What If Your View of Productivity Is Wrong?

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 – in other words, providing me with a little bit extra margin in my life.

Yet, for all the efficiencies, my available margin in life, if drawn as a graph, can look like a downward-sloping line.

Photo courtesy of marcolm|FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo courtesy of marcolm|FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Richard Swenson, in his thought-provoking title Margin, defines margin as the space between ourselves and our limits. It’s like revving the engine of your car: you cannot have your RPM gauge running in the red all of the time or you are going to be in need of a new engine in a hurry. We were not designed to “red-line” our lives on a consistent basis.

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? I have to ask this question because I love productivity. There is an adrenaline rush for me with getting a lot done. But I have to admit that productivity can easily become an idol of my heart as it has in the past.

And there is danger in that.

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. I admit that after busy periods of my life, I come home and have a difficult time winding down. It’s like I get fidgety because I have nothing driving me.

Pretty pathetic.

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. I just completed my one-year anniversary. My cup is full and running over. There are always people to meet with, new ideas to be considered, leadership books to be read, and strategic planning to get us to our vision.

Don’t get me wrong…I love it. God is flat-out…amazing. 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 a biblical 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.

  1. 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. But you may say, “But He did not heal every leper or blind man! 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. He got everything done that His Father asked of Him. 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.
  2. 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 doing good for people.And if you get one main point, get this: the very reason I should 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. A refreshing one.

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.

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2 thoughts on “What If Your View of Productivity Is Wrong?

  1. Good post, Antone! I’m in this same learning place!! I don’t seem to have a wordpress acct to leave my comments there, but I suppose I could make one… just haven’t pursued that yet… it’s outside of my margin 🙂

  2. Thx Shirley – yes, this is a trap for me as well, and one where I need to recalibrate often.

    And you do not have to have a WordPress account to leave comments. What you are doing is just fine. 🙂

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