The Digital Age has us all sold on the notion that it is always better to try to do more work in less time. But this has led to—for some of us productivity geeks—spending more time finessing our productivity app/system than actually doing the work. We want to streamline things so badly that we lose our original goal. Unable to focus on just one thing at a time, we succumb to infinite distractions to calm our inner anxiety. We end up, in short, mistaking efficiency for productivity.
Hands down, our communication in the digital age has gotten worse, not better. No one knows how to talk to each other anymore—we give clumsy handshakes and we are scared to look into another’s eyes. We are afraid of humanity, ready to retreat back into the safety of our controlled online environments, where we can hide behind our self-made images and words that make no audible sound.
This belief in “technology over people” has created a workforce who collectively think that going to work is about checking their email and getting to the enviable “inbox zero.” But where else did “inbox zero” come from but from a thirst for something measurable? Think about it. Since many people have their email open all day, and since many think that a large part of their job is checking and responding to email, one way to feel accomplished is to process all of your email until you have done something with every piece of it. Since email is the ultimate “infinite,” we came up with a way to feel good about our control over it. It’s called “inbox zero.” But as my previous boss used to say, “Email is not work. When I come to my job, I’m working on projects, not opening email.” More of us would benefit from thinking like that.
The Definition of Productivity
People normally think of productivity as something signified by how many tasks one checks off in a day—the more the better. But in his book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, Matt Perman defines productivity in a way that shatters our preconceived notions of what our work should be about:
The gospel is to be the foundation for how we think about all of life. So what happens when we look at our productivity in light of the gospel? To be productive means to get the right things done. …When we recognize the centrality of God, the right things are the things that God wants done. …What, then, does God want done? Good works. What God wants done are good works. We see this in one of the most important passages on productivity in the Bible — Ephesians 2: 8 – 10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”. …Hence, good works are part of the purpose of our salvation. In one sense, then, we have been doubly created for good works. God created us to do good works, as we saw in the creation mandate, and now we see that we are also re-created in Christ to do good works. Productive things, then, are things that do good. Productivity always has to be understood in relation to a goal, and God’s goal is that we do good works. Hence, we can redefine productivity this way: to be productive is to be fruitful in good works. (Perman, p. 73-74)
The gospel of Jesus Christ reshapes our aim so that now, we should not be worried about how many things we get done (or do not get done in a day). Rather, we should be aiming at blessing our neighbor in all that we do. And sometimes, that work is slow, messy, and “unproductive” in the eyes of society. Good works are often hard works—they are not convenient for the one doing the work.
So then, if true productivity is about embarking upon good works that bless others, and if the digital age is getting in the way of our own effectiveness in self-management and communication, what is the way forward? How can we remove the obstacles of doing good work?