I admit, I love life-hacks. If you have not heard of the term, the Urban Dictionary defines it as “a tool or technique that makes some aspect of one’s life easier or more efficient.” I am motivated reading how people use ideas, apps, or programs that can potentially help me attack my day more efficiently or more effectively. Yet, for all the efficiencies, my available margin in life, if drawn as a graph, can look like a downward-sloping line.
Richard Swenson, in his thought-provoking title Margin, defines margin as the space between ourselves and our limits. It’s like the revving the engine of your car: you cannot have your RPM gauge running in the red all of the time or your going to be in need of a new engine in a hurry.
In light of our limits, what if we are viewing productivity in a wrong manner? What if productivity, in light of the Gospel, is really more than just about getting things done?
Losing My Margin
Ask someone how they are doing, and we have moved away from the usual “good” or “fine.” Today it seems like a badge to pin to our chest to say something like “crazy busy,” as if what I get done is now what defines me as a person. As I have mentioned in a prior post, I have transitioned out of the administrative and teaching realm of college education to being an executive pastor at our church. Five weeks in, my plate is full, there are always people to meet with, and strategic planning to get us to our vision is on the rise. Don’t get me wrong…I love it. But if I do not understand how the Gospel influences my “getting things done,” I am headed for a cliff that many have already fallen over. The stress of undone tasks can feel overwhelming or even paralyzing.
The problem is that we allowed success to be defined by what we get done, what gets checked off, what project got completed, what initiative got rolling. And there is nothing intrinsically wrong with each of these. But in an age that has deluged us with information, we often do not have perspective on how to interpret everything that comes our way. As a byproduct, relationships become shallow and we take on a skewed view of what it means to be productive.
Leveraging the Gospel in Our Productivity
As I have been pondering this topic, here are two ways (and I am sure there are more) to embrace a Gospel-mindset about being productive.
- Getting things done does not mean getting everything done. Jesus had three years of public ministry and at the end, accomplished everything that His Father had given to Him to do. And you may say, “But He did not heal every leper! He did not give discourses to every large gathering of people! He didn’t”…and you are correct. But at the end of His earthly life He did get a “well done” from His Father. We think we have to get everything done because we have not learned the art of discerning that not everything is of top-tier importance. Like a young child who is given nine choices of breakfast cereal in the morning, we have a difficult time choosing anything.
- I like the way that Matt Perman articulates it in his book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. He says that “we are to put productivity practices and tools in the service of God’s purpose for us, which is that we do good for others, in all areas of life, to his glory.” In other words, if you attach productivity simply to getting things done, you are going to be disappointed. because much of our productivity is going to the intangibles of working with people.
And if you get one main point, get this: the very reason I look to be productive is so that I can more effectively serve those who are around me. And all this without getting burned out, feeling consistently overloaded, overwhelmed, or in the hole. This puts our desire to be productive at an entirely new level.
The Gospel did not just save me – it totally and radically changes how I view and do everything in life. Paul says it well in Romans 11:33, “For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” The Gospel creates purpose, mission, and vision at both an individual and corporate level. And it also provides a beautiful framework for how to truly get things done.