I can't stop talking about it everywhere I go. Tim Challies' book, Do More Better, has revolutionized my life.
It's a slim little book, which is probably why it's the first book on productivity I've actually read cover to cover. Not only that, it's such a practical book that I've been able to implement most of what I've read along the way! And oh, how drastically I needed someone to come alongside me and help me figure out how to change . . .
For years, I left untold emails unanswered. I have also been guilty of failing to return voicemail messages and asking for grace when returning a purchase a few days after the thirty- or sixty- or ninety-day return policy had ended. Piles around the house have remain untouched; great ideas of doing good for others have remained just that . . . ideas.
I have worked frantically, moving from one incomplete project to the next, attempting to keep my world from crashing down around me. As a result, I have not loved people well, I have not enjoyed life, and I have been a slave to work without ever feeling like I was getting anywhere.
This book has and is changing all that, though. When I read the true measure of productivity, I was stunned at its simplicity. I wrote in the margin, Could it really be this simple, God?
What Productivity Really Is
Productivity is not about crossing every task off our to-do list. It is about organizing our lives so that "you can do the maximum good for others and thus bring the maximum glory to God." Matthew 5:16 summarizes this well:
"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
Tim Challies writes, "Your primary pursuit in productivity is not doing more things, but doing more good."
He then pointed out the "productivity thieves": laziness and busyness. If you're like me, you've come to normalize and even spiritualize busyness. But Challies puts an end to that with this enlightening paragraph:
Busyness cannot be confused with diligence. It cannot be confused with faithfulness or fruitfulness. Busyness does not mean you are a faithful or fruitful Christian. It only means you are busy, just like everyone else. Busyness . . . probably just means that you are directing too little attention in too many directions, that you are prioritizing all the wrong things, and that your productivity is suffering.
Ouch! But it got worse. He went on to diagnose my condition perfectly. I have been "Busylazy": I put tasks off until I absolutely can't avoid them any longer, and then I work like crazy to meet the deadline.
With that foundation, Tim led me through some super practical exercises:
In chapter 3, he showed me how to define my areas of responsibility and then fill in the roles, tasks, or projects that fall under each.
In chapter 4 he encouraged me to define my mission. In his words:
You haven't begun to live a focused and productive life until you have said no to great opportunities that just do not fit your mission.
In chapter 5 he taught me a basic organization tool: "A home for everything, and like goes with like," and he recommended a task management tool, a scheduling tool, and an information tool. Because . . .
Appointments always need to go where appointments go, information always needs to go where information goes, and tasks always need to go where tasks go.
In chapters 6–8 he honed in on each of these areas:
- collect your tasks
- plan your calendar
- gather your information.
In chapter 9 he encouraged me to "live the system." He writes:
Your day needs to have two phases: planning and execution. . . . While planning does not need to take much time, it is very important, and when done right, will dramatically increase what you are able to accomplish throughout the rest of the day.
And then in the final chapter he emphasized the importance of maintaining the system consistently. "Nothing in this world coasts toward order," he writes. "You need to free yourself from thinking that organizing your life is a one-shot deal."
Ever since, I've scheduled a "daily review" first thing each morning (Tim outlines how to do this in chapter 9), and I'm starting up weekly reviews each Friday as he recommends.
He closed the book with two bonus sections that were perfect for me. The first, "tame your email," taught me to start at the top of my inbox and take action on each email before moving on to the next:
- trash it
- archive it
- reply to it
- or move it to my reply folder.
And then his final bonus section included twenty tips to increase my productivity. A few I especially appreciated:
- Stop multitasking. Whenever possible choose a task, take it to completion, and then move on to the next one.
- Move around. Sometimes a change of scenery is as good as time off.
- Learn to delegate. What you do poorly someone else may be able to do with excellence.
- Don't send unnecessary email. Send sparingly, and you will receive sparingly.
It's For Us All
With all this talk of email, you may think this book is just for someone with an 8:30–5 desk job, but it's not. I believe this book will be revolutionary for the student, the housewife, the women's ministry leader . . . for you.
That's why I'm so grateful Tim has agreed to give away three copies. If you think you, too, could use some help thinking about productivity biblically and practically, log on to the giveaway widget below for a chance to win one of three copies of Do More Better.