As a wise leader once observed, “the chief end of my life is not to be efficient.”
That idea is actually pretty countercultural these days, and I wish I had heard it a lot sooner. Especially in University and work life, it has been easy to fall into some productivity traps. This is usually a result of defining productivity in an unbiblical way, which can easily result in a poor view of yourself and a poorly prioritized life.
I want to redefine what productivity is for you, so that you can avoid some common pitfalls and become more “productive” in the right ways.
Countering the Culture
Especially if you’re in the business world, it’s all about getting things done faster and better. App stores have entire categories intended to make you more efficient, be quicker in all that you do, and really just have more control in your life. Do more, earn more, experience more, and so on. However, as Christians a few things should be obvious:
We are not to be materialists
We are not all about earning more money, getting more things, or simply being more successful. These things are not bad things, but they should not control our lives, nor should they be a priority. In fact, they are probably to be viewed suspiciously (Matt. 19:24).
Life is not about me
Our life, our time, our jobs, our relationships are all about the glory of God and the good of others (Matt. 22:36-39). Thus, if we are going to have any discussion on productivity, it must centre around God and doing good to others.
Tim Challies defines productivity this way:
“Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.” (Do More Better, 2015)
I like that definition, and I think it serves us well in a few ways. First, it does note that we strive for effectiveness, obeying the biblical principle that time is a valuable stewardship and gift from God and we are to use it well (Eph. 5:16). Second, it reminds us that we use our resources not for personal gain or profit, but primarily for the good of others and the glory of God.
A disclaimer we might make with this definition is that this productivity does not mean I do not take care of myself or that I cannot enjoy things just for the sake of enjoying them. After all, if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t even be able to function to benefit others. We must also note that our level of productivity (i.e. how effectively we steward these things) does not give us our value as people, nor is the sole purpose of our life simply to increase our productivity.
To drive this point home, I want to look at two vital principles the Bible gives us.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40 ESV, emphasis added)
Number one: Loving God and others is our greatest priority. These are the great commandments from the mouth of Jesus.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, 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 5:14-16 ESV)
Number two: The good works we do are to point people to Jesus, not to be used ultimately for our own gain. We are lights, shining brightly so that others may see us and glorify God.
It’s not ultimately about the to-do list
You might be surprised by this: even in writing a post on productivity I don’t really intend to turn anyone into a super efficient work machine. Different people have different activity levels and capacities, abilities, and so on. The simple fact is, not everyone is going to write 10 blog posts in a week, become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or whatever. I’ll use myself as an example. I love getting stuff done. I love the feeling of finishing a book (and I love reading), I love hammering out a blog post, getting my room cleaned, seeing an event plan executed well.
These are all good things, and I should strive for excellence in them to the glory of God. And if I get all of them done early and well and can do some more in the extra time I have, I’m happy! But more often than not I don’t get it all done. I can’t focus while I’m reading. I get writer’s block. Any number of things get in my way, or I just get lazy (which is sinful, while not all of these things are). Or, other more important or urgent things come up and I don’t end up getting much of anything done for a while.
But here is why our biblically fleshed-out definition is so important: true productivity isn’t about getting it all done (in fact, I likely never will!), but rather, it is about glorifying God in all that I do, stewarding my time and resources well for that end.
If you’re like me, you’d be very tempted during your time studying to find identity in grades and efficiency, or on the other end of the spectrum, getting your boring work done so you can party on the weekend. Both of these ways of thinking miss the point of true productivity. By stewarding my life to the good of others and glory of God, I am saying that I will work hard in my studies (or whatever it is) so that others might see God in my hard work and honourable character. Yet I know that my value as a person is found in Christ and not in my success. Similarly, others can see that I don’t need to over-work and can still enjoy the simple things in life like a good party or a relaxing weekend. And if I fail at any of these things, I fail with grace to learn and to grow. I’m freed to be neither frivolous in disinterest nor frenzied in over-pursuit of success. That is what a true perspective on productivity should look like.
Thus, a true perspective on productivity frees us from frantic pursuit of goals and tasks and success as well as from frivolous, disinterested attitudes towards work.
I hope for this to be a helpful first step for you. I hope these truths free you from anxieties you might be facing, or correct you if you find yourself with a poor attitude towards work and life. Neither are biblical, nor are they helpful in being a witness for Christ. We serve a God who has freed us from any reason for anxiety or frivolity. May you be better equipped to worship him!