Book Review: “What’s Best Next” by Matt Perman

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10/01/2021

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10/01/2021

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Book Review: What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transform the Way You Get Things Done, by Matt Perman

What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman is a book on productivity that I’ve been wanting to review for some time. Perman has generously shared the summary of his book here, and I have repost his content summary below. I am certain you’d find this helpful, and I will share my thoughts after this:

Summary: Gospel-Driven Productivity in a Nutshell

We need to look to God to define for us what productivity is, not simply the ambiguous concept of “what matters most.” For God is what matters most.

Matt Perman, Author of What’s Best Next
Matt Perman (Author of What’s Best Next)

When we do this, we don’t enter a realm of spiritual weirdness, as we might fear. Good secular thinking remains relevant as a gift of God’s common grace. Neither do we enter a realm of over-spiritualization where the things we do every day don’t matter.

Instead, the things we do every day take on even greater significance because they are avenues through which we serve God and others. In fact, the gospel teaches us that the good of others is to be the main motive in all that we do and the chief criteria by which we determine “what’s best next.” This is not only right, but also the best way to be productive, as the best business thinkers are showing. More importantly, when we do this in God’s power and as an offering to him, he is glorified and shown to be great in the world.

In order to be most effective in this way in our current era of massive overload yet incredible opportunity, we need to do four things to stay on track and lead and manage our lives effectively:

  1. Define
  2. Architect
  3. Reduce
  4. Execute

The result of this is not only our own increased peace of mind and ability to get things done, but also the transformation of the world by the gospel because it is precisely in our everyday vocations that we take our faith into the world and the light of the gospel shines—both in what we say and in what we do (Matthew 5:16).

If You Only take 5 Productivity Practices Away from This Book

Learning and especially implementing productivity practices can be hard. It is easy to forget what we learned or forget how to apply it. One remedy is to keep coming back to this book (of course!). But to make this as simple as possible, if you can only take away 5 things from this book, they should be these:

  1. Foundation: Look to God, in Jesus Christ, for your purpose, security, and guidance in all of life.
  2. Purpose: Give your whole self to God (Romans 12:1-2), and then live for the good of others to his glory to show that he is great in the world.
  3. Guiding Principle: Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others the way you want them to treat you. Be proactive in this and even make plans to do good.
  4. Core Strategy: Know what’s most important and put it first.
  5. Core Tactic: Plan your week, every week! Then, as things come up throughout the day, ask “is this what’s best next?” Then, either do that right away or, if you can’t, slot it in to your calendar or action list that you are confident you will refer back to at the right time.

My Thoughts:

1. What’s Best Next is BIG on Finding and Embracing our Calling

If embraceourcalling.com is a course website, then this book will be a required-reading course text!

To write this book review, I went to Scribd, reread the book as well as listened to the audiobook… and fell in love with it again. What’s Best Next is about productivity, but it is productivity in the context of our most primary and ultimate calling – our relationship to God. The foundational chapters set the book apart from all other books on productivity. We are to be productive for the glory of God, period. Matt Perman was working with Desiring God ministry while writing this book, and he got this point spot on. I cannot overstate how foundational this is for us to think about our calling!

Finding our calling

In his chapter about writing one’s mission statement, Perman departs from the usual adage of looking within to determine our mission in life (or that all-too-common exercise of writing our own obituary). He asserts that finding one’s mission in life is less about what we do; it’s about who we are. God has a mission for each of us in life: to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. It is from that mission that our calling flows.

The chapter on ‘Finding Your Life Calling’ is particularly relevant to our purpose here. Perman writes:

You need to have an overarching, passionate, God-centered aim to your life — an overarching goal and message that flows from your mission and directs the priorities of your life.

– Matt Perman, What’s Best Next

To discover your life calling, Perman suggested asking these 2 questions:

  1. What would I do if I had all the money I needed and could do whatever I wanted? 
  2. What would I do if I could do only one thing in the next three years? 

What if I don’t know my life calling?

What if we don’t know our life goal or calling? Perman gave the following pointers, and I’ve added my paraphrases:

  1. Do what’s before you with excellence. This will help you find greater clarity. When I was doubting my life path, I continue working on being an excellent teacher, and that gave me clarity later.
  2. Take steps for fundamental reasons, not instrumental ones. Do something because you love it in itself, not because you think it might lead you to somewhere else.
  3. Care about who as much as what. Be in the company of people you look up to, and who can build you up.
  4. Increase your opportunity stream. Learn, network, and do things. Be open to the opportunities that arise from this process.
  5. Read inspiring books and biographies, and watch inspiring movies. Personally, I enjoy superhero shows like Daredevil, Green Arrow, and the Flash, because they inspire me to love my city and dream big dreams for the community I am with.
  6. Stay faithful in prayer! Commit your plans to God and make Him the center of your life.
  7. Take action and commit. Get involved in the world of work, get a job that is challenging and calls on the best of you, and live your life.

