Tim Challies. Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. Minneapolis, MI: Cruciform Press, 2015. 120 pp. $12.99.
I want to do more—better. Don’t you?
The problem, however, is that my ambition often leaves me feeling like King Solomon described in Psalm 127: with vanity-ache. Rising early, going to bed late, eating the bread of anxious toil—it’s no way to live. Solomon writes, in contrast to this, God “gives to his beloved sleep” (v. 2).
And it’s here that Tim Challies begins Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity, with the encouragement that if a man as busy as King Solomon could figure out how to live a productive but not anxious life then by the grace of God, so can you.
For those who don’t know, Challies is a husband, father, pastor, author, and has about a half dozen other important roles, such as co-founder of a publishing company (Cruciform Press) and host of a very popular Christian blog (Challies.com). And when I say “popular,” that’s an understatement. His blog had just under 16 million pageviews in 2015. For comparison, mine had less than 16 thousand.
Yet for all this, Challies maintains that he’s no productivity guru.
That’s okay by me, though. He’s certainly a practitioner, and his aim in Do More Better, as he writes, is to “open up [his] life and to let you in a little bit” (7). In other words, Do More Better is decidedly not a bloated textbook of source material with footnotes. Rather, as the subtitle says, it’s a practical (and we might add “personal”) guide to productivity.
Do More Better has ten short chapters, and begins by stressing the importance of knowing your purpose; you can’t be truly productive without it. Then, Challies talks about how to find your particular purpose and mission, that is, how to find the sphere of responsibility that God has called you to be productive in. The book concludes by exploring tools for collecting your tasks, planning your calendar, and gathering your information. There are two bonus chapters, one on taming your emails and another with 20 tips for increasing your productivity.
What is Productivity?
Let’s talk for a moment about definitions. Challies defines productivity in this way:
Effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.
When defined in this way, Challies underscores that productivity is first a theological issue. Thus, productivity is not merely a good thing that Type-A personalities kick-start in the early morning hours. Rather, because productivity is about “stewarding your gifts . . . for the good of others and the glory of God,” then to be unproductive is a sin of omission that must be forgiven and forsaken. In short, every Christian, not just go-getters, must strive for productivity.
Drop and Give Me 20
Speaking of striving, be aware that Challies isn’t writing to simply relay information. Get ready to work. To see what I’m talking about, consider how the opening paragraph to Chapter 4 ends: “And that means you are ready for your next assignment” (35).
The assignment he’s talking about is related to identifying your specific purpose and mission, and the responsibilities associated with it. He’ll metaphorically hold your hand through the process, of course, but in this way Challies is more personal trainer than author.
Just as it will do an athlete little good to know the proper form on squats (inhale on the way down, exhale on the way up; flat back; eyes up; and keep your knees from extending beyond your toes—by the way), so it will do the reader little good to burn through this short book without application. Remember, it’s not receiving good coaching that matters. It’s good coaching followed that matters. And by way of encouragement, I can say that I was helped as I completed the assignments.
Small Book, Big Strengths
There are many things I appreciated about Do More Better. Here are a few of them.
First, I appreciated the simplicity. For example, if you have ever found yourself staring at a “To do list,” remember, you can only do four things with each task: delete it, do it, defer it, or delegate it (p. 59).
Second, I loved the bonus chapters, especially the one on taming your email. My approach to my inbox didn’t seem so silly until Challies proposed this: “Imagine if you treated your actual, physical mailbox like you treat your email” (p. 109). If every time you received a letter or piece of junk mail you just peaked at it and stuffed it back in the mailbox, the result would be both humorous and sad.
Finally, my favorite aspect was the distinctively Christian approach to productivity. For example, note this comment about delegating tasks to others.
Most productivity gurus will encourage you to be as selfish as you need to be, to get rid of anything that doesn’t interest or excite you. But as a Christian you can do things that do not perfectly fit your mission but still do them out of love for God and with a desire to glorify him. (p. 42)
Here, as throughout, the book is in stark relief to a selfish, secular approach to productivity. Every aspect of our lives, including our productivity, is to be bounded by godliness. For, what profit is it to us if we achieve massive levels of productivity without glorifying God? Any attainment in God-dishonoring productivity is like running the race backwards—really, really, really fast. Ultimately, you won’t win; instead, you’re productively running in the wrong direction.
If there had been more space, I would have liked to see a little more discussion of Sabbath and contentment. God has appointed limits to our productivity, limits for our good. Also, more critique of the idols of achievement would have further highlighted a distinctively Christian view. The book, however, is purposefully short. I appreciated this, and I think you will too.
I highly recommend Do More Better. It will help you discover God’s purposes for your life and move productively towards them.