Productivity: It’s Not What You Think It Is (Part 2)

If time is one of the most precious commodities of people, why is it so poorly consumed? Few will proclaim an excess of time. Instead, most will consume more time mourning the loss of time than counting the blessings of it. After all, time is a gift from our Lord and so our concern for the stewardship of time not only finds motivation in our own desire but in a desire to glorify the Lord with excellence through that which we have been gifted. When we recognize then that productivity is not merely about us, but about God and God’s people our understanding of it begins to change and our usage of time is transformed into something greater.
Previously I wrote about what productivity is not (you can read the full development of those thoughts by clicking here). The issues that we have with productivity are not merely the result of not having the right tools or the right motivation but are the result of a faulty foundation built on false explanations, false expectations, and false evidences. For many, productivity is simply explained as getting things done and being able to check those things off a list. Such a definition compels both unlikely expectations and evidences in which people mere search for ‘busy work’ that has not value or accomplishment in order to meet the ‘expectations’ set under the misinterpreted idea of productivity. In light of the fact that productivity is about our work for God, we must look at it in terms of doing the greatest good for the glory of God and the good of God’s people.
Therefore, in contrast to the false explanations, false expectations, and false evidences we must put into place the following:
  • Right Explanations: The first task is to define what productivity in a way that conveys an orientation towards God and his graces. While there are a number of definitions available to us and I’m sure like me, many of you have come up with your own, I have found myself especially drawn to the definition of Tim Challies which states: Effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God (1). There is a reason I like this definition, even over my own. First, it is centered upon the glory of God by serving both Him and His people. Second, I like the word effective. We tend to use efficient which is not quite accurate (see Right Expectations) and the concept of being effective also conveys excellence. Third, and this is why I like this definition over my own, it’s not merely about managing your time, but other areas as well, such as gifts, talents, energy, and enthusiasm. Each of these plays a part into the productive life and to leave one out would impact the overall quality of what we are doing.
  • Right Expectations: With a new definition that expands beyond merely getting things done and checking them off our to-do list, productivity takes on a different reality. Productivity should be driven by effectiveness not efficiency (a point I learned from Kevin DeYoung in his book Crazy Busy). At times the two are not mutually exclusive, but can both be accomplished, but we also have to remember that the greatest impact for God’s glory is by working towards the good of God’s people. Working with people will never be efficient. We are all tainted by sin and thus very messy. The result is that people-oriented productivity cannot be measured with expectations of efficiency. Even more, results of such an investment of time may not be available in the immediate situation or even in a lifetime.
  • Right Evidence: If efficiency is not the right expectation, but effectiveness is, what do we look for as evidence? In many ways this is an unanswerable question that is dependent upon one’s individual circumstances, gifts, and talents. Only upon God’s judgment can the answer be fully known. However, There are several guiding principles that can guide us in choosing the right tasks to focus our energy upon. First is to be considerate of God’s will (Mark 3:35). This concept encompasses the whole of following Scripture which can be a daunting, but consider the following aspects that are part of doing God’s will: (1) Love others and love God (1 John 4:7-12); (2) Offer your life as a sacrifice for Him in which you are transformed (Romans 12:2); (3) Do all things for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).
With these concepts from the Bible applied directly to our lives, taking into account the gifts God has equipped us with, we can direct our energy toward tasks that are the most effective use of the resources that he has given us.
Our misunderstandings about productivity come down to one fundamental concept that we often fail to consider. Productivity is not about us, it’s about God. As God is the source of life, he is the source of our time, energy, motivation, talents, and all things that impact what we do and how we do it. Therefore, when it is not God-focused, there is little eternal value. Productivity must be measured not in terms of what effect we had on our own task list, but what effect we had on God’s task list.
(1) You can find this definition in his book Do More Better.
Photo Credit: Photo ‘Productivity’ is courtesy of user Joel Dueck and Flickr.