News and Articles
10 May 2018
What stops you from getting done all the work that God has for you?
That’s the question at the heart of Matt Perman’s new book, How to get unstuck. In this guide to overcoming barriers to personal productivity, Perman offers a mix of practical wisdom and spiritual direction. This includes advice about the importance of setting up your desk correctly and having the right pens close at hand – along with having a personal vision for your life which is guided by God’s mission.
The Biblical vision of work
This starts with the Biblical vision of 1 Corinthians 15:58, where Paul writes, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”
Here we see God’s call to be fully given to the work that we have, knowing that it will not be pointless or useless when it is done for the Lord. But Paul does refer to such work as “labour”, and since he has to point out that it is “not in vain” suggests that sometimes it will feel like it! So the fact that the work may itself be hard, and may sometimes feel pointless, does not mean it is not worth doing. God calls us to work.
Being personally effective
One of the most helpful sections of the book is chapter 4, “Recovering personal effectiveness as a force for good”. Here, Perman makes the case for robust productivity practices that help us be effective in what we are doing. He says, “personal effectiveness is the skill of leading yourself every day to get the right things done in the right way, for the right reason, and in the shortest possible amount of time.” (Matt Perman, How to get unstuck (Zondervan, 2018), p. 59)
Is this achievable? Every day I feel the opposite (and equally damaging) pulls to either do as much work as possible in every moment – which is exhausting – or to do only low-energy activities – which feels unsatisfying. In this book, Perman helps us to see that, when properly applied, productivity practices can be tools for “advancing God’s purposes in the world” (p. 66) and are therefore central to what it means for us to flourish as human beings in God’s world.
What’s urgent, what’s important
Understanding the difference between urgency and importance is key to this. When my phone shows a notification of a new email, WhatsApp message or Slack post, my attention is immediately diverted, and I start to give my attention to that message as the next urgent thing in my life. But is it really important? Is its content really deserving of my urgent attention?
Crucially, being more productive is not about doing everything quicker. Perman says, "Being more efficient at shuffling around the urgent will not help. We need to be more efficient at getting the right things done, not just the latest and loudest." (p. 76, emphasis mine.)
We can get better at directing our attention to what we decide is important. We start with setting out a personal vision for our life, based on God’s mission, and asking God to grow our character to be more like Jesus’s.
Reflecting on our time
Perman’s book has helped me personally think more deliberately about how I spend my time. What is more important to me? My family, or a BBC news article about the roots of the 2008 financial crash? At work, how can I spend my time for the good of my colleagues and those we interact with?
The book doesn’t directly answer these questions, of course. These are matters between you and God. Take the chance to reflect on your personal vision, write it down, assess how you spend your time, and identify where you can change. Then you will grow in personal effectiveness, and use your time more and more to serve God and those around you.