What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done

What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310494225
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 03/04/2014
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Matt Perman is director of Marketing at Made to Flourish and the author of What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014). He has an M.Div. in biblical and theological studies from Southern Seminary and a Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute. Prior to Made to Flourish, Matt served as director of strategy at Desiring God. Matt is a frequent speaker on the topics of leadership and productivity from a God-centered perspective and also consults with businesses and non-profits, focusing on startups devoted to solving large global problems. He blogs at www.whatsbestnext.com.

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What's Best Next

how the gospel transforms the way you get things done

By Matthew Perman


Copyright © 2014 Matthew Perman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-49422-5


Why Is It So Hard to Get Things Done?

How the world of work has changed; and introducing the villains

The knowledge worker cannot be supervised closely or in detail. He can only be helped. But he must direct himself, and he must direct himself toward performance and contribution, that is, effectiveness.

—Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive


A reader of my blog and a highly successful woman in the business world recently said to me: "I am so overwhelmed right now with my work. The worst part is that I still haven't found a system for managing everything that works well for me and that I'm happy with."

Another friend of mine, this time someone who works at a ministry, recently posted on Facebook: "Is this for real? I'm leaving the office at a normal time!? Too bad it doesn't count when you bring work home."

Most of us can relate. We have too much to do and not enough time to do it. We feel overstressed, overworked, and overloaded. And thanks to new technology and media, we have more coming at us than we ever did before. But the problem is deeper than this. The root of the challenge lies in a major shift our society has undergone in the nature of work itself.


What Is Knowledge Work?

Until a few decades ago, we were predominantly an industrial economy. In that era, work was clearly defined for most people. If you were a farmer, for example, you had fields to plow, cows to milk, and equipment to fix. The work was hard and might involve long days, but (most) tasks were generally straightforward and self-evident. (Not to mention that you probably had someone show you the ropes before you took over full responsibility.)

With the shift to a knowledge economy, the nature of work has changed. Unlike in the industrial era, in which tasks were generally self-evident, the essence of knowledge work is that you not only have to do the work but also have to define what the work is.

For example, if you are painting your house (a form of manual labor), you can see right away where to brush next. But when you get a hundred emails a day (a form of knowledge work), most of which do a pretty poor job of getting to the point, the next actions don't usually come to you predefined. You have to figure out what to do with each email, then figure out how to fit that in with all the rest of your work that you have had (or have yet) to define.

Most of us haven't paid sufficient attention to the skill of defining our work clearly. This is why it so often feels like our workdays never stop. When you don't have your work clearly defined, there can never be any finish point.

What Is Unique about Knowledge Work?

Knowledge work is about creating and utilizing knowledge, but it is more than that. For when your work consists in creating and using knowledge, there is an important consequence: by definition, it must be primarily self-directed.

Peter Drucker points this out well: "The knowledge worker cannot be supervised closely or in detail. He can only be helped. But he must direct himself, and he must direct himself toward performance and contribution, that is, effectiveness."

The freedom this gives us is a fantastic thing. But there is also a challenge.

What Is Challenging about Knowledge Work?

Some people think that knowing how to get things done is obvious—that it just comes naturally to people and that therefore we don't need to spend much time on it.

But that's not the case. In more than fifty years of consulting, Peter Drucker pointed out that he never found a "natural," someone who is instinctively effective. Every effective person he encountered—and as perhaps the greatest consultant and business thinker of the twentieth century, that's a lot—had to work at becoming effective.

Brilliant insight, hard work, and good intentions are not enough. Effectiveness is a distinct skill that must be learned. Some people are more inclined to it than others, and everyone is naturally built to be capable of effectiveness, but effectiveness is something we learn—like reading. Drucker says it well: "To be reasonably effective it is not enough for the individual to be intelligent, to work hard or to be knowledgeable. Effectiveness is something separate, something different."

