Getting Stuff Done

If you’re like me, your to-lists seem to get longer and longer. There also seems to be more “stuff” that gets added to them.  Here is an interview with Tim Challies, author of “Do More Better” that I think you’ll enjoy
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We really appreciate it! This is a timely 


. I think most of us have so much going on that we’re not sure how to get it all done. Worse than being behind, though, is that we’re not even sure that we’re doing the right things. As we go about our day, there’s a disconnect and the feeling that there is more important stuff we should be doing.
Do More Better
 , you say that “we can live a calm and orderly life, sure of our responsibilities and content in our progress. We can lay our heads on our pillows at night and rest easy.” I love this comment. Tell me more about this…Is it really possible to be sure of our responsibilities and content in our progress?

TIM:  It really is. I believe that a lot of the chaos that marks our lives is directly related to our lack of confidence in our responsibilities and purpose. We don’t have a clear sense of what we ought to do and, for that reason, we spend a lot of time doing things that really shouldn’t be taking up our time. The greater our understanding of the unique contributions we can make, the less time we’ll spend doing things that don’t really matter. We are far too easily distracted.

CORY: In the book you argue that being productive has a high and noble purpose behind it, that is, glorifying God by doing good to others. This is so simple and true. Tell us a little about your journey to come to this conclusion.

TIM:  Few things are more freeing than learning that we aren’t meant to live for ourselves, for our own glory, and for our own comfort. Understanding this allows us to focus outward, to focus on glorifying God by doing good to others. We live best when we live “outside ourselves,” when we take our eyes off ourselves and focus them on others.

I came to this conclusion primarily by searching the Bible. I wanted to learn whether God has anything to say about productivity. I knew that if he did, he would say it through his Word. And, sure enough, he has a lot to say, provided that we define productivity his way. Once we understand what God calls us to, we begin to understand the joy of living for their good and his glory.

CORY:  I think it’s easy – at least for me – sometimes to think about getting more things done in terms of how it will benefit my own life, i.e. more security, options, opportunities and comfort for myself and those I love. I don’t always think about getting things done as an important part of fulfilling my God given purpose on earth.

Do you think this type of well…selfishness…is a common blind spot for even serious Christians? Do you struggle to keep this idea front and center yourself?

TIM:  Absolutely. It is common for me and common for others. In our sinful state we are geared for selfishness, so prone to looking out for own interests ahead of the interests of others. No wonder, then, that the Bible is full of challenges to reverse this curse, to look away from ourselves and toward others. We love it when others do this—we honor people who give their lives in service to others, we honor people who give up time, money, and security for the good of other people. But we ourselves find it so difficult. This is, again, because we are sinful people. Even we who have been saved by Jesus Christ feel the old man creeping back and demanding attention, demanding satisfaction.

Of course, it’s not wrong to do good for yourself. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. If I am burned out, I will have nothing left to give to others. So it isn’t either/or, but a matter of purpose and priorities.

CORY:  In 
you say that the foundation of understanding productivity has to begin with an understanding of the reason we exist. Can you explain this? Do you think we can really know the actual reason we were created for?

TIM:  Absolutely we can know the actual reason we were created for! We can know it because God has seen fit to tell us. God has given us his Word, the Bible, to give us knowledge of him and knowledge of ourselves. We learn very quickly that we were created by God and for God. We were created in his image in order to bring glory to him. In this way we were all created for the same purpose and to accomplish the same thing. This is very comforting and very freeing! If I want to live out my purpose, I simply need to go to God’s Word and do what he tells me to do. No wonder, then, that Christians are so committed to the Bible.

CORY:  You begin chapter two by saying that…

Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.

You also say that we are accountable to God to excel in productivity. What does this look like in your own life?

TIM:  In my own life this kind of productivity and accountability looks like a routine. I have developed systems and routines in my life, many of which are explained in my book, that allow me to continue to focus on what matters most. I begin my day by reminding myself why I exist and praying that God will help me to live the day well. Then I use tools—excellent productivity tools—that help me understand the things I 

can do today and the things I must 

do today. This kind of productivity requires me to constantly be looking to God’s Word and looking to the needs of other people. I do these things imperfectly, of course, but I do them to the best of my abilities.

