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June 17, 2014Interviews

How Do You Get the Right Things Done?: An Interview with Matt Perman

Matt Perman shares words of wisdom on productivity from his new book.
How Do You Get the Right Things Done?: An Interview with Matt Perman

Right away in the Preface of What's Best Next you outline 12 myths of productivity. Can you pinpoint one or two of these myths that are most common and/or most harmful when it comes to productivity? What makes these myths so deceptive?

The biggest myth is that we can think about productivity without considering God. This is what almost every productivity book out there does. And, in one sense, I can't fault them for that. They are secular books written for a general audience.

But we do need to take it further as individuals. Here's why. Consider that most productivity books define productivity as accomplishing "what matters most." That's a very solid point. But if God exists, then God is what matters most. So how can we conceive of true productivity—valuing and accomplishing what matters most—apart from God?

We can't. Otherwise we just may end up gaining the whole world, but losing ourselves (Luke 9:25). That's the ultimate in unproductivity! My aim is to help people be productive in a way that lasts—forever (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58).

Your book is quite different than most productivity books because it focuses the reader on a gospel-oriented, God-glorifying perspective. Does this perspective drastically affect the productivity of the Christian? How?

It absolutely does. But the first thing we need to know is what being God-centered does not mean.

It doesn't mean that we need to squeeze Jesus into every task, or feel that our work is only justified if we get a chance to evangelize. That perspective is demotivating, spiritually weird, and unbiblical. Work is a mandate from God and is legitimate in its own right (Genesis 1:28).

But this doesn't mean the gospel has nothing to say about how we go about our work and productivity. At root, being God-centered in your productivity has to do with your motives and values.

Many productivity books talk about the importance of values. You cannot be productive if your goals and tasks don't align with your values! For then your goals won't take you where you actually want to go. What many books tend to miss, though, is this: you can have the wrong values. So the key to productivity is not just to act in accord with your values. The key to productivity is to value what God values, and then act on the basis of that (and do so in his power).

In Chapter 6, called Put Others First: Love as the Guiding Principle for All of Life, you make the case that we ought to be most concerned with loving others. Seriously? I've got so much to do. How does this make me productive?

Loving others absolutely does make you more productive! It is productive because it is both the right thing to do and, as the best business thinkers are showing, actually brings you the most benefit in the long run. For example, a business that treats its customers well (which is love!) will have more repeat customers.

The biggest myth is that we can think about productivity without considering God.

The best way to understand this, though, is to go back to the issue of values. Since the key to productivity is to value what God values and act on the basis of that, we need to ask: what does God value?

We all know the answer here. What God values above all is love. First love for him, and second love for others. These are the first and second greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). They are continually emphasized throughout the New Testament (Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8; etc.) and are demonstrated supremely in the gospel (John 15:12-13; Philippians 2:3-11).

But what does this mean for us concretely? It means that as Christians, the welfare of the other person is to be the motive in all that we do—not just at home, but also at work (where this is often overlooked!).

Even beyond that, the welfare of the other person is to be the means by which we determine what to do (that is, what's best next). Having love as your chief value and guiding principle means this: in everything you do, find out what the other person needs, and do that. Instead of meeting your own needs first, meet their needs.

Here's an example. If you are building a new website, don't just seek to build the site that is cheapest for your company or that you think looks cool. Instead, seek to build a website that is easy to use (while also looking cool!) because hard to use websites frustrate people and don't serve them. And as part of this, realize that in order to build an easy to use website, you need to put yourself in the user's shoes and think through things from their perspective. Identify the snags and road blocks they might encounter, and design your site in such a way that it gets rid of them.

What is the first step to productivity you would give someone who is passing through and reading this blog, but may not even have the time to read What's Best Next?

This is almost going to sound like over spiritualizing, but the first step is actually to pray! Since God governs all things, we can't ultimately accomplish anything without him (James 4:13-16). So ask him to guide you guide you and make all that you do fruitful. This is first and foremost.

Beyond that, of course there are many helpful tips and tactics. One of the most important is this: the most effective people do first things first and one thing at a time. That is, they identify the most important task and then work on it all the way to completion, instead of being distracted by a thousand other things. Then when they are done, they might check email and other such stuff, but then they quickly move on to the next most important task and work on that all the way through until it is done as well. This is the building block for effectiveness.

So do first things first, and one thing at a time. And realize that, at root, the "first things" we need to do are defined by the gospel, which means loving others as Christ loved us (John 13:34).

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