Matt Perman. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 352 pp. $19.99.
“It is odd that there is so little Christian teaching on productivity because, as Christians, we believe the gospel changes everything – how we go about our home life, work life, church life, community life, everything. Yet there has been little Christian reflection on how the gospel changes the way we get things done – something that affects all of us every day. In fact, good productivity practices are often downplayed in the church at the altar of overspiritualization” (Perman 18, emphasis original).
Matt Perman calls his approach to productivity “Gospel-Driven Productivity” (GDP). GDP is “centered on what the Bible has to say about getting things done while at the same time learning from the best secular thinking out there – and seeking to do this with excellence and original thought, rather than simply taking over secular ideas and adding out-of-context Bible verses” (28).
In Part 1 of What’s Best Next, Perman begins laying the (theological) foundation for the productivity system that will be covered in detail later in the book. He notes that productivity isn’t just about getting more done faster, but about knowing what the right things to do are. Whereas in typical productivity books (which are from a secular perspective) the aim tends to be to clear up time so that you have more for yourself, Perman highlights that the purpose of productivity is to make more of a difference in the lives of other people, which is a component of sanctification. In this section Perman also addresses why we need to be God-centered in our productivity and why God cares about productivity and getting things done. “[A]s Christians, our faith changes our motives and foundations but not necessarily the methods we use” (67). So this book draws from some of the best common grace thinking that’s been done concerning productivity, but with the gospel as motive and foundation. “The fundamental truth behind this book is that the gospel changes everything” (71, emphasis original).
Part 2 unpacks the key purposes behind GDP and demonstrates what happens when we look at productivity in light of God and the gospel. In essence, the guiding principle of GDP is the guiding principle of the Christian life: put the other person first, and be on the lookout for ways to do this. Furthermore, “[i]f our works are to be truly productive – that is, affirmed by God at the final judgment and last forever – they need to be done with a love for God at the center. Anything else is ultimately idolatry” (93). Chapter 7 – How the Gospel Makes Us Productive – is perhaps the heart of parts 1 and 2. Here Perman provides William Wilberforce as an example of how massive practical action for good and societal transformation can result not from moral exhortation, but from understanding and embracing doctrine – centrally, the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Perman goes on to expound upon the doctrine of justification and demonstrate why it leads to radical action for good.
Perman goes on to address the implications of the gospel on how we use productivity approaches (chapter 8) so that we don’t fall into the trap of a law-based approach. Whereas secular approaches might leave our peace-of-mind at the mercy of our productivity and our system, with GDP we can have peace-of-mind no matter our productivity and how much there is yet to do. Chapter 9 illustrates that Scripture and prayer are at the foundation of GDP; this is because character is foundational to productivity, and part of how God builds our character is through His Word. Prayer, of course, is foundational because we need to cry out to God for help and strenth. Chapter 10 reiterates that the core principle of productivity is to know what’s most important and put it first.
Having laid the foundation in parts 1 and 2, parts 3-6 get into the nitty-gritty practical details of GDP. After almost 150 pages on principles, we arrive at what most people probably expect and are looking for when they pick up this book – a system for productivity and getting things done. Parts 3-6 address in succession the four steps in Perman’s system: define, architect, reduce, and execute. These methods are drawn from the best of the world’s productivity research, literature, and methodology.
Whether you’re a GTD/lifehack/ productivity junkie, or you don’t have a productivity system in place but would like to grow in the area of personal management, or you don’t think about optimizing productivity at all, you need to read Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. If you’re in the third category you might think this book is irrelevant for you; however, “[t]he issue is not whether we have an approach to personal productivity; the issue is whether our approach is a good one or a bad one” (21). If you’re in the first category, reading this book is still beneficial because no other productivity book talks about the issue from a biblical/theological, gospel-centered perspective. This book would especially be great for those in transition, whether it’s someone heading of to college, graduate school, or a first full-time job.
My only criticism of this book is that at times Parts 1 and 2 felt a bit redundant and this book seems a bit longer than it needed to be. With almost 150 pages of foundation and then almost 200 pages of practicals, some readers (especially those feeling overwhelmed with life) might have a hard time getting through the book.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.