Perman also talks about the doctrine of vocation (calling) in the chapter about our roles. Whatever we do in life is not by accident, but a role that God has called us into. Not just our jobs, but every area of our lives (spouse, child, friend, community member, parent, etc) is a calling. Thus, they each have dignity and significance. Each role is a stewardship for which we are ultimately responsible to God himself.

I think of the difference between our overarching life goal and these specific callings in life as between our primary and secondary callings. So it is important to stay faithful to our various callings, as worker/parent/community member, without losing sight of our primary calling in life. For me, my primary calling is to work for human flourishing through education, and this is expressed through my secondary callings as a parent, a teacher, a church member, and a blogger.

Embracing our calling

Why did I say it is a course text for my website? Because the second half of the book is the part where we learn how we can embrace our calling. Perman integrated the various tools on productivity out there into his D.A.R.E. (Define, Architect, Reduce, Execute) system:

  1. Define: knowing what is most important, such as your mission, life calling, and main roles
  2. Architect: creating a flexible structure that set up your weekly priorities and right routines
  3. Reduce: freeing up time for what’s most important, by delegating, eliminating, automating, and deferring in the right way
  4. Execute: doing what’s most important by weekly planning, and managing various projects and actions

Perman’s system makes it possible for anyone to embrace our callings by having specific steps and routines that systematically map out how we can achieve our goals in these different areas.

2. If you’re a Christian, this book is a gem because it condenses the best of Christian and secular thinkers on productivity

At least in the Christian circles I’m in, we don’t usually read books by Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek), Peter Drucker (The Effective Executive), Tim Sanders (Love is the Killer App), and David Allen (Getting Things Done). We are probably more familiar with William Wilberforce, Jonathan Edwards, and John Piper.

Well, this book shines in integrating the best of both secular and Christian thinkers. Perman distills the best of various literature on productivity out there, evaluating their usefulness through a Christian perspective and also his personal experience using them. The outcome is the D.A.R.E. (Define, Architect, Reduce, Execute) system that is comprehensive yet practical for everyday use.

Personally, I read books like Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek, and while I enjoy the insights I gain from the book, I always feel that it was a little too… hedonistic? Perman is not afraid to say what he thinks about the book, and yet still manages to pick up gems of insight from the writer and apply it in his system.

So if you are a Christian and you are apprehensive about venturing into books on personal productivity by secular writers, let Matt Perman be your guide.

3. If you’re not a Christian, this book will still provide insights into the Christian perspective on productivity

You may ask, ‘Why should I want to know the Christian perspective on productivity or calling?’

The same reason why we want to know the Buddhist perspective on suffering, or the Japanese perspective on ikigai, or the Confucian perspective on filial piety – simply because each major worldview and religion had made tremendous contributions to our understanding of a subject. Christian thought has much to say about identifying the purpose and value of human existence, and how to live our lives to the fullest.

Perman’s two heroes in the book are William Wilberforce and Jonathan Edwards.

William Wilberforce

WHM112034 Portrait of William Wilberforce (1759-1833) Aged 29 (oil on canvas) by Rising, John (1753-1817) oil on canvas 220×130 © Wilberforce House, Hull City Museums and Art Galleries, UK English, out of copyright

William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833) was a British politician, philanthropist, and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. Perman captures the life goal of Wilberforce in his quote:

God almighty has set before me two great objects: The abolition of the slave trade, and the reformation of manners. 

— William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity

There is much to inspire us from the lives of giants such as Wilberforce. But Wilberforce’s life work was inspired, and fueled by, his Christian faith. So there is great value in studying the reasons behind the achievements of this great man.

Jonathan Edwards 

Joanthan Edwards (1703 – 1758). Source: Wikipedia

Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) was an American preacher, philosopher, and is widely regarded as one of America’s most important and original philosophical theologians. Much of Perman’s foundational thinking about life mission and productivity are based on Edwards’ works and his famous 70 Resolutions (!). Let’s sample a few of them here:

Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, to the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence.

Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

These (and other) resolutions formed the core principles of Edwards’ life, and there is much we can learn from, whether we are Christians or not. For one, it begs the question: what core principles do I hold in my life? Do they inspire me towards greatness? How often do I remind myself of these principles?

The above are just two examples of how Christian thinkers and practitioners have much to contribute to our understanding of calling and productivity. Perman goes much deeper than this in his book, and I promise you that it will be a stimulating read!

Conclusion

I will give this book a 5-star rating for its usefulness and readability, as well as its breadth and depth. Matt Perman has written a very practical book on productivity for both Christians and non-Christians alike. I strongly recommend it for anyone who wants to think more deeply about the purpose and meaning behind our life’s work, and to embrace our calling by using a practical system that increases one’s productivity and effectiveness.


This post is part of my column on Book Reviews, where I share some of the insights gleaned from my reading. Feel free to check out the other blog posts on books that have influenced me significantly.

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