Ep. 088: Godly Productivity with Tim Challies
September is a mini January. We start college, university, new jobs, new programs – just lot’s of new things! Even if they aren’t necessarily new, most organizations understand September to be a new and fresh time to unveil opportunities, etc. What’s so crucial as we begin things anew, is doing things productively. And not just productively, but productive in a Christian perspective. To help us see this and apply this we have popular blogger and author Tim Challies joining us this week. A few years ago now he wrote a book called Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. Even though it sounds like it could be a secular self-help book, Tim grounds productivity in biblical truth. You’ll benefit practically by listening to this conversation.
Who’s Our Guest?
Tim Challies is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Aileen and a father to three children. In addition to blogging (challies.com), Tim worships and serves as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and is a co-founder of Cruciform Press. He’s also a published author and regularly speaks at conferences.
Tim’s book is called Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity.
I mentioned some downloadable links from Tim to help with productivity. Here they are:
- Productivity Worksheet
- Serve & Surprise Worksheet
- Todoist Illustrated Setup Guide
- Productivity Lessons From a King
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.
With me today is blogger, author, and speaker Tim Challies. If you’ve listened to indoubt for some time now, you probably know that we’ve actually already had a conversation together with Tim. It was on a Christian perspective on alcohol.
Anyways, it’s great to have you back here with us, Tim.
Sure, thanks for having me.
Now I say that you’re most popularly known as a blogger because that’s really how you came to be known in the Christian world. For those unfamiliar though, do you mind sharing us the quick, couple sentence … how that actually came to be?
Yeah. I just started a website for my family — hence the challies.com name of the website. It was really just meant for my parents, my sisters; to share pictures of my kids, that kind of thing.
Started doing a bit of writing and sharing it for them, and other people started reading it. It just kind of grew from there. I’ve been doing it now for 15 years or something, so it’s kind of grown into its own thing.
Yeah, that’s awesome. In addition to that, why don’t you first let us know a bit about who you are. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s kind of neat to know that you are … you live in ., which is exciting. So anyways, for those who are unfamiliar, who is Tim Challies and what kind of things do you do now, like present day?
Sure, yeah. I’m married to Aileen, so I’m a husband. I’ve got three children, so I’m a father. I’m an elder at Grace Fellowship Church, which is in Toronto. I, myself, live in Oakville, just outside of the city, and the blog is what I do. That’s my business, or my living now — my vocation, I guess you could say. So, that’s me in a nutshell.
Yeah. On your blog … I mean, I’m familiar with it, but on there, you pretty much tackle, I guess, different issues that kind of come up in the church. Sometimes they’re kind of more devotional blogs; sometimes they’re book reviews, movie reviews — you kind of do everything in a sense.
I just kind of do what’s interesting to me and trust that other people will find it interesting as well. I think I’m a pretty normal person, and so if I have normal interests and something’s interesting to me, I trust that it’ll appeal to other people as well. Honestly, it sounds a little weird, but that’s kind of been the grid I’ve been operating on under all these years, and generally it seems to be legit.
Yeah, that’s good. That’s awesome.
Now, this conversation is all about a Christian perspective on productivity, in a sense. Tim, you’ve written a book called Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. This idea of productivity, as well, is especially relevant to many of us who are maybe in college, or school, or just beginning a new job this September. Productivity in general is really essential, so that’s why this conversation, I think, is important — especially as September is like a mini January in a lot of ways, a lot of new beginnings.
It’s more important than January, as far as I see. I think it really is the time, you said, to set things in place and set procedures in place. We just released this student edition of the book for that reason.
Oh, perfect. That’s awesome. That’s great.
Now, to begin this topic, let me just state this fact, and I want to get your thoughts on it. Looking around the Evangelical landscape in North America, there’s definitely been an increase in “leadership development” as a task and an effort that many Christian leaders are promoting in conferences, and books, and resources. It’s just a big kind of deal, I don’t know, probably in the last decade, two decades, or more. So before we dig more into Christian productivity, why do you think leadership development in general in the church has become so prominent, and do you see this as a good thing?