Scott Belsky, founder of Behance (whose mission is "to organize the creative world") and author of Making Ideas Happen, makes the same point. Belsky's focus has been the creative world (also a form of knowledge work), where there is often a notion that if you have a great idea, it will naturally turn into reality. In contrast, Belsky writes, "Ideas don't happen because they are great—or by accident. The misconception that great ideas inevitably lead to success has prevailed for too long.... Creative people are known for winging it: improvising and acting on intuition is, in some way, the haloed essence of what we do and who we are. However, when we closely analyze how the most successful and productive creatives, entrepreneurs, and business people truly make ideas happen, it turns out that 'having the idea' is just a small part of the process, perhaps only 1 percent of the journey."

Belsky adds later, "The ideas that move industries forward are not the result of tremendous creative insight but rather of masterful stewardship."

So it takes more than just enthusiasm, great ideas, native talent, and hard work to get things done. It takes a method.


Ambiguity in Defining Our Work

Knowledge work therefore brings us face to face with the first villain in this story: ambiguity. Ambiguity is not necessarily a villain in itself. It is a good thing that knowledge work has at its essence creating clarity out of ambiguity and making good decisions (i.e., determining what's best next). But when we don't know how to do knowledge work, ambiguity becomes a villain because it ends up frustrating us, making life harder, and sometimes defeating us. It's like jumping in the pool without knowing how to swim. Jobs today are not as clear as they were in the industrial era, yet we haven't been taught the skills of navigating this context, learning how to define our work, and managing ourselves for effectiveness.

Further, the most effective knowledge era strategies don't drop from heaven fully defined. We have to figure them out—and that happens by trial and error. As a society, we are still figuring out the best practices for navigating knowledge work—which means we encounter a lot that don't work and many problems along the way.

There are other factors as well:

• We change jobs more frequently.

• We have more nonroutine tasks than ever before.

• Many in highly specialized vocations, such as doctors, engineers, web developers, business analysts, pastors, and so forth, are taught in great detail how to do the activities of their job itself (thankfully!), but they aren't taught much about the process for managing their work, managing others, and leading others.

So with the shift from the industrial era to the knowledge era, we now need to decide more than ever what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

Ambiguity in Defining the Direction of Our Lives

The issue of ambiguity doesn't simply affect us at the level of defining our work; it also affects us at the level of defining the direction of our lives. Our current era is unlike any in history. We have more choices and opportunities before us regarding what to do with our lives than we can even comprehend. Many of us (myself included) have found it hard to know what to do with our lives. And when we've sought out guidance on how to navigate that territory, there hasn't been much to find.

Many are still on that journey, trying to figure it out as they go. That can work, but it's a tough road. Others are blowing it altogether. Too many Christians in their twenties are living in their parents' basements playing video games. That aside, too many people at all stages of life are unclear on what they should be doing. We need to know how to make good choices at this level without expecting to have a map that tells us every detail. This is also part of what it means to manage ourselves, and part of what we will cover later in the book.


The rise of knowledge work has happened over the last sixty or so years. We have experienced an even greater revolution over the past fifteen years or so: the rise of mass connectivity. Distance is no longer the barrier it once was. As Tim Sanders has put it, it used to be that "relationships were for the most part geo-bound, and only a handful of people comprised your entire business network." Today, our networks run into the hundreds and thousands, and we can connect with people all over the world through email, Facebook, Twitter, and more.

And we can do this no matter what we are doing. We can be in the back yard camping, on a run (my least favorite time to receive calls), or in a meeting. We can even text internationally. When I was in China recently, it almost felt like I was hardly gone because I could stay in instant communication with my wife through texting (though, unfortunately, I racked up a pretty high bill).

The proliferation of technology has not only increased our daily load of information; it has astronomically increased the rate of change in society and in the world of work altogether. As Tim Sanders notes, "before the information revolution, business changed gradually and business models became antiquated even more slowly. The value progression evolved over decades and double decades. You could go to college, get an M.B.A. and work for forty years, and your pure on-the-job knowledge stayed relevant."

