If anyone is going to be at the DG Conference this weekend, I’ll be doing a seminar on how the gospel gives us a new way to look at productivity and new reasons to care about productivity. Looks like I’ll be giving the seminar twice, at 1:00 and 3:00 on Friday (tomorrow) afternoon.
I’d love to meet anyone who is going to be there, so feel free to stop up after and say hi!
Also: I enjoy really, really hard questions. So come with the most challenging questions you have and I’ll be happy to give them my best shot.
This is a very good insight, from The Essential Drucker:
Management is deeply involved in moral concerns—the nature of man, good and evil. Management is thus what tradition used to call a liberal art. Managers draw on all the knowledge and insights of the humanities and the social sciences—on psychology and philosophy, on economics and history, on ethics—as well as on the physical sciences. But they have to focus this knowledge on effectiveness and results—on healing a sick patient, teaching a student, building a bridge, designing and selling a user friendly software program. For these reasons, management will increasingly be the discipline and the practice through which the humanities will again acquire recognition, impact, and relevance.
Daniel Pink makes the case very well in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us that there are three components to motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
If you find your work unfulfilling or draining, it may be because it is lacking one of those components.
If you don’t have control over how you go about your work, or input in setting your overall objectives, you might be lacking the freedom necessary to feel ownership (and interest) in your work. People don’t like to be (or need to be) controlled. In general, when freedom diminishes, motivation contracts as well. When freedom increases (supported by helpful structure and systems), motivation tends to increase.
If your work is either too challenging or not challenging enough, it is likely to become miserable for you. We like to be good at things. This isn’t some bonus luxury; it’s how we are designed. If you aren’t good at what you are doing — or if it is too easy to be a challenge — you will likely be unfulfilled.
If you feel like you don’t have mastery in your work, don’t automatically conclude that you are somehow innately incapable of achieving competence. Often, the issue is simply a lack of training or feedback. It’s unfortunate that many organizations are not proactive in offering helpful training (especially training targeted to the real needs of today’s knowledge worker, who often operates in highly ambiguous environments with very few structured and routine tasks). So you may have to get creative here in figuring this out. But the point is: don’t automatically blame yourself. More than likely, you can improve and accomplish mastery.
They key is to have work that hits you in the sweet spot — not too easy, not too hard. It should be a challenge for sure, but not so challenging that you are lost and spinning your wheels. The challenge should in fact be continually increasing, but only as you organically gain expertise and mastery so that you are up for the increased challenge.
Last of all, you might not see or value the purpose in your work. Lots could be said here. Ultimately, you’ll want to find work where the purpose jibes with what you feel you were made for. But even if you are not in such a role, the doctrine of vocation can be helpful here.
The doctrine of vocation means that everything we do (that is not illegal or immoral!) is valuable to God and accepted by him if done in faith. The arena for serving God is not the fortressed life of the monk, but the everyday real world of work, home, and society. If we do our work as unto the Lord (Ephesians 6:7) it is valuable and accepted by him. This infuses even the most mundane, everyday activities with meaning.
Several months ago a friend of mine asked me 3 questions on productivity for his blog. Here’s what I wrote so that it is easily available here as well:
1. What’s the most common mistake people make in trying to develop a system for productivity?
There are a lot of wrong turns that people make here, but I think the biggest one is that they simply seek to make their system capture and organize their existing work. We shouldn’t first ask “what things are vying for my attention and how do I organize them?” Instead, we should first ask “what things are most important for me to be doing and how do I make sure that I am able to move ahead on them?” The former is reactive and the later is proactive.
2. In the last three months, what has been the most helpful insight that has helped you be more productive?
Peter Drucker’s comment that “effective executives put first things first and do one thing at a time.” My workload has been larger than normal the last few months, and that makes it tempting to splinter myself and move on too many fronts at once. Drucker reminds me to avoid this trap. First, you don’t have to do everything. Instead, identify what is most important, and start there. Second, build momentum by doing one thing at a time, bringing it to completion, and then moving on to the next thing (what’s best next). You might think this makes it take longer to do things, but it actually saves time. The scarcity of time is precisely the reason we need to do one thing at a time.