Yeah. I think it’s a good thing. I think it gained prominence perhaps really coming out of the, or even into the church growth movement, which really impacted the church heavily, and in many ways negatively. But that was really taking principles of business, principles that were successful in businesses, and then imposing them on the church, and of course then we started bringing in leadership principles from business into the church. I think that caused quite a lot of problems because
there’s a lot of things that succeed in the business world that do not succeed in church.
What I think we’ve seen more recently, then, is trying to rediscover Christian leadership, that servant leadership, that Christ-like leadership. I think we’ve seen a bit of a healthy swing now in trying to recover truly Christian, truly biblical leadership.
That’s good. Thanks for sharing that. The reason why I bring that up is because when some people hear the word “productivity” sometimes they sort of tack it on to this kind of leadership development. I just wanted to kind of make that difference a little bit there.
So anyways, you begin your book, Tim, with talking about a foundation. You write that it would be tempting to move forward to other chapters that are maybe a little bit more practical, but you urge the reader to read about this foundation, so what exactly is this foundation?
Yeah. I think when we approach a subject like productivity, we usually come into because we have a felt need, right? We feel our lack of productivity, and so we want to address that.
What we tend to do is to go straight to the quick tips, just go straight to the practical stuff. What I think is so important and so overlooked is why should we be productive? Let’s lay a proper biblical foundation for our productivity and then build on that.
If I’m just trying to fix the need — that’ll be easy later on to be overwhelmed or … that won’t stick. But if I’m really addressing a spiritual problem — God has put me on this earth for a reason. Productivity is very closely related to the very reason I exist — then I’m laying a foundation that will allow me to create far more enduring changes.
Right. So, what is the purpose for our productivity?
The purpose for productivity is the purpose for our lives, which is to do good to others and bring glory to God.
So God has put us on this earth so we can bring glory to Him, right? All we do is supposed to be taking the spotlight off ourselves and shining it on God. Of course as sinful people, we accumulate treasures for ourself; we accumulate reputation for ourself; we have a spotlight firmly focused on ourselves. We become Christians and now we take that; we say, “I want to reflect everything to God. I want to give glory to God.” How do we do that? How do we give glory to God? We do that by doing good for others. We stop living selfishly, we start living selflessly. Yeah, that’s really what our productivity is then, is
glorifying God by doing what is good for other people.
Many of our listeners are Christian young adults, so from the study that you’ve done for your book Do More Better, and also the experiences that you’ve had over the years of learning these things, I really do want to spend sort of most of our time on you just giving us three … and I didn’t know what to call them — maybe principles, maybe methods — things that you would say are the most important today for young adults when it comes to productivity.
Can you explain those things and then show us what they look like and what it looks like to apply them?
I think the first thing would be have a good definition of productivity, so really define it firmly in your mind. We’ve already talked about doing good to others and glorifying God, but I like to define productivity something along these lines:
using your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.
If you think about a definition like that, you’re using your gifts, your spiritual gifts that you’re given when you become a Christian. You’re using your time — how can I use my time for the good of others and the glory of God? My talents, just those natural talents that I’ve always had, those things I was born with — my energy, right? The ebb and flow of my energy through the week, through the day.
And my enthusiasm — God makes us enthusiastic about different things and I think we need to identify: what do I feel passionate about? What are those things that get me going that may not get someone else going. How can I take those things and use them for the good of others and the glory of God? I think first it’s that matter of coming up with a strong definition of productivity and then just really trying to live that out throughout life.
As you say that, Tim, it’s interesting because you ask all these kind of questions and they’re sort of personal. You’re kind of taking an inventory of your life, and why you’re doing the things that you’re doing, and so on. But as you say that, the only way I can really see this beginning to take effect in someone’s life, in my life, is to actually pause and block out a 30 minute to an hour kind of time slot and actually think through these things because if we think just reading this and then going on with our life … it’s not gonna work unless we actually write it down and see it black and white.