Today, however, our skills become outdated more quickly (except for the macro, cross-functional skill of getting things done!). We not only need to keep up with all the information coming our way on a day-today basis, but we also need to keep our skills and knowledge up to date with the massive changes that are rapidly occurring at the level of work and society.

This is a fantastic thing and has implications for how we do everything. It has also resulted in a whole lot more to manage—which leads to the second villain.


Just as something good (the rise of knowledge work) brought us head-to-head with the first villain, so also the rise of mass connectivity, though an excellent thing, brings us head-to-head with a second villain: overload.

Massive overload.

In 2008, the web contained one trillion pages. That has risen at an exponential rate, such that in 2013 the quantity of information on the internet began doubling every seventy-two hours. Every seventy-two hours — every three days — the amount of information online doubles.

In 2010, 95 trillion emails were sent (about 260 billion per day). That averages to about 153 emails per user per day (there were about 1.86 billion internet users at the beginning of 2010). Currently 92 million tweets are posted per day and 2.5 billion photos are uploaded to Facebook every day.

This amount of information is overwhelming— not simply at an aggregate level but at an individual level (I think most of those 95 trillion emails came to my inbox). We are all feeling this. It is almost impossible to keep up.

How do we make good decisions in the midst of this overload? And how do we keep this overload from sinking us? We can't just float along, like a ship without a rudder, expecting things to go well. We need to take initiative and learn how to navigate this and get things done in spite of the obstacles.


Here's the bottom line: We are using industrial era tactics for knowledge era work. And that doesn't work.

We need to give more focused attention to learning how to work. Not just the specific content of our jobs but the overarching, cross-functional skill of how to get things done in general—what David Allen calls "high performance workflow management." This can make getting things done more relaxed, simple, and possible.

In other words, there are actually two components to doing our work. There are the job skills themselves—creating financial statements, writing web content, preaching sermons, leading meetings, and so forth—and then there is the process of how to do work in general.

We've done pretty well as a society at learning how to do the content of our jobs. But we haven't been so great at learning the overarching process of how to manage our work: how to keep track of what we have to do, make decisions about what's best to do next, keep from over-committing ourselves, and do all of this in the midst of seventy-five emails, twelve phone calls, and eighteen interruptions a day.

In past eras, this wouldn't have been such a big deal. But today it is because of the rise of knowledge work and the consequent ambiguity, coupled with the overload that comes from mass connectivity.


I mentioned earlier that effectiveness must be learned. Here's the good news: Drucker found that everyone who worked at becoming effective succeeded. And that's what Belsky found as well. Effectiveness has to be learned and, fortunately, can be learned.

If we are going to learn effectiveness, we need to do it right. Many people make a wrong turn here, however. In the next chapter, we'll learn what the answer is not.


Excerpted from What's Best Next by Matthew Perman. Copyright © 2014 Matthew Perman. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword John Piper 11

Preface: Busting the Twelve Myths about What It Means to Get Things Done 13

Introduction: Why We Need a Uniquely Christian View on Productivity 17

Part 1 First Things First: Making God Supreme in Our Productivity

1 Why is it So Hard to Get Things Done? 35

Introducing the villains

2 Why Efficiency is Not the Answer 43

Putting effectiveness over efficiency

3 Why We Need to be God-Centered in Our Productivity 51

How seeking to be productive without God is the most unproductive thing in the world

4 Does God Care About Getting Things Done? 61

Why knowing how to get things done is essential to Christian discipleship

Part 2 Gospel-Driven Productivity: A New Way to Look at Getting Things Done

5 Why the Things You Do Every Day Matter 73

Productivity is really about getting good works done

6 Put Others First: Love as the Guiding Principle for All of Life 85

The gospel calls us to put others before ourselves; this is not only right but also the way to be most productive

