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Maybe Jesus Wants Us to Get Things Done


May 2 2014
Discovering women’s place in the time management conversation.

My pastor recently approached my husband to lead a "Gospel and Productivity" class for our church. He's an executive at a Fortune 500 company, a logical choice for talking about time management. But, as he would admit, he doesn't read the volume of productivity books I do.

A writer and church staffer, chief laundress and cook, chauffeur and lunchbox-packer extraordinaire, I have felt it more necessary to learn the skills of time management. I recently read Matt Perman's book, What's Best Next, written especially for an age of being constantly busy and chronically overwhelmed.

In a provocative blend of Jonathan Edwards and David Allen, Perman defends productivity as a discipleship matter and argues for the Christian's call to get things done. (In his chapter entitled, "Managing Email and Workflow," Perman reminds us that, "Keeping on top of your email is a way of serving people." Preach it, brother.)

To love God and love neighbor requires skilled stewardship of our time, and Perman defends that obedience to these two greatest commands makes productivity not just a marketplace virtue, but a Christian discipline.

"Sometimes when things get overwhelming, it is suggested that we need to 'take a retreat with Jesus,'" Perman writes. "But maybe we've had enough retreats with Jesus. Maybe Jesus wants us to learn how to get things done… It's a failure of love [to downplay the practical] because part of the biblical conception of love is giving practical help to those who need it, and in our modern society this more and more needs to involve concrete insight on how to get things done and stay above water."

With these and other terrific insights in the first half of his book, Perman achieves a broad and beautiful vision for doing good—through all kinds of work and by every kind of worker. But as the second half of the book turns toward more practical matters—weekly planning, work systems and strategic routine—the compelling theology of productivity passes through an unfortunate funnel, producing something less representative of all work and all workers but men's work and male workers.

Maybe I got stuck at Perman's visual time map, showing his typical week. Glaring from the pages are eight large blocks of free time. Four days a week, 5:00-6:00 pm are dedicated to "exercise," and after 6:00 pm, time is relegated to family: Play with kids/homework.

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