more in the implementation rather than in the reading. In that light, this is a book that I’ve now read, but am certainly not done with. I’ll be back in it multiple times in the coming days and weeks and I seek to wisely implement the insights Perman has for productivity to the glory of God. If you are serious getting things done effectively and want to glorify God in your day to day activities, I highly recommend picking up this book. It will easily repay the investment of time and money you put into it. While I’m reviewing it now, this probably isn’t the last post that I’ll have on it. As I put much of what Perman says into action, I plan to post here and there about how I do it. In the meantime, pick up a copy for yourself and join me on reorienting productivity in a gospel centered, God-honoring direction so that we can do more for God and our neighbors.