3. In a nutshell, what is the most important and fundamental principle for being productive?
I would actually say: realize that you don’t have to be productive. By this I mean: your significance does not come from your productivity. It comes from Christ, who obeyed God perfectly on our behalf such that our significance and standing before God comes from him, not anything we do. Then, on that basis, we pursue good works (which is what productivity is) and do so eagerly, as it says in Titus 2:14.
When it comes to day-to-day application, the main principle is this: The key denominator of effectiveness is not intelligence or even hard work, as important as those are. It is the discipline to put first things first. You need to operate from a center of sound principles and organize and execute around priorities. This means that instead of prioritizing your schedule, you schedule your priorities.
This is post 2 in the series: Suffering in Our Work and Everyday Lives
Selling your house and moving half way around the world to advance the cause of missions is suffering. But is selling your house to just move to another part of the U.S.?
What about having to drive to work in cold midwest winters? Or having your dishwasher go out? Or having 3 tight deadlines that you aren’t sure you can make? Or having to work an all-nighter? Or receiving 100+ emails a day when you have myriad other responsibilities to attend to as well? Or just plain not liking the carpet in your living room but not being able to afford to do anything about it?
Are those things suffering? After all, we should just be thankful to even have a dishwasher, right? And if you worked an all-nighter, well, that was your choice and you probably only had to because you weren’t managing your time well, right?
Most of these things are not typically considered suffering. In fact, many of us would be reluctant to think of them as suffering — haven’t we all heard people rebuke the guy who thought that being unable to start his car in the morning was “bearing his cross” (Luke 9:23)?
But in reality, these things are indeed real suffering, even though we often don’t recognize it. They are real suffering because they are real forms of hardship, pain, loss, and difficulty. Suffering is any form of loss, pain, and difficulty, regardless of degree. “Smaller” degrees of suffering do not cease to be suffering simply because they are small.
How do we know this? First, it’s a matter of definition. This is the very meaning of suffering. To suffer is to experience pain or hardship, which can be mental or physical. This is the way we commonly use the word and, although I hate to refer to Wikipedia or the dictionary, both reflect this meaning (Wikipedia | Dictionary.com).
Second, and more importantly, this is the only definition that accounts for the variety of things the Bible includes under the rubric of suffering. We see this in the certain general statements the Scriptures make on suffering, in the specific lists of suffering the Scriptures give us, and in the specific examples of suffering in Paul’s life. I want to look at these three things for the remainder of this post.
In a little less than a month, the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization begins in Cape Town.
The first Congress was held in 1974 and is regarded as a milestone in the history of modern missions. Here’s a bit of the history:
In July 1974 some 2,700 participants and guests from over 150 nations gathered in the Swiss Alps for ten days of discussion, fellowship, worship and prayer. The Congress achieved an unprecedented diversity of nationalities, ethnicities, ages, occupations and denominational affiliations. In fact, TIME magazine described the Lausanne Congress as “a formidable forum, possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held.”Congress participants heard addresses from some of the world’s most respected Christian leaders of the time, including Graham, Samuel Escobar, Francis Schaeffer, Malcolm Muggeridge, and John Stott. Ralph Winter’s plenary address, in which he introduced the term “unreached people groups” was hailed as “one of the milestone events in missiology.” In contradistinction to those calling for a moratorium on foreign missions, Winter argued that because thousands of groups remained without a single Christian witness, cross-cultural evangelization should be the primary task of the church. Dr. Scott Moreau (Evangelical Missions Quarterly) and Dr. Mike O’Rear (Global Mapping) have called the people groups concept “the most significant development in evangelical mission strategy over the last 25 years” (Moreau 1998).
