There are a handful of men about whom I’ve often asked, “How does he do it all?” I hold each of those men with high regard, and I’ve never had to hear any one of them actually say that they were busy. All I needed to do was look at their output of work and I knew they were. No doubt, you know people like that as well. You don’t need to ask them if they’re busy. So, before asking them for more of their time, you first ask the question, “Do I actually need their time?” In other words, because of their hard work ethic, you respect them, and because you respect them, you respect their time. They don’t demand it. You just do.
Tim Challies is one such person.
Every day since 2002, Challies has been writing helpful Christian articles on his blog, challies.com. Not only that, but every day he also provides several links to some great deals on Christian literature by Kindle (A La Carte), or, in lieu of any deals, he provides several links on helpful articles from around the web. He also reads a mammoth amount of books. If I remember right, I think I’ve heard him say something like 3-5 books a week (something devotional, something challenging, something he disagrees with, and something theological). He then writes book reviews for many of them, which usually amounts to somewhere between four and five every month. It goes on… he also maintains the website, discerningreader.com, is co-founder and editor for CruciformPress, and is a sought after conference speaker. Then there’s the books he’s written… I don’t even know how many. And finally, there’s the regular commitment he has to his church as an elder, and his commitment to his family as a husband and father.
So, when Challies speaks on the subject of work, and how to do it better, I listen. I think he’s proven himself to be well qualified on the subject. That’s why when Challies came out with his new book, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity, I quickly bought it for the first book to read in 2016. We are also now promoting it to our own church congregation for our recommended reading of the month. So, I wanted to offer a few of my thoughts in review that hopefully you’ll find helpful.
Who the book is for:
I would encourage any Christian to get the book, wherever you are in your Christian life. Whether you are a pastor, student, professor, laymen, new Christian, old Christian, etc., you’ll benefit from reading this book. Challies’ books are consistently well written and helpful to develop your Christian thinking. Even MacArthur reads his books, and you’d better believe as busy as he is, he doesn’t waste his time with mediocre books. I find this to be no exception. It’s basic: Productivity 101, but it’s written simply and concisely, and being less than 120 pages, the average reader can probably read it inside an hour (though I don’t recommend you do). You might even say it’s an outline for cultivating a productive life with comments that support the outline, but the implications for each point are significant if you spend time thinking about them.
Having said that, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to an unbeliever. The reason I say that is because if you aren’t living your life for God, then you have no basis for productivity. Sure, you will find principles in this book helpful. There will be benefit, but there will be more benefit from all the self-help literature out there. But the basis, the motivation for the Christian to be productive, and remain productive is for the glory of God (chapter 1). For an unbeliever, your only motivation for productivity is your personal benefit. Challies agrees:
The kind of productivity I have described here is not only about what you do, but also about who you are. You need to be a certain kind of person before you can live this life… You need to be a Christian – a person who has believed in Jesus Christ and received forgiveness for your sins, a person who has given up living for yourself and begun living for the glory of God (24-25).
What book would I recommend to an unbeliever? One that gets to the heart of their real need – to be saved.
What I liked:
What is profoundly important, and what I was really hoping Challies would do when I purchased the book, was not write another “how to” seminar, but a why seminar. In other words, I wanted to see a theology of productivity, which he defines this way, “Productivity is effectively stewarding my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God” (16). In other words, it’s working hard, working hard in the right places, and working hard for the right reasons. That is precisely what I mean by a “theology of productivity.” It answers the question, “Why should we be productive?” Contrary to pop-psychology, “You are not the point of your life” (11), and as such, you don’t pursue productivity for personal success. As Christians, our motivation should be to work as hard as possible and as efficiently as possible for the glory of God. After all, He has allocated to each of us only a designated number of days (Ps. 139:16). So, we have a great stewardship over our time and energy. We need to be wise with what we do with it. The first several chapters of Challies’ book helps us understand that.
The second half of the book is also helpful of course, but this is where Challies’ gives some practical tips for getting organized. This is important, because without organization, you can’t properly evaluate your time. And if you can’t evaluate your time, you can’t evaluate where you’ll spend your energy. The list will keep getting larger and larger of all the things you haven’t done, and you’ll find yourself frequently missing deadlines or in a panic to meet them. Again, Challies’ helpfulness here is in its simplicity, but the simplicity requires consistent discipline. He all but holds you by the hand as he walks through some of the helpful tools he’s used to enhance his productivity, and he provides you with a basic “how to use them” and why they’re important. I know many who use these tools already, so for those who do, you can move through this section more quickly, but it will still be helpful for you to consider refining your use of those tools as Challies provides a number of little nuggets of advice. These tools help you with your “to-do” list, your calendar, and helps you organize your information so it’s easily accessible and easy to find (as a bonus, he also provides some pointers to clean up your email). All this is important, because it will also help you evaluate whether you can say, “Yes” to another ministry, another project, etc., or when you might need to say, “No.”
But a word of caution as it relates to these tools: they are tools to serve you as you serve God. Be weary of becoming a slave to them. Schedule your day and keep your schedule, but don’t hold onto it too tightly:
Because your life is so prone to interruption and redirection, you have to hold to your plans loosely, trusting that God is both good and sovereign. At the same time, you cannot hold to your plans too loosely or you will be constantly sidetracked by less important matters (95-96).
And some food for thought: as you get your life organized and evaluate your (better yet, God’s) priorities, no doubt idol areas of your life will come into view (cf. 93, 100). As Christians, we don’t have any one single “priority,” unless you say, “My priority is to glorify God by fulfilling the priorities He’s given to me.” We have several, all of which must be appropriately balanced. Most of us have four spheres of priorites: work, family, the church, and personal sanctification. We should be balancing all four for the glory of God. The tools Challies provides will help you identify those areas that you have not balanced well, but have neglected. Note: neglecting a priority is not “balancing” your priorities.
What I didn’t like:
To express what I didn’t like, I have to get pretty nit-picky. I don’t like doing that, but they say every good book review should have a critical section. Well… I only have two points of contention then, and they really are VERY minor. First, I wish Challies spent a little more time developing the profound truths presented in his first few chapters. Challies breached a crucial subject that hasn’t been developed much in recent Evangelicalism. To my knowledge, VERY FEW have written a theology of hard work, and why we work well and with excellence in everything we do. Everything. Even eating (1 Cor. 10:31). I understand why he didn’t. That subject could be a book all its own, so Challies’ had quite the tension to balance. On the one hand, he had to present the subject. On the other hand, he needed to keep the book moving along.
The only other negative comment I have is purely preferential and a matter of style. The second half of the book seemed a bit redundant, but that was obviously intended by Challies. He had key phrases he persistently returned to, especially in chapters six, seven, and eight. But still, at times I felt like I was reading the same chapter three times. But that’s just me, and again, just a matter of style and preference.
Get the book! It’ll be money well spent, and worth your time and energy. It’ll cost you $10 on Amazon, so it’s hardly going to break the bank. We live each day and perform each task coram Deo (in the presence of God). But living a chaotic life is not honoring to Him, and Challies provides a very simple way to put our lives in order, and not only that, but how to keep it that way.