Productive for What?

A Review of What’s Best Next by Matt Perman
By Andrew Hoffman

Deciding what to do next has become increasingly complicated in a world that offers more choices every day. Technology provides us with unparalleled access to people and ideas. Increased wealth opens our eyes to a vast world of purchasing options. Improvements in travel make it possible to be anywhere, anytime.

While this all sounds exciting, the dark side of more choice is that some of us are drowning in it. In What’s Best Next, Matt Perman provides both spiritual motivation and practical wisdom for cutting through the fog of possibilities and focusing one’s limited time and energy where it most counts. Quoting Tim Kizziar, he reframes our modern predicament: “Our greatest fear… should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”

Perman is a project manager, web developer and productivity blogger with an MDiv and years of experience being productive in the church context. His book begins with an impressive exploration of the nature of productivity in a fallen world, the purpose of human beings and the clarity that the gospel brings to the question of productivity.

“The essence of gospel-driven productivity is this: We are to use all that we have, in all areas of life, for the good of others, to the glory of God – and that this is the most exciting life” (p. 28). Having laid a solid foundation, Perman then takes the reader through a process of personal vision discovery. Personal vision is what guides us as we break free from reactionary decision-making, from enslaving ourselves to the urgent (which may or may not be important).

Systems, workflows, managing email, executing projects and all the other elements we typically associate with productivity are rooted in this deeper understanding of the gospel and of one’s personal vision. The book ends with a compelling articulation of why the world needs people living productively out of the gospel.

This is a great book. The subtitle captures its strength: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. To have such thorough, practical wisdom wedded to such deep theological reflection is a rare treat. Perman interacts with all the best productivity systems but he does not fall prey to overselling their benefits, diminishing the complexity of life or disconnecting them from God’s larger purposes for us. Rather than an overly systematized, dreary, life-sucking regimen devoid of all joy, Perman envisions an adventurous seizing of life’s limited resource and harnessing them for God’s glory and for the benefit of others.

If there is a weakness in the book, perhaps there could be more explanation of how different personalities come to the question of productivity. While the more artistic types I know have greatly appreciated the book, Perman does not directly explore how, for example, the artist might approach productivity in contrast to the engineer. Similarly, he opens questions about the role of spontaneity in life and the guidance of the Holy Spirit that, while beyond the scope of the book, certainly factor in here. Perhaps there will be more to come.

Western readers live in a culture marked by excess capacity. We thrive amidst abundance: abundant food, abundant commodities, abundant time (despite what we feel!), abundant wealth and abundant choice. As the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes, blessed is the land when people of capacity use their resources to do good, rather than selfishly (Ecclesiastes 10:16-17). In this light, Perman’s prescriptions are profoundly welcome. ©

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