Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Review: Do More Better

Tim Challies makes a big claim at the start of this little book. When I read it, I was dubious, but here it is: 'I believe this book can improve your life. This is a bold claim, I know, but the book would not be worth my time writing, or your time reading, if I did not believe it. I wrote this because I want you to do more better and because I believe you can.'

I must confess that I'm not really into the 'productivity' mindset. Having read Matt Perman's book 'What's Best Next' last summer, it slightly scared me to find such highly motivated, always on, never resting enthusiasm. Perhaps it was a difference of personality, but 'What's Best Next' wasn't best for me. So when I heard that Tim Challies had written and released a productivity book, I approached it with trepidation. Having availed of the offer of a free PDF review copy for bloggers, and having read the opening claim, I almost switched the Kindle off. But I kept going, and I'm glad I did. I even think it might have made a difference in my life and work in the week since I've read it, and it has the potential to do even more even better in the future. If it can do that with someone once described as 'so laidback he's horizontal' then Do More Better could help you as well.

Tim Challies lays out the foundations for the book by describing how it came about. Having invested lots of time and energy into productivity, because he loves 'to make the best use of my time and energy', he is 'constantly fine-tuning the ideas, tools, and systems that help [him] to remain that way.' The book is a sharing of what he has discovered, by opening up his life to demonstrate how his system works. But before he gets to the system, he first covers the essential foundation of productivity - knowing your purpose. This first chapter unfolds the vision of purpose - why God made us (to bring glory to God), and how we bring glory to God (by doing good works). Good works are defined as 'deeds done for the glory of God and the benefit of other people.'

It's a good place to start, but as I read it, I wondered was this a book only for Christians? Especially since he states: 'But when God saved you, he gave you a heart that longs to do good for others.' Now, later on he does explain the Gospel, and outlines how you can be saved, but in this initial chapter, it did appear to be limited in its approach. It wasn't the only issue I encountered in the chapter. Several times there were statements that seemed quite simplistic, or un-nuanced. The first was 'Good works, then, are any and all of those deeds you do for the benefit of others.' The second was like it: 'There is no task in life that cannot be done for God's glory' - to which I typed in my kindle 'really?' Setting aside my doubts and having made it through the chapter, the foundational purpose is found to be: 'to glorify God by doing good to others.'

Chapter two asks how we can do this in our everyday life, recognising that it isn't always easy. The 'lifelong struggle to be and to remain productive' is because of three main reasons - laziness, busyness and the 'mean combination of thorns and thistles.' Through this chapter, he considers the sluggard of Proverbs, the equal and opposite problem of busyness which does lots but doesn't achieve anything that counts; and the thorns and thistles of the Genesis 3 curse - 'the punishment was not work itself, but the difficulty that would not accompany work.' This was a helpful diagnostic chapter, and one which helped the reader to locate their own unique approach to life and work, and what might need done about it!

From chapter three onwards, Challies becomes more practical and more hands-on. There's even some homework, as the reader is called to Define your Responsibilities. The audit helps to summarise the various areas of responsibility, such as home, work, church, hobbies, projects, and to tease out the main tasks of each. Chapter four builds on this, by inviting you to State your mission as you allocate your scarce resource of time and make difficult decisions. The pursuit of productivity is refined by the helpful saying: 'Your primary pursuit in productivity is not doing more things, but doing more good.' He advises that the way to do this is the slow 'yes' and the quick 'no' to things that do or don't fit the mission statement of your life.

Chapter five begins to introduce what some would have expected from the opening chapter - Choose your Tools Having journeyed with him thus far, it makes sense to only begin to talk tools and procedures at this stage. His focus is on software tools, but it's about finding what works. His system boils down to this: 'Effective productivity depends upon three tools and the relationship between them: task management tool; scheduling tool; and information tool.' The chapter then outlines the programs and apps he uses, along with alternatives for each, depending on personal preference.

His shortlist is: task management tool - Todoist; scheduling tool - Google Calendar; and information tool - Evernote. The guiding principle for what goes where is 'a home for everything, and like goes with like.' The rest of the book follows an outline of what each bit of the system does, and how to set up and begin to use each of the three tools. But the key to effective productivity is to use them together, in connection with each other. His tip to doing this is to daily plan, and then execute - to review, decide and plan, and then actually get on and do the work. Tim outlines the way he does this, through a daily review, and a weekly review.

All in all, it was an interesting book to read, and as I was reading it, I was thinking to myself that it was too complicated to put into practice. But then I thought I would give it a go. It would beat my current system of trying to remember the things I had to do (and forgetting some). I already use Evernote, and had dabbled with Google Calendar. So I decided to be more intentional with my Evernoting, switch to using the Google calendar on my phone (which links in to Facebook and the church website diary anyway), and download Todoist. Just to see. And now I haven't looked back.

My to-do list and reminders are contained in Todoist, and my productivity graph is rising each day as things get done. My calendar is always with me, and is working better than my Moleskine diary (I never thought I'd say that!). And the information I need is stored in Evernote (and Dropbox). I'm still working on email inbox zero, but I'm getting there. So perhaps the book has made a difference in my worklife. My system is working, and I'm feeling on top of what needs to be done. For that, and for the free PDF review copy of Do More Better, thank you Tim Challies!

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