Maybe you’re like me, and you’re one of those people who seems to do a lot. Like a lot a lot. Like, you don’t know you’re doing too much until you suddenly realize you’re doing too much a lot. You’ve got a system to keep yourself organized (kinda sorta maybe). You get what you need to done, but if you’re being honest, you know you’re not as efficient as you could be. You could be doing better—a lot better.
So you’ve read the books on productivity. You know about the goal of inbox zero, if only because you know people obsessed with it. You know there are task management tools. You may even have accounts with some of them that you’ve not accessed in several months (ahem). But if you’re honest, most of the advice you’ve been given or read seems to make something that should be relatively simple extremely complicated.
And simplicity is what Tim Challies brings to the discussion in his first book in far too long, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. This short book offers a look beyond the standard “do more” conversation, looking at the real reason why we should care about our productivity, as well as showing readers what the author’s own system looks like in practice.
Productivity and doing what matters most
Do More Better, at its heart, is about reminding us that productivity begins with recognizing our purpose: “to glorify God by doing good to others” (17). In light of this, we must define our responsibilities, state our mission, and fight our productivity thieves that threaten to get in the way.
What I love about Challies’ description of our purpose is that it connects productivity to every aspect of our lives. It’s something in which we should seek to grow because we seek to honor Christ with our lives. In other words, as productivity is about “effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God” (16), it becomes a means of directing our lives toward this goal.
That, for me, is very helpful because most of the work I’ve read on productivity hasn’t really given a sufficient reason to pursue it. The goal I usually find is being at “inbox zero.” And if you’re not there, well, then something’s dreadfully wrong with you. But the larger picture presented in Do More Better puts everything in its proper place, reminding us that being productive is a means to an end, not the end in itself.
Seeing it in action
Similarly, as the book transitions into its second half, readers get to see how Challies actually puts this belief into practice. By showing us how he organizes his life, readers get a better perspective and can safely start to think about what their own plan may look like. This is one of the things Challies has consistently done in all of his books. He is a firm believer in living what you write, and given his prodigious output as a blogger alone, you can see that his system works. It takes more than desire and dedication to be able to write daily for more than 10 years. It takes careful planning and prioritizing.
This is an area where I can immediately see application for me. I’m an extremely hard worker, and a high capacity one at that. But I’ve never really had a plan for what I’m doing in life—things just seem to happen. I didn’t plan on being a writer. Now I am one. I didn’t plan on blogging regularly for nearly seven years, yet here I am. I never had any intentions of writing a book—now I’ve written two, and have plans for at least three more someday.
Where I see myself growing through putting what Challies’ has written into practice is actually gaining a greater sense of control over my schedule. The danger of living with a “things just kinda happen” mindset is things just kinda happen. It’s hard to feel like you’re doing your best when you’re not quite sure what’s coming next, y’know? So for me, this looks like taking a look at ToDoList.com, as well as reconsidering how I use Asana in order to find the right tool that meets my needs. It also means asking some serious questions of myself, like “Why do I write?” With a clearly defined mission, as well as clearly defined responsibilities, I have a feeling I’ll be doing a lot more better.
What I would have loved to see expanded
Having said all this, I would have loved to have seen a couple of points fleshed out in greater detail:
The dangers of idolatry. Challies briefly touches on being careful to identify what you are prone to make an idol of, “knowing that we will be prone to take on not the tasks that glorify God, but the tasks that validate us” (97). Getting stuff done is important. Having an organized inbox is important, too. But I know people for whom the concern over reaching “inbox zero” borders on idolatrous. They spend way too much time obsessing over it, and it’s kind of creepy. While I realize it goes beyond the purpose and scope of the book, I would have loved to have seen some additional thoughts on this matter—beyond being watchful, what can we do? What happens when we find that a good aspect of productivity has become an idol?
Planning to rest–and fighting to protect it. Challies shows us how he plans for things like rest and vacations in his schedule, which is great. But it’s not something that’s called out explicitly as essential, beyond the reference in the bonus chapter, “20 Tips to Increase Your Productivity” (Tip 14, page 128). I would have loved to have seen a greater emphasis on this because, although I know resting well actually does make us more productive, I’m really, really bad at it. Saying no isn’t terribly easy for me, and I’ve spent years working in organizations where you’re either looked at as a hero for not taking vacations or environments where the reward for doing a great job was more work. So, quite honestly, I need help unlearning what that teaches you.
Figuring out where to start
Lest there be any misunderstanding: I really, really like this book. Do More Better is an excellent book, perhaps one of the most ridiculously practical books I’ve ever read—and one of the only ones I’ve actually looked forward to putting into practice (sorry Getting Things Done fans). “I believe this book can improve your life,” Challies writes in his introduction. I’m looking forward to seeing if he’s right.
Title: Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity
Author: Tim Challies
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2015)