7 How the Gospel Makes Us Productive 103

The only way to be productive is to realize you don't have to be productive

8 Peace of Mind Without Having Everything Under Control 117

Don't turn productivity into a new law: productivity and Philippians 4

9 The Role of Prayer and Scripture in Our Productivity 123

God-centered character as the foundation of all productivity

10 The Core Principle for Making Yourself Effective 131

Know what's most important and put it first

Part 3 Define: Know What's Most Important

11 What's Your Mission? How Not to Waste Your Life 147

Setting a God-centered direction for your life

12 Finding Your Life Calling 169

Discovering why you are here, and how vision differs from mission

13 Clarifying Your Roles 179

Our roles are not simply areas of responsibility, but callings from God

Part 4 Architect: Create a Flexible Structure

14 Setting Up Your Week 195

The (almost) missing component in GTD

15 Creating the Right Routines 209

The six routines you need to have

Part 5 Reduce: Free Up Your Time for What's Most Important

16 The Problem with Full System Utilization 223

Avoiding the ringing effect and why you need to reduce

17 The Art of Making Time 227

Delegating, eliminating, automating, and deferring in the right way

18 Harnessing the Time Killers 241

Harnessing multitasking, interruptions, and procrastination

Part 6 Execute: Do What's Most Important

19 Weekly Planning 257

If you can do only one thing, this is it

20 Managing Email and Workflow 265

The five steps for processing your work

21 Managing Projects and Actions 275

How to connect your actions to your life so they actually get done

22 Daily Execution 289

Nine principles for making things happen every day

Part 7 Living This Out

23 Productivity in Organizations and Society 301

Why we must care about productivity in all of life

24 The Greatest Cause in the World 311

Productivity, world missions, and how our faith relates to our work

Conclusion 325


Recap: What's Best Next in 500 Words 329

Knowing What's Best Next: The Easy Reference Guide 331

Recommended Reading 333

The Online Toolkit 337

Learn More and Pass This On 339

Acknowledgments 341

Notes 343

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

I have been learning from Matt Perman for nearly twenty years, and I am eager for leaders around the world to benefit from his work the way that I have. To my knowledge, there is no one writing today who has thought more deeply about the relationship between the gospel and productivity. You will find in these pages a unique and remarkable combination of theological insight, biblical instruction, and practical counsel that would change the world if put into practice. I could not recommend it more highly. -- Justin Taylor, managing editor of The ESV Study Bible and coauthor of The Final Days of Jesus

The question isn’t, What do I want to do for God? but, What does God want me to do? For a believer, productivity is more than a set of skills. It requires a mindset and a worldview. This book provides the framework for getting more done and making a bigger difference in your work. -- Mark Sanborn, Author, The Fred Factor and You Don't Need a Title to Be a Leader

As Christians, we are called by God to work with all our hearts, because our work is---or should be---directly for the Lord. But beyond platitudes, no one has really approached being productive at working, until now. Matt Perman approaches the task not only from his personal experience but from a Christian worldview. Follow his model to align what you do with God’s purpose in your life---and in particular in your work. -- B. Joseph Pine II, Coauthor, The Experience Economy and Infinite Possibility

A Christian companion to Getting Things Done. -- Hugh Whelchel, Executive Director, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics; author, How Then Should We Work?

This book is simply extraordinary. … I doubt there is a person on the planet who knows both theological issues and time-management literature to the depth and extent Matt Perman does. -- John Piper, former Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bethlehem Baptist Church; author, Don't Waste Your Life

In this amazing volume, Matt Perman offers a wealth of practical, real-world productivity solutions, all framed within the context of the gospel. He provides the know-how and the know-who we need to be faithful stewards over the gifts we have been given. -- Michael Hyatt, New York Times bestselling author; MichaelHyatt.com

Plain and simple: learning to effectively manage your time and tasks is one of the most practical and tangible ways you can love your neighbors, coworkers, family members, and the world at large. There is no one who has articulated this better than Matt Perman in this unique book. It has changed the way I think and work, and I commend it to anyone who strives to love their neighbor as themselves. -- Matt Heerema, owner and director, Mere Design Agency; Pastor, Stonebrook Community Church