Lausanne II was held in 1989, and the third Congress is next month. You can learn about the Lausanne movement here.
I noticed that as of last week, there are still some funds left to raise to ensure that the Congress is fully funded. This would be a worthy cause worth giving to, and if interested you can give online at their site.
Post 1 in the Series: Suffering in Our Work and Everyday Lives
Today we are going to begin a series on suffering. We are going to look at the different types of suffering, how to endure suffering, what suffering looks like in our work and vocations, God’s role in our suffering, the effects of our suffering, and some thoughts on assisting those who are suffering.
Why this series? It came to mind a while ago when I was reflecting on a list of various types of suffering that Paul gives in 2 Corinthians 12:10. It struck me that most of the things in Paul’s list weren’t things that I typically even thought of as suffering. That connected with some other thoughts, which then opened up some very helpful biblical discoveries that have made a real practical difference in my day-to-day life.
As a result, one of the main points I’m going to hit in this series is that we are all suffering more than we know, because much of our suffering is not clearly recognized as suffering. This realization, in turn, gives us a broader view that makes it possible for us to see more clearly the substantial place of suffering in our everyday lives — and, therefore, how to deal with it (and help others deal with it).
Although there are many helpful things written on suffering, most of them tend to focus on persecution or the more dramatic forms of suffering which will likely happen to us all at some point, but which aren’t usually a main feature of our ongoing lives. As a result, we too easily file those truths away for “later,” failing to make the application to our lives right now — to the more routine hardships that we go through every day and which permeate the dominant fabric of our lives.
In other words, we fail to see all of the ordinary, everyday hardships of life as real suffering, and thus are left to navigate them without the amazing biblical realities that bear us up when we are experiencing more extreme suffering. My aim is to focus specifically (though not exclusively) on the everyday hardships that we experience and show how they are real suffering, what this means for us (and our work, family, and lives), and how to deal with them. (Thus, I almost called this series Suffering in Our Vocations.)
But How Does This Relate to Productivity?
Of course, someone might ask: “Isn’t this blog primarily about productivity and leadership — why are you writing a series on suffering?” The simplest answer is that productivity and leadership themselves involve suffering. Hence, if we are going to be effective in leading and working, we need to know how to navigate suffering.
But the better answer comes from understanding what productivity really is. A proper understanding of productivity requires that we broaden our understanding of productivity in at least two ways.
First, productivity does not just involve our personal productivity. Rather, there are four arenas of productivity. There is our personal productivity, of course, but there is also the productivity of our families, our organizations (that is, our workplaces, churches, and so forth), and society in general. In other words, productivity involves making our families, organizations, and communities more effective, as well as ourselves. Productivity involves life, work, business, and society–all segments of life.
Second, productivity is thus not simply about making ourselves more effective, but rather is about serving. We seek to be more productive so that we can be more effective in doing good for others. (For more on these points, you can see my post Broadening the Concept of Productivity, the About page or What this Blog is About.)
In the course, then, of our seeking to be productive (that is, serve our neighbor) in all areas of life, we will encounter many hardships. We need to know how to handle this covert suffering so that we can endure in our quest to serve and not “grow weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9).
Since productivity is really about service and doing good for others to the glory of God, suffering is just as relevant to the subject of productivity as it is to the subject of loving our neighbor, for they are one and the same.
Posts in This Series
- Suffering in Our Everyday Lives: An Introduction
- Broadening Our Understanding of Suffering: The Various Types of Suffering
- Stealth Suffering: You Are Probably Suffering More than You Know
- What Suffering Feels Like
- How to Endure Suffering
- Suffering in Our Work
- Is God in Control of Our Suffering?