Right, which is why so many of our attempts to be more productive don’t work. We don’t take the time to really think it through. We don’t take the time to make firm plans. We don’t take the time to really think about who I am? What makes me who I am? What has God called me to do? How is God gifted me? How is my life different from that other person’s life, and then what responsibilities does that give me?
We’re not generic people, so we don’t have generic lives. Productivity in my life will look very, very different from your own. Often we go wrong by just adopting somebody else’s system thoughtlessly, or we’re just trying to bring quick fixes into our lives. We’ve got to do better than that.
That’s good. Maybe you can answer this question, too: generally speaking — very, very general — there’s a lot of people that sort of have a type A personality, and structures and methods in their lives work. It’s just more natural. But then there’s a whole other kind of side of people, maybe call them creatives or what have you … Maybe this idea of really sitting down and blocking this stuff out kind of seems either intimidating or maybe a little bit unauthentic in a sense — what would you say to that kind of side?
Yeah. I know there’s that artistic temperament. I don’t really understand it so well … I mean, I’ve got some artistic temperament myself, but still I’m very structured.
I think as you look around, generally the people who really accomplish a lot, the people who really live out their purpose, I think, in a really helpful way are usually the people who put in that time to understand who they are and how they can best serve.
I mean, there’s something to be said for spontaneity, and sometimes the flighty people really do succeed, but I think generally for most of us, at least in points in life, we just need to sit down and take inventory of our lives, take inventory of ourselves.
That’s really good. All right, so, what’s the next thing you got?
Yeah. I think the second tip to take advantage of tools. So, I think when it comes to productivity we can have a bit of a fear of tools, or think that only weak people need to use tools for productivity. I think tools are absolutely essential to productivity and the way I would prove that is by saying,
“Tools are essential to everything we do in life, and the better our tools, the better we do at our job.”
So if you’re a surgeon, I want you to have really good tools. I want you to buy the best tools you can have before you start cutting me open, right? I want to make sure you’ve got a high quality scalpel. You didn’t just run out to Dollarama and get one off the rack there. You’ve got something really good.
If you’re a pastor and you’re preaching sermons, I want you to have good tools, good commentaries, good dictionaries, good tools that can help you craft your sermons. So when it comes to productivity, there are tools that are available to us. Often those tools aren’t the free ones — often they aren’t the cheap ones.
Like any tool, a surgeon has to learn how to us a scalpel, right? A carpenter has to learn to use his tools. We have to learn to use our productivity tools to use them, to use them properly. So to look at these things as tools that we have to master, I think, is very, very helpful.
No, that is helpful. What’s interesting is you used the analogy of the surgeon, because a lot of people can look at that and say, “Okay. It’s very physical. It’s very external. Here’s a body, here’s a surgeon, and he has to cut the body open to do his thing,” but when we think of … first of all productivity in general, okay, huge because there’s so many different avenues. So when you say that, tools for productivity, are you referring to tools that will be specific to say your work, or your family, or your service at your church, and so on?
Yeah. I’m thinking especially of the tools that we use specifically for productivity, which I would say is a tool to store information, a tool to store appointments or meetings, and a tool to store our tasks. If you have those three tools — an information tool, a task tool, and a scheduling tool — you’ll be in good shape, especially if you can get those three things to work nicely with one another. Those are the tools of productivity.
Right. I think we all know in our minds that … we look at our smart phone and we can do that, obviously. So there you go — there’s that tool, very physical, that we can use.
So anyways, what’s your last point?
I guess the last thing would be to exercise self-discipline, you know, fruit of the spirit. One of the fruits of the spirit is self-control, right? Self-control is self-discipline — it means that,
“I’m going to set something in place, but I’m gonna do it over the longterm. I’m not gonna do it for a week and bail on it. This is so important to me — productivity matters to me so much that I will discipline myself to do it week after week. I will discipline myself to have a little routine I start my day with to make sure I know what’s going on today. I will discipline myself at the end of the week to spend some time thinking about ‘How can I serve other people in the week ahead? How can I show my love, show my delight in people in the week ahead? How can I do my job with excellence?’ And then I’ll put those things into my productivity system and make sure I’m doing it.”