Love your neighbor at work! That’s the ultimate message of Matt’s book What’s Best Next. He shows you not only why you need to do this but also how. Without getting lost in the details, Matt gives a comprehensive framework for identifying the most important things in your work and life and then putting them first. No matter who you are or what your work is, this is a reliable, exciting, and encouraging guidebook on making things happen and getting things done, from a God-centered perspective. -- Brad Lomenick, President, Catalyst; author, The Catalyst Leader

What’s Best Next is both practical and inspiring as it addresses both the why and how to aspects of productivity. The result is an engaging, motivating, and exciting vision for your work and the things you do every day, right along with helpful, clear, and practical instruction on how to become more effective with less stress. Want to be more productive for the glory of God? Read What’s Best Next. -- Ed Stetzer, President, LifeWay Research; author of Lost and Found

Those of us in management, leadership, ministry, and other kinds of “knowledge work” often feel overwhelmed with all of the tasks, responsibilities, and relationships that demand our time and attention. This book gives practical, specific guidelines for becoming better organized, more effective, and more productive. But what makes this book stand out is the way Matt Perman integrates all of this down-to-earth advice with the doctrine of vocation---how the gospel of Christ bears fruit in love and service to God and to our neighbors in every facet of life---a truth that animates every page. -- Gene Edward Veith, Professor of Literature, Provost of Patrick Henry College; author, God at Work