- God’s Aims in our Suffering
- The Results of Our Suffering
- Fighting against Suffering and Helping Those Who Suffer
Jim Collins rightly notes in Beyond Entrepreneurship: Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company:
Like such a teacher [there is much overlap between leading and teaching], a leader idealizes people and has resolute conviction that people can rise to this ideal. A leader grabs the spirit in people, pulling it forward and waking it up. A leader changes people’s perceptions of themselves, getting them to see themselves in the idealized way that he sees them.
This idealized view of people that the leader has is not groundless, but is based in truth. People really are of immense worth and capable of incredible things because they are created in the image of God. A leader’s high view of people is fully justified and based in truth.
Related to this: If you don’t have a high view of people, you shouldn’t lead. If leadership involves lifting people up to do and become more than they realized they could, then you can’t do this if you look down on people or think that most people are not capable of much.
This, in turn, reminds me of Marcus Buckingham’s excellent point that one of the essential talents for leadership is optimism. This is because leaders rally people to a better future. If you don’t believe that the future can be made better, then nobody will want to (or should want to–that would be strange) go to the future that you have in mind. Like a high view of people, this optimism is not groundless, either. Rather, it is ultimately based in providence.
What these two characteristics have in common is that they show us that leaders, while acknowledging the size and difficulty of the environment and challenge before them, are fundamentally positive. They believe that the future can be made better and that people are able to rise to the task to create this better future. Further, even though many leaders may not be thinking in these terms, there is good grounding for these beliefs in the doctrine of man and the doctrine of providence.
Here is a good, short article by John Piper reflecting on Ephesians 6:7-8. Here’s an excerpt from his fourth point, “Encouragement that nothing good is done in vain”:
Perhaps the most amazing sentence of all is this: “Whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” This is amazing. Everything. Every little thing you do that is good is seen and valued by the Lord. And he will pay you back for it. Not in the sense that you have earned anything by putting him in your debt. He owns you and everything in the universe. He owes us nothing. But he freely, graciously chooses to reward good things done in faith. Nothing we do. Nothing. Not one thing is done in vain. “Whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” Astounding!
I mentioned last week that I’m working on a book on productivity, and that I’d give more details soon. Here’s a 40,000 foot, very rough, initial snapshot.
Some people might ask, “another book on productivity?” Rest assured, I’m not interested in repeating cliches. I’ll be making connections that I don’t see other people making, but which I think are absolutely necessary to how we think about productivity.
I want to do two things in this book. First, I want to give the theological basis for productivity. The question I’m asking is “how should we think about productivity as Christians?” There are some very surprising things here. More specifically, I’m going to mine the relationship between productivity and the gospel, so that we can have a gospel-oriented approach to our productivity. Believe me, this matters (and I’ll be showing why).
After giving the theological foundations for how to think about productivity, I’m then going to give a practical, simple approach to managing your life and work effectively. In particular, I’m going to try to present an overall approach that solves some of the snags that you run into with both GTD and Franklin-Covey (the two most well-known approaches to productivity).
Both of those approaches are fantastically helpful. But both have a few snags that can easily lead you to spend more time than you ought to managing your system rather than actually getting things done or just taking time to think and be with people. Maybe these snags flow from how we use them (or how I have used them!) or the way technology has increased our pace in just the last few years, but regardless, I think that we have need now for an updated approach (that is kept as simple as possible).
I’ll be covering some of the highlights of this in my workshop this fall at the Desiring God National Conference. You can glean part of my perspective from my title there: Zealous for Good Works: Rethinking Productivity in Light of Justification by Faith Alone.
The following illustration is fairly well known. But it represents one of the fundamental concepts of effectively managing yourself. So for those who haven’t heard it, here it is as told in Stephen Covey’s First Things First:
One of our associates shared this experience:
I attended a seminar once where the instructor was lecturing on time. At one point, he said, “Okay, it’s time for a quiz.” He reached under the table and pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar. He set it on the table next to a platter with some fist-sized rocks on it. “How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.