That discipline — we’re all good at starting things, especially in September and January, right? Getting something new out the door. But to be doing it still in October, to be doing it still in February, that is much, much harder. Having self-discipline, learning self-discipline is so, so important.
That’s really good, Tim. As you’re talking, I’m thinking of an undisciplined life and I kind of feel like that sort of behavior for a lot of Christians is sort of … it hasn’t really been … I don’t know what the word is. It hasn’t really been brought to light in the church or anything — addiction to pornography let’s say, or another kind of very blatant sin that’s been brought up. A lot of people will get together and they’ll get accountability partners and they’ll fight for purity, but when it comes to the undisciplined life, there seems to be this sort of silence epidemic when it comes to a lot of people just being undisciplined when it comes to their productivity. I guess … This is September; people are in school, they’re starting different things.
How would you warn us when it comes to that undisciplined life?
Yeah. I think it goes back to some of what I said earlier, which is I just don’t think undisciplined people are, often anyways, doing what the Lord calls them to do. I think there is … We are supposed to live this life in a disciplined and structured way, and again it doesn’t necessarily mean every single day we have to be doing that, but I just think in general we have to live lives that are disciplined. Now, I think what can happen is that we can confuse self-discipline with legalism, right? Thinking that if I’m putting structure in my life that’s binding me to some legalistic way of living — I don’t think that’s the case.
Applying self-discipline, I think, is really freeing us up — it’s not binding us. It’s freeing us to do what God has called us to do.
I feel far more freedom within the bounds of the structure I’ve set up ’cause now I know that I’m doing what God’s called me to do. Now I have confidence that I’m living in a way that pleases him. When I’m undisciplined and unstructured, I’m wavering this way and that way.
Sure, that’s good. Would you recommend … I don’t know if you do this yourself, but maybe for someone that’s undisciplined right now and they really want to work towards a disciplined life of productivity, would you encourage them to find someone, a like-minded person to sort of keep them accountable towards that?
Yeah. I think there’s good value in accountability. I think what you said is important: don’t find two really chaotic people and put them together and expect that that’s really gonna be helpful anymore than taking a bunch of porn addicted people and putting them together is gonna provide really helpful accountability. I think there’s a lot of value in finding someone who is exemplary in any area of life and then essentially just saying to that person, “I want to be like you. How can I be like you?” We see that modelled in many ways in the New Testament, where Paul’s telling these churches, “Be like me. I’ve lived an exemplary life before you. You want to know what it looks like to be a pastor? Just think about me.”
That could be the height of arrogance or that could be true humility. I think in the life of Paul that was humility, so I think there’s value in finding someone and saying, “Can I be like you?” And hopefully that person is humble enough to say, “Yeah, you know what, God has granted me grace. He’s granted me the ability to do this — let me teach you. Let me take you under my wing. Let me help you live within some structures. Let me help you audit your life so we can see what is your life really about? What will it look like to succeed at being you, at doing what God has called you specifically to do?”
Yeah. No, that’s really good. Now, Tim, you obviously … I mean I hope you have — you’ve taken what you’ve written in your book Do More Better and you applied it to your life, and you’re doing that, but obviously you can give us many stories of interruptions coming into your schedules constantly.
So, I guess, what would you say in that sense? How should we think of these sort of interruptions that come where things that we weren’t planning suddenly come up and now it’s going against what we deem to be most productive?”
Yeah. I think we have to be pretty quick to evaluate the interruptions that come into our lives, ’cause interruptions can come in different forms. Some of them can distract us from what we ought to be doing, other things are what we ought to be doing, right? Sometimes I think the Lord wants us to resist those distractions. Sometimes our business in the world is those distractions, so being able to evaluate them fairly quickly …
And then I think there’s two different personality types, or different times we can respond in different ways. We can suffer from fear of man where somebody wants me to do something; I so want to please that person that I’ll do whatever that person wants me to do. So now I’ve been distracted from the task I ought to be doing so I could please that person. I might even have been distracted from what God himself has called me to do, and now I’m doing what someone else wants me to do, and I’m doing it because really I want to please that person more than I want to please God. That’s a problem.
