A couple of years ago, a young man approached me after church to ask if I would mentor him. He is a rising star in a massive company, many years ahead of where he expected to be in his mid-20s, already identified as one of his company’s future leaders.
He told me, “My success is way ahead of my systems. If I don’t learn how to cope with all the things I need to do at work and everywhere else in life, I’m going to crash and burn.”
We began to meet for lunch every few weeks to address issues of productivity. It was a joy to see him grow in his understanding of who God calls him to be as an employee, as a husband, as a father, as a churchman and as so much else besides. And as I’ve observed this young man and many others, I’ve realized just how central productivity is to our role in the kingdom of God.
The High Calling of Productivity
For some, the word “productivity” generates excitement and curiosity, while for others, it generates fear and despair. Regardless, words carry associations, and we tend to associate productivity with the boardroom, with the office, with the busy CEO driving the company car. But it’s a word we need to redeem, because productivity — at least, productivity at its highest and best — is for all of us.
God calls us all to be productive. You can be a productive student, a productive employee, a productive stay-at-home mom or even a productive retiree. If this is all true, there is an important implication: You can be an unproductive student, employee, stay-at-home mom and, yes, an unproductive retiree.
So how can you know that you’re living a productive life? You can begin by ensuring you understand what God says about productivity.
1. Learn the Value of Good Works
Here’s how the Bible calls us to be productive: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, ESV).
Do you see it? God calls every one of us to do good for others and, in that way, to bring glory to Him. That is His description of productivity. What an amazing thing! You and I get to bring glory to God every day simply by doing things that benefit others.
2. Learn to Define Productivity Well
Our functional understanding of productivity is that it involves getting lots of stuff done, checking off lots of tasks and completing lots of projects. But productivity is better than that.
True productivity is about getting the right and best stuff done. It is about knowing what God calls you to do in all of life and doing those things. The reason many people are not more productive is that they have defined it all wrong. At its highest, productivity is a matter of effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.
3. Learn to Be Productive in All of Life
Productivity extends beyond the one task that takes up the greatest part of your time. If you are a college student, it is good to be a productive college student, but you also need to be a productive friend and church member. After all, God calls you to do good to others in these areas, too.
If you are a full-time employee, it is good to be productive in your job, but you also need to be productive in your relationships with your family members and neighbors. Why? Because productivity is doing good for others. It is living in such a way that you serve them. But it goes even further — it is about carefully organizing and structuring your life so you can do more good for them instead of less.
4. Learn to Plan
Productivity rarely just happens. Instead, it requires planning. It requires deliberately structuring your day, week and life in such a way that you are aiming at this great goal of doing good for others.
It requires considering each one of your God-given areas of responsibility and asking if you are doing good for others there and how you can do more good for others there. Five minutes in the morning and half an hour on a Friday afternoon can work wonders in effectively planning and providing structure for your life.
5. Learn to Use Tools
Planning is important, but so are tools — in every area of life we are dependent upon them. The chef can’t be much better than his pots and utensils; the doctor can’t be much better than his scalpel; and the painter can’t be much better than his brush.
Our digital world has brought us some incredible tools to increase and strengthen our productivity. For example, Todoist is powerful at managing tasks; Evernote is an amazing tool for storing information; Google Calendar is a wonderful place to store your events and appointments. Train yourself to use productivity tools like these and to use them well.
That young man who asked me to be his mentor has applied many of these lessons to his life, and that’s part of the reason why he is succeeding — truly succeeding — for the kingdom of God. He learned the value of good works; he learned to define productivity well; he learned to emphasize the best kind of productivity; he learned to plan his life; and he learned to use excellent tools.
That young man learned how to be a productive Christian in all of life, and God is calling you to do the same.
Tim Challies is a popular blogger whom you can find at Challies.com and on Twitter @challies. His new book, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity, discusses the obstacles to productivity, the great purpose behind productivity, three essential tools for getting things done, the power of daily and weekly routines and a whole lot more. It is available today!