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What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every Christian must be fully Christian by bringing God into his whole life, not merely into some spiritual realm. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer In so much of Christian literature and teaching I feel like it is easy to come to the assumption that it is okay to just enjoy life, die, and go to heaven.  Sometimes I think Christians, like myself, lack forward movement because we think that what it means to be humble is to not be successful and allow everyone else to be "worldly successful."  Many say, "I submit my life to God" which translates into saying, "I am not going to work hard or have big goals in life and move around aimlessly." This book offers so much more.  It consistently proves in it's entirety that God cares about us as human beings and cares about every area of our life, our work, our productivity, how we spend out time.  Matt clearly outlines that we are called to be productive so that we can most effectively serve God.  When we put others first we are not only serving God, but exemplifying the traits that are necessary for a profitable business.  This book has stirred within in me a desire to not be less of a person as a Christian, but to be so much more by allowing the Gospel to transform the way that I work and in return serve others.  This is a book with utmost importance and I urge every Christian and Non-Christian alike to read this so that they can make the most of their lives.  We are called to so much more than aimless pursuits.  Matt says it best here: "The essence of Gospel Driven Productivity is this: We are to use all that we have, in all areas of life, for the good of others, to the glory of God — and that this is the most exciting life." - Nate Alger 3/8/14
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book made me want to get organized! Though I have read other books and articles on organization, What's Best Next has helped me see that organization is not an end in itself, but that which leads to greater productivity, which for Perman, is the doing of good to others. “Good works,” writes Perman, “are not just spiritual things we do, or hard and rare endeavors.” Whatever “we do in faith, which includes the mundane activities of everyday life like raising kids, going to work, and even tying our shoes” can be considered good works (p. 78). Perman helped me to see that the ordinary activities of my day might not be so ordinary after all. Returning a phone call might lead to an opportunity to encourage. Smiling at the check out clerk at the local store and sincerely asking about his or her day could be the first caring words he or she has heard all day. And organizing your schedule, your desk, and your to do lists, as mundane as these things may seem, are really the things that, if organized well, will result in freeing up more of your time to serve those around you. I wish this book would have been written years ago, but am thankful that I have a copy today. 
Joshua_C_Morgan More than 1 year ago
No matter where you are in life and what your role is, this book will help reshape the way you think about productivity and will help you become more effective through practical approaches he presents.  When I finally took the topic of productivity more seriously about a year ago,  I found many helpful suggestions. But I didn't feel 'whole' about the matter. Besides missing some of the big action pieces of productivity (which Matt speaks about), I was thinking about productivity all wrong.  My starting point was wrong. Matt helped me see that I can't take out the thread of biblical theology that so naturally weaves itself into how one thinks about work, particularly productive work.  Beyond the foundational truths, Matt weaves together in this one book the principles and practical applications of being productive that are connected to faith. His guidance in showing me the importance of clarifying my roles  and creating a flexible framework was the most helpful thing in terms of practicality.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Disclosure: Matthew Perman generously provided an advance PDF copy of this book. I'm so very happy he did! Perman candidly testifies that his hope of a achieving a "mind like water" was very rarely ever achieved through GTD practices. Instead, he found his state of mind of being one of "mind like a tsunami" (15). Mine, too. "Getting Things Done" (GTD, Allen), "Zen to Done" (ZTD, Babauta), and "Getting Results the Agile Way" (GRAW, Meier) are brilliant and practical authors whose methodologies have helped me in becoming more efficient and productive. Yet, too many good things have been left undone, too many people have not been loved and served as I would want to be loved and served, and too many opportunities to do great things of eternal impact have been wasted. These facts have left me heartsick. What have I been doing wrong in implementation? Was there a better tool than OmniFocus that I needed to find? Should I switch from Moleskine to Rhodia? Was there no hope? I'm a full-time pastor of a small but thriving country church in rural Washington. My wife's chronic, debilitating and incurable disease is ever worsening. My own recently diagnosed Polycystic Kidney and Liver disease, according to the exceedingly caring and thorough docs at the VA, will continue to degrade my energy level. Could it ever be true that there was a system that would adapt to not only a "mind like tsunami" but a "life like tsunami"? Brother Matthew has helped me to see that I've been first looking for a system that would enable productivity when I should have been first looking for a person--the Savior! Perman writes, "Productivity is specifically about doing 'the will of the Lord.' It’s about specifically orienting our lives and decisions around God’s will. We are to ultimately be Christ-centered, not just principle-centered....It makes productivity personal in the fullest sense, and makes our whole lives one of fellowship with God, rather than a following of principles. It gives us even more guidance than simply being principle-centered, for God is a living being" (56). This is good news! Further good news, and hope, is offered when Matt writes, "I mentioned earlier that effectiveness must be learned. Here’s the good news: Drucker found that everyone who worked at becoming effective succeeded" (42). In the pages of this book you will find foundational concepts and practical helps toward becoming a hope-filled knowledge worker who can expect to succeed as you continue working "at becoming effective" while living out a loving life of good works that brings you abiding joy and magnifies God's glory through Jesus. Daniel Burrow, Pastor for Preaching, Open Heart Baptist Church, Selah, WA
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wrote an endorsement for the book, so obviously I love it. At the risk of sounding too enthusiastic about this book, which is THE ONE BOOK YOU SHOULD READ THIS YEAR, I urge everyone to read this book. Matt notices (as have I) that “productivity” is often poo-pooed by Christian leaders as somehow “unspiritual”. That rest, retreat, and slowness to life are somehow more spiritual. There is a dangerous dualism here that not only ignores the testimony of scripture, but actually results in a failure to LOVE. This perhaps stems from a bad definition of productivity. Matt does an excellent job of reframing productivity in Biblical terms. The primary goal of productivity is love. Productivity is about effectiveness, not efficiency. And productivity is about doing the right things. It is possible to effectively and efficiently do the wrong things, which is not productive! So, God cares about productivity, because productivity is about effectively loving people. Throughout the book, Matt does an excellent job of unpacking the scriptures to show how intrinsically the concept of productivity is woven in throughout the entire scriptures. It’s easy to miss because it is everywhere. HOWEVER, THIS BOOK ISN'T JUST FOR CHRISTIANS Though thoroughly saturated with excellently-done Christian theology, I believe that a non-Christian can get a lot out of this book as well. Any fans of Godin, Covey, Allen, Collins, or Ferris will love this book, which synthesizes all of the best productivity and management thinking out there, and puts it all together in a way unlike any other book I'm aware of. (And if another exists, please tell me!) -Matt Heerema
Anonymous More than 1 year ago