After we made our guess, he said, “Okay. Let’s find out.” He set one rock in the jar . . . then another . . . then another. I don’t remember how many he got in, but he got the jar full. Then he asked, “Is that jar full?”
Everybody looked at the rocks and said, “Yes.”
Then he said, “Ahhh.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar and the gravel went in all the little spaces left by the big rocks. Then he greinned and said once more, “Is the jar full?”
By this time we were on to him. “Probably not,” we said.
“Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went in all the little spaces left by the rocks and the gravel. Once more he looked at us and said,”Is the jar full?”
“No!” we all roared.
He said, “Good!” and he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in. He got something like a quart of water in that jar. Then he said, “Well, what’s the point?”
Somebody said, “Well, there are gaps, and if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”
“No,” he said, “that’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?”
The point is: You have to put the big rocks — your most important tasks — in first, or you won’t be able to do them at all. The point is not to do more in less time, but rather to focus on doing what is most important. Covey continues:
Wit the “more is better” paradigm, we’re always trying to fit more activities into the time we have. But what does it matter how much we do if what we’re doing isn’t what matters most?
Our Quadrant II goals [important, but not urgent] are like the “big rocks.” If we put other activities — the water, sand, and gravel — in first, and then try to fit the big rocks in, not only will they not fit, we’ll end up making a pretty big mess in the process.
But if we know what the big rocks are and put them in first, it’s amazing how many of them we can put in — and how much of the sand, gravel, and water fits in between the spaces. Regardless of what else actually does fit in, the key point is tha thte big rocks — our Quadrant II goals — are in first.
It is wrong to think that great management is important for front-line employees, but that managers themselves can have bad managers and get along just fine.
Maybe this is an overstatement, but I think it would be better to have no manager at all than a bad manager. Actually, that’s probably true.
Regardless, great managers perform better when their manager is also a great manager, providing just a bit of outside perspective to help them make sure that they are doing what they do best every day, that the expectations of their role are clear, and that they are on track to being as effective as they can be.
Here’s how Rodd Wagner and James Harter put it in the book 12: The Elements of Great Managing:
We are often asked what makes great managers perform so well.
Some of it is pure talent — a natural ability to discern an employee’s mindset, a persistent optimism, or a strategic acumen difficult to duplicate. Some of it is a deeply held personal mission to change the world for the better.
Much of it also requires that a front-line supervisor have the same experience with the 12 Elements as those he directs. One of the most fundamental needs of a great manager is . . . a great manager.
As obvious as that statement may be, there is an undercurrent running through many organizations that assumes recognition and praise, a mentor, clear expectations, and the rest of the 12 are required only for the front lines. The best managers, so this line of thinking goes, are more self-aware and self-contained, impervious to such forces, and able to maintain a steady course without much regard for the circumstances.
The evidence is just the opposite. The engagement of managers ebbs and flows just as much as it does for anyone else. Moreover, the engagement level of a manager correlates strongly with the attitudes of her team. No one is an island.
. . . The anecdotes and, more important, analyses of manager performance point out that one of the best things a senior executive can do to motivate the entire population in a company is to first look out for the enterprise’s supervisors. Before a person can deliver what he should as a manager, he must first receive what he needs as an employee.
It’s not working long hours. It’s working on the wrong things — whether for long hour or, over time, normal hours. Here’s what Marcus Buckingham writes in Go Put Your Strengths to Work:
Burnout doesn’t happen when you are working long hours on invigorating activities. Long hours may tire you out, but they rarely burn you out. But fill your weeks with the wrong kinds of activities, activities that weaken you, and even regular activities will start to burn.
This means that burnout doesn’t even necessarily mean that you are in the wrong job. You can be in the right job, doing the wrong things.
So, what’s the solution? Work within your strengths, and cut out the activities that call upon your weaknesses — that is, the activities that weaken you:
Pick a week; capture, clarify, and confirm which activities strengthen and which weaken; then start the week-by-week process of pushing your time toward the former and away from the latter.