I recently read three helpful books on productivity. I still think the best overall book on productivity is Tim Challies’s Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. But these three books served me by reinforcing and supplementing Do More Better.
The first two are secular (with lots of common grace). The third is evangelical.
1. Greg McKeown. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. New York: Crown Business, 2014.
- Figure out what your core responsibilities and most important goals are.
- Block out time for that.
- Say No to other things—even good things—that you don’t have bandwidth for.
- Don’t feel guilty about saying No.
- Don’t overcommit. Setting strategic boundaries frees you to do what is most important. Less is more.
2. Cal Newport. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. New York: Grand Central, 2016.
In a 2013 interview, my mentor Don Carson shared three secrets of productivity. One is this: “Don’t fritter. When you work, work hard; when you are not working, quit entirely.” That’s what Newport’s book is about. It’s about why and how to get “in the zone”—what Newport calls “deep work.”
My nemesis for getting in the zone is processing email and social media too frequently. I’m more resolved now than I’ve ever been that in order for me to consistently do deep work I must process email and social media less frequently. I’ve been experimenting with processing email and social media at only three set times each day, and I feel like I got part of my brain back. I still keep my inbox at zero each day, but checking at only set times helps me do more deep work (e.g., researching and writing or memorizing).
3. David Murray. Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017.
When you run a race, it’s important to pace yourself so that you don’t burnout. That’s true for serving God in your human body. Murray wisely explains why and how.
- Sleeping well helps you be more productive.
- Eating and drinking well helps you be more productive. (When my wife reads that sentence, she will cheer.)
- Exercising helps you be more productive. (I’m even more convinced now that using a walking desk is strategic for “knowledge workers.”)
- Regular breaks help you be more productive.
- Planning your schedule and maintaining a strategic routine help you be more productive.
- Prioritizing tasks helps you be more productive. It helps to know what tasks energize you and what tasks drain you.
- Maintaining boundaries by saying No helps you be more productive.
It’s all connected to productivity. This is basic stuff, but it helped me to hear it from David Murray—a guy who seems to be wired like me, who is a little older than I am, and who shares the same vocation (researching, writing, teaching, and shepherding).