CORY:  So many of us are struggling to make ends meet. Many are in broken relationships. How do we get past the demands of life to start thinking about more important things like giving back, serving and actually being happy about it. I get the sense that most people are completely overwhelmed, underwater, playing catchup and have a hard time thinking about important Biblical mandates like serving the poor.

TIM:  Yes, a lot of people find themselves in very difficult situations and I have great sympathy for them. And I think in the middle of difficulties we all face the temptation to look inward, to expect others to make much of us. But the solution is still to look outward, still to do good to others. We have to understand and believe that God saves us and equips us so we can be a blessing to others. Ultimately, there is more satisfaction in this than in selfishness or self-indulgence. Productivity is using your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. By that definition we all have something we can give to others. Even at our darkest moments we can still display love for others and do them good.

CORY:  How would you encourage us to begin to prioritize more important things and pay attention to our calling?

TIM:  The very first thing I ask people to do in the book is a brief audit of their lives. I don’t think most people have seriously considered what their lives are made of. They haven’t taken that “high overhead” view of their life to ask, “What are my areas of responsibility? What has God made me responsible for? What do I need to faithfully steward for his glory?” Once we ask those questions and get a better understanding of what our lives actually consist of, we are in a position to begin to consider how to prioritize it all. Good priorities depend on good and accurate self-understanding.

CORY:  You list some productivity thieves in 
that can rob us of the best things in our lives (Laziness, busyness, thorns and thistles). Can you talk about some these and how they’ve affected your own life?

TIM:  We are all familiar with laziness, I’m sure. We are familiar with the bad habits and escapism that keeps us from our responsibilities. We are also familiar with busyness which, strangely, is actually considered a virtue in our culture. Busyness fills our lives with so many tasks that we do a million things badly instead of a few things well. Often, these two collide into a kind of superstorm. We are lazy for a time, then, because we have neglected our responsibilities, we are frantically busy. But that busyness burns us out, so we go right back into laziness. It’s a sick cycle. And then there are the inevitable “thorns and thistles” we encounter in a sin-stained world—those problems or situations that arise to hinder our productivity, our forward momentum.

Such is life in a world like this one. The situation is difficult but not hopeless. We can develop habits and disciplines and, best of all, spiritual maturity, that will help us to do battle with all of these productivity thieves. I have seen all of these thieves influence my life and much of my effort in productivity has been in doing battle against them.

CORY:  In the book you give us some assignments to become more productive. They include things like… “auditing” our lives by defining our current roles and areas of responsibility. Defining our mission in life. Etc. And then you give some tools to implement our plan and stay on track with our commitments.

BUT this really is a process that never stops. Being productive is a lifelong task that is never finished, right? How do we keep the momentum going? This time of year, many of us are starting a bunch of things we’ll never complete. What are some ways to sustain our God given mission once we find it?

TIM:  Getting started is usually the easy part. We are all rigidly self-disciplined for the first two days of a diet or the first three days of a new year. But the real challenge comes once we encounter a few of those thorns and thistles. We need to endure long enough to build a new set of habits and to see the value those habits bring to our lives. For most people this will take several weeks at least. When it comes to productivity, there are no quick fixes. As for keeping the momentum going, hopefully you will find that you are now doing more good for others, doing more to make much of God. This alone should provide motivation to stay the course!

CORY:  It sounds like you’ve been working for some time to be more productive. Who are some of the voices you’ve listened to over the years to get more done better…?

TIM:  My productivity was kick-started years ago by reading David Allen’s 
Getting Things Done. Much of what I learned there took root in my life, though I had to adapt his “zen” approach to fit my Christian worldview. I have read many, many other productivity books since then, and the two that stand out are What’s Best Next by Matt Perman and Essentialism 
by Greg McKeown. Both were the right book at the right time. Another invaluable help has been the software packages I have used over the years. Each piece of software teaches a methodology, and by experimenting with different software I was able to learn and compare many methods to find both their strengths and weaknesses.