The other thing that can happen is some divine interruption comes into our lives, but I’m too proud. I’m resistant to that, so now I’m suffering from pride — the first was fear of man, now I’m into the world of pride where I’m resisting the very thing God’s calling me to do or wanting me to do in that moment. I’m turning down some opportunity.
I think we need to be very sensitive in these things, and maybe pray briefly, evaluate. We have to say no to a lot of things in life, though some opportunities that come along, even some very good opportunities where we need to say, “That’s a wonderful thing, but it’s not my thing.” And yet, we do have to have that sensitivity, so there’s no hard and fast rule. We just have to carefully consider each one.
That’s really good. As our last question, to sort of wrap up this conversation on productivity, what could you say, and sort of testify from your own life, from living a life now for some time with really focusing on living your life with productivity … What could you say personally has been some fruits? What have you seen that you could sort of say to all of us to kind of encourage, like this is what, in a sense, you could work towards?
I think it would be confidence that I know what God has called me to do and generally confidence that I’m doing it, because there’s so many things I could be distracted by. There’s … Again, so many of us, all of us really, I think — there’s so many good things to do, and it’s so important. It’s easy to say no to the bad stuff, right? Somebody comes along and says, “Help me rob a bank,” it’s really easy for me to evaluate that and say, “No, I’m not gonna help you do that.” But if somebody comes and says, “Can you help here? Here’s a great ministry you could be involved in. Here’s a great position you could take. Here’s a great work opportunity.”
These are very, very good things, and I know personally I’m prone to take on way too much, way more than I can do well, way more than I can do … really in a way that honours God.
A strong understanding of what God has called me to allows me to say no to many things so I can focus the bulk of my time and attention on those very few things that I think God wants me to do and to do with excellence. So I think that’s been the real joy of it.
Yeah. That’s really good.
So on a completely different note, Tim, you’ve embarked on this new journey. I’ve read about it a little while ago now on your blog, and it’s taking you kind of all over the world. Obviously now I’ve talked to you, you’re at home, so maybe I got one of your little times when you’re actually back at home, but anyways — can you tell us about this project that you’re working on?
Yeah. I’m working toward a church history project where I’m hoping to tell the history of Christianity through historical objects. So what I’m doing is I’m going out to find those objects. I’ve got good leads on things, but I can’t include the object in my project unless I’ve actually seen it and seen the context in which it exists, and so I just got back from a trip to Germany. I was out there looking at some historical relics, just things of historical interest or importance.
I’ve seen them; I know them, so now I can start telling the history of the church through them. Shortly, I’ll be going to some other unspecified country — I can’t tell you about it yet — and I’ll be doing the same thing there; going through museums, going through churches and cathedrals, and just looking for specific objects that have importance outside themselves; historical objects that … Each one tells a story. It’s fascinating to see these things, and it might be something that was owned by someone who was important, or something that’s in a pivotal place in church history, so I think it’s going to be a very, very interesting, exciting project.
That’s awesome. When do you think that will actually be kind of released? I mean, you still have to write the whole thing, too, I presume.
Yeah. I don’t expect anytime before, say, 2020, so it’s gonna be a little while.
Yeah. That’s awesome. Anyways, thank you so much, Tim. It’s just a privilege to be able to chat with you, so thank you. If you’re interested, and you’re listening right now and you’re interested in the book Do More Better: A Practical Guide To Productivity, you can read it probably in a couple of hours, it’s very short. You can pick it up on Amazon, cruciformpress.com, or challies.com.
It’s also challies.com, which Tim has obviously talked about that you can find many just great resources, either written by Tim or suggested or recommended by him. I also actually found some handy resources that you’ve included on sort of your book page that you can download as well, so that’s pretty awesome. I’ll link those at the same time. But anyways, thanks again, Tim. It was a pleasure.
Yeah. My pleasure.