“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” - Colossians 3:17 CSB
As I have worked with missions leaders, I have encountered many who have incredible strengths in relating to people, teaching, and inspiring others. I’ve found, though, that some struggle with taking their passion and putting it into action with intentionality. Much of our Upstream content and cohorts are centered on creating the right vision and strategy to put teeth to the passion that missions leaders possess. There are some great books to help us think through this idea of productivity, such as:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey—a secular book focused on developing the character needed to be productive.
What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman—a Christian book based on the idea that productivity is a means to the end of glorifying God, not an end in itself.
Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies—a Christian book with practical tools for productivity.
I am a type-A person, Enneagram 1 (the perfectionist), so I LOVE productivity. As I’ve interacted with missions pastors, however, I’ve realized that not everyone is like me. Go figure! But I’ve also seen how God uses people much different than me to make an incredible impact in global missions.
Productivity is about making the most of the gifts and calling God has given you to glorify him and love others in ways that align with the unique way he has made you.
Even for those who are not type A, there are some foundational truths about productivity and tools for increasing productivity that I believe will help us understand what real productivity is. Check out how the following authors define productivity:
“Productivity is not what will bring purpose to your life, but what will enable you to excel in living out your existing purpose.”
- Tim Challies, Do More Better
“Productivity isn’t just about getting more things done. It’s about getting the right things done—the things that count, make a difference, and move the world forward.”
- Matt Perman, What’s Best Next
The point of productivity is not simply to get more done in order to earn more money, look better before a boss, feel better about ourselves, or even to get more done. Productivity is about making the most of the gifts and calling God has given you to glorify him and love others in ways that align with the unique way he has made you. Maximizing your productivity requires that you recognize who you are, what you are called to, your personal limits, and how to live in those realities with joy and peace. Jesus said,
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28–30
Gospel-centered productivity cannot come from a place of fleshly striving; it must come from a place of rest and trust in the God who calls us to obey and follow him out of our love for him.
As you consider your giftings and calling, there are four guidelines I have found to be particularly important for increasing productivity:
Know your priorities and purpose
Let your yes be yes and your no be no
Block schedule your calendar
Use technology to your advantage instead of simply as a tool for escapism
1) Know Your Priorities and Purpose
Every time you say yes to something, you have to say no to something else. Every time you say no to something, it allows you to say yes to something else. I like to think I have unlimited capacity, but the truth is, I do not. Because we are limited, it is extremely important for each of us to know our life’s purpose and to have a personal mission statement, values, and marks of success that are specific to us as a unique individual made in the image of God.
What’s Best Next and Do More Better have great resources to help you discover your priorities and your purpose as you seek to honor God in the uniqueness of who he made you to be. Establishing these now will help us avoid trading in productivity for busyness. As Tim Challies writes,
“Busyness may make you feel good about yourself and give the illusion of getting things done, but it probably just means that you are directing too little attention in too many directions, that you are prioritizing all the wrong things, and that your productivity is suffering.” - Do More Better
2) Let Your Yes Be Yes and Your No Be No
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that we are to let our “yes be yes” and our “no be no” (Matt 5:37). His brother James reminds us of this same principle (Jas 5:12). We are in an era that has lost this value of “my word is my bond,” but it is an important biblical principle. I’ve observed in my own life and in other leaders' lives the tendency to over-promise and under-deliver, to make promises that we cannot keep.
One of the purposes behind thinking about productivity is to give ourselves a scaffold that helps us give honest and realistic answers when we are approached with opportunities. Much of the over-promising that comes from leaders is the result of them not taking the necessary time to think about whether the opportunity fits within their key priorities and whether they can actually accomplish what is put before them.
3) Block Schedule Your Calendar
As those in ministry, we can sometimes feel like it’s our job to meet our people where they are and in a way that’s most convenient to them. While this mentality has a positive motivation to serve at its core, it can allow people to easily intrude on important priorities like God, family, and self-health. You cannot be productive if you don’t love God, your family is a mess, and you're unhealthy. A key part of keeping these priorities in check is creating boundaries that will allow you to create the right spaces for each of them.
One way people have found success in doing this is through block scheduling. The basic idea behind this approach is that, instead of creating a schedule that’s based on each hour of the day, you’re more likely to be productive by creating a schedule that’s based on twenty-one blocks of time we have each week. Give themes to each of these blocks, like admin, meetings, people, family, or self-care. Scheduling based on these blocks of time will prevent you from letting others dictate how you spend your days.
For more on block scheduling, check out this post from Todoist.
Using tools like these is necessary to take the giftings and calling God has given you and leverage them to set priorities for your life that glorify God and allow you to live within your God-given limits.
4) Use Technology to Your Advantage Instead of Simply as a Tool for Escapism
There are three types of tools that are helpful for being productive and staying on the course God has put you on:
Task Management Tools—for prioritizing your to-dos
Scheduling Tools—for scheduling your priorities
Information Tools—for storing important information and easily accessing it when needed
Using electronic tools like these is necessary to take the giftings and calling God has given you and leverage them to set priorities for your life that glorify God and allow you to live within your God-given limits.
For each of these four points, we have given further tips and examples of how to accomplish these goals. Members can access this article for free by clicking the button below:
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LET’S HEAR FROM YOU!
What are some productivity tips that you can give others?
Where do you struggle with productivity?
Mike Ironside is Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. He has served on staff with Cornerstone since 2006 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Cohorts and Content for the Upstream Collective. He also serves as Chairman of the Board for Campus to Campus, a missions organization dedicated to getting US college students connected to church-planting movements amongst college students worldwide.