Productivity: Tips & Tricks

Sometimes we forget that God calls us to be good stewards of more than just money, but every gift that He has given us. Tools, resources,  jobs, relationships, and life itself should all be leveraged for the greatest good and greatest glory of God. Productivity is the supposed indicator of good stewardship. However, the measurements one utilizes in order to determine productivity vary from person to person.
What if our understanding of the definition of a productive lifestyle is wrong? I have spent two previous posts discussing just that issue, first be demonstrating what it is not and following up with a discourse on what it is (you can read those previous articles here and here). We have been misinformed about the true definitions which has lead us to look for false evidences of productivity in both number of tasks completed and efficient use of time. However, these are man-centered and true productivity is not about us at all, but all about God. Therefore it is a matter of using what He gives us for Him. Thus we have a matter of effectiveness, not efficiency, because after all, dealing with people will never be efficient. With this shift in focus comes also a shift in our response. We must replace our orientation towards self with one that is oriented towards God in such a way that impacts how we use our gifts, talents, and resources, for Him.
Over the course of several years, I have found it necessary to eliminate certain aspects that were not as profitable and replace them with others. I urge you to look at your own life and consider doing the following:
  • Eliminate Diversions: Distractions are the downfall to productivity, especially in the digital age. The temptation to check Facebook every 20 minutes or look in on your e-mail is a continuous issue. Resist those temptations, and if necessary block them (there are plenty of tools for this). Set scheduled times to check them. This also means setting limits on games, television, and the like.
  • Eliminate Disarray: Organize and get rid of clutter. This does not mean that sometimes things cannot be messy or that all you own is perfectly placed. However, it does mean that being able to find what you want when you need it, thus eliminating wasted time spent searching for what you need or trying to clean your area in order to work. Getting rid of clutter also gets rid of potential distractions.
  • Eliminate Duplication: What’s that mean? Automate what you can. Link your social media accounts so that when you post in one it automatically posts to all the others. I have a lot of to-do’s on my task list that recur weekly or monthly. Rather then enter them every week, I set them up to repeat, so when I complete it for this week I check it off and it disappears. Then when the time rolls around again next week, it automatically appears again on my list.
  • Eliminate Decision-Making: I don’t mean stop making decisions. Instead, minimize the decisions you have to make. Have a hard time getting going in the morning? Choose your clothes the night before and layout a task list, that way when you get up you’re first moments are planned. Not only does this save time in the morning, but it prevents you from using 20 minutes for something that takes you 10 minutes when you are at your most productive point of the day.
  • Eliminate  Deliberation: Don’t over-complicate the simplistic tasks. Often we tend to make things more difficult than they need to be. Sometimes you simply need to consider the priority level and the amount of time that you are willing to invest into something. If it is a task worthy of 15 minutes, don’t give it 10 minutes. However, if it is worthy of 10 minutes, don’t give it 15.
Not only does our level of productivity benefit from eliminating certain concepts, but also from establishing certain aspects, such as the following:
  • Establish Reading (Bible): Establish a time to read and study Scripture. All that you do and all that you invest your time in is dependent upon your relationship with the Word of God (Christ) through the Word of God (Scripture).
  • Establish Reading (General): Scripture should always have our primary attention in reading and learning. However, we should supplement that with additional learning and reading. Whether it be good, solid Christian books that provoke us towards a deeper relationship with God, or some historical reading to learn how the past has shaped our current situation.
  • Establish a Response: Learning should incite a response in you. After reading Scripture, our thoughts are fixated upon His character, our character, and how to bring our character into conformity with Him. Thus, upon learning about Him, we should be responding to Him. This includes nothing less than a time of prayer, but may include a time to journal or draw your thoughts as well.
  • Establish Routines: Establish some routines and regularity. This way when you are unmotivated, you already know what to do next. It may mean you schedule your time from 6:00am – 7:00am for your reading and response. When you wake up, it becomes automatic. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, follow your own variation of the Pomodoro Technique which establishes set intervals to get up and move around after working steadily. One key point in this: be flexible. While consistency and routines are good, also know that sometimes things are out of your control or people show up, so you must be willing to be flexible.
  • Establish Relationships: Finally, after establishing your relationship with God establish relationships with others. The time you save by being productive, or the time you invest into other projects are meaningless if they are not used for the benefit of other people and for the ultimate purpose of drawing people to God. This means establishing relationships with your spouse, your children, family, and friends. It is all encompassing.
The key to productivity is making it work for you. All of us have been equipped with different gifts and talents. God has placed each of us into unique situations. Therefore, what God calls each of us to do is different and therefore a ‘system’ that works for one person will not always work for the next. I know that we are all looking for that quick fix, that system that sets everything into motion. However, sometimes it takes time to experiment and establish.
Productivity is inclusive of so much more than merely accomplishing a list of tasks, it impacts lives when we do it for our Lord. Thus the outcomes consist of accomplishing meaningful tasks and meaningful relationships (and by this, I don’t necessarily mean a relationship that turns into an eternal friend, although that is the hope, but a relationship in which we made a difference and caused people to consider the things of God, even if they turn their back on him or us after meeting us once or twice).
Below is a list of various tools and resources that I use or have found useful and perhaps would be beneficial to you:
Books:
While there are many books on productivity, I have three that I generally turn to as recommendations:
  • Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung: A short book that helps to shape the concept of productivity from a biblical worldview.
  • Do More Better by Tim Challie: Another short book that combines the biblical worldview teaching with some practical steps for integration into one’s life.
  • What’s Best Next by Matt Perman: A bit longer of a book, the author uses the Gospel to shape our priorities in life.
Resources:
  • Head, Heard, and Hand: The blog of David Murray, he is devoting 2017 to spending more time discussing our progression into the digital age, including the good and bad, with tips on how to utilize it without overusing it.
  • Do More Better, The Online Course: Ligonier Ministries and Tim Challies have joined together to produce a course based on Tim’s book. Cost includes the full text of the book.
Tools:
  • VueMinder (Windows Only): This is my calendar app, which does have at least a one-time cost, but I wanted something that I could personalize (such as color-coded appointments) that would also sync with the calendar apps across multiple platforms. The capabilities of this program are quite good. I would also recommend Google Calendar as a free option.
  • Trello (Windows & iOS): Trello is a program that utilizes labels, pictures, and due dates to track the progress of tasks and projects. It is meant to be a great platform for collaboration with multiple people (although I’ve never used it this way so I can’t comment on that aspect). I use it as a visual cue to organize my task list, track my writings for various projects (including this blog). Not everybody likes this style and it takes some getting used to. For those who prefer more of a list with labeling functionality, I would recommend Todoist.
  • Evernote (Windows & iOS): I cannot imagine a person that has not heard of Evernote and while many decried their price increase this year, I have come to rely on Evernote for virtually everything. It should be noted that at a basic level, they do offer a free version with some limits, which may be sufficient for many people. I use it to maintain our family’s expense reports, copies of all my writings, and even catalog all my research and resources on varying subjects (from theology to reading tips).
  • Thunderbird (Windows & iOS): Thunderbird is a great client for managing all of your e-mail in one place. Everyone has their preferences, and I stay stick with what you know, but if you want to look at something new, check out Thunderbird first. Put together by Mozilla, it is a free program that you can connect with all of your e-mail accounts. It also provides functions for a calendar and to do list, but they are not as powerful as the other options I suggested. I like it because the add-ons available for it allows me to personalize it in such a way that it is functional for a high level of productivity according to my needs.