Mere Christians

Matt Perman (Author of What's Best Next)

Episode Summary

The 3 marks of Gospel Driven Productivity

Episode Notes

Jordan Raynor sits down with Matt Perman, Author of What’s Best Next, to talk about his rich theology of “Gospel Driven Productivity,” why we shouldn’t “let go and let God,” but rather “trust God and get going,” and the important difference between “following your passions” and “following your interests.”

Links Mentioned:

And don't forget, if you pre-order a copy of Jordan's new book, Redeeming Your Time, you can enter to win a trip for two to the Holy Land (or a cash prize of equivalent value)!

Entering to win is super simple:

NO PURCHASE NEC. Restrictions apply. U.S. + D.C. residents only. Visit for full rules, prize info, odds, free entry method & other details. Void where prohibited.

Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] JR: Before we get to today's episode, a quick announcement. October 19th, I'm releasing my next book, Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive. In case you haven't heard, I'm giving you guys an amazing, over-the-top incentive to pre-order the book today. I'm giving away a trip for you and the guest of your choice to visit the Holy Land.


Here's why: The new book is all about these seven time management principles from the life of Christ that we can see in the gospels, believe it or not. Essentially, what I've done in this book, is I've taken those seven timeless principles and mapped them to 31 hyper-practical practices, to help you live out those principles today, ensuring that you and I can walk like Jesus walked in the first century, here in the 21st century today.


I thought, if I'm teaching people how to walk like Jesus walked, how awesome would it be to send a listener of the podcast to go walk where Jesus walks? That's exactly what I'm doing. Now, listen, I know many of us are not comfortable traveling internationally right now. That's why I'm giving the winner of this sweepstakes three years to book their trip to Jerusalem. Now, if you're still not comfortable traveling to the Holy Land, I get it. No worries. If you win, you can choose to receive the equivalent cash prize of the trip instead.


All right, so with all that away, entering to win this trip, or the prize, whatever you want, super simple; step one, go pre-order Redeeming Your Time on Amazon, or wherever you buy your books. Step two, go to, you'll find a form right there on the website, where you can enter in the number of books you pre-ordered, and enter to win the trip. That's it. Now, here's today's episode.




[00:02:10] JR: JR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do their most exceptional work, for the glory of God and the good of others. Each week, I host a conversation with a Christian who's pursuing world-class mastery of their craft. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits and routines, and how the gospel influences their work.


I've been saving today's guest. I've been holding it back for a long time, for the right moment, and this felt like the right moment. You guys finally get to hear from my friend, Matt Perman. He's the author of What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. He's also the Director of Career Development at the King's College in New York City. Prior to that, Matt served for 13 years as the director of strategy for John Piper's Ministry, Desiring God. Matt's one of my favorite people. He’s thought so deeply about how the gospel shapes our work and our attempts to be productive.


I recently had Matt on the show to talk about his rich theology of gospel-driven productivity, why we shouldn't let go and let God, but instead, trust God and get going. We also talked about the important difference between following your passions in your work, and following your interests. You guys are going to love this terrific episode with my friend, Matt Perman.




[00:03:50] JR: Matt Perman. Finally, have you on the Call to Mastery. Welcome, my friend.


[00:03:56] MP: Thanks for having me.


[00:03:57] JR: I wish people could hear the conversations we have before we clicked record, because that was really fun, talking about your –


[00:04:02] MP: It was fun.


[00:04:02] JR: - heroes of Jim Collins. By the way, speaking of which, I don't think this was in the advanced copy of Redeeming Your Time that you saw when you endorsed the book. I dedicated the book to you.


[00:04:13] MP: Oh, you did?


[00:04:14] JR: Yeah. I said, there were nine people I listed, “giants, whose shoulders I stood on to write this book.” You're one of them. Publicly, thank you for writing What's Best Next, and all the work that you've been doing over – what has it been 15 years since you've been writing about this?


[00:04:32] MP: I think so. First of all, I really appreciate that. Thank you. That's very kind of you. It was a very hard book to write, which we can talk about later on in the podcast. Yeah, it's been about 15 years, let's see here, that I've been writing on this, and then learning about it going back further than that.


[00:04:51] JR: Yeah. Before the book, you started this blog, What's Best Next, which is all about this intersection of how the gospel should shape our approach to productivity. What led you to start the blog? What was the impetus?


[00:05:03] MP: Well, isn't this interesting? It's an interesting story. In college, I went to the University of Northern Iowa. It's a secular university, certainly not a Christian university. I just had a great time there, spiritually. There was thriving campus ministries, and I just developed wonderful friendships with so many other Christians. I really got into theology in college. I loved it. I actually neglected my classes, so I could spend more time reading theology and apologetics, then I would write articles, in order to remember what I was reading and learning, and so I could pass it on to others.


I really went deep with theology. I also came across John Piper's works in college. Lo and behold, he and his team were starting a seminary basically, that was beginning the next year after I was going to graduate. Me and some friends, we applied to that and got in. I went up and studied under John Piper. I started working at his ministry, Desiring God.


Now, here's the interesting thing and here's the answer to your question, how I got into this. I found that in my work, knowing theology wasn't enough. This was an unexpected turn. I actually ignored things on productivity and leadership, up to that point. I was like, “Hey, yeah.” To my shame. I feel that was definitely a big gap in my thinking and in my values, even.


Then as I realized, I need to learn these things to do my job well, what I realized was there's a gap. There's not a lot of explicitly Christian thinking on this. That's why I pivoted a little bit. I've certainly retained my love for theology. I still am very engaged with theology, and I want to write more on theology. I pivoted a bit, because I felt this was the greatest need for the church.


[00:07:10] JR: I think, Piper said in the introduction of your book, or the foreword to your book, What's Best Next, something along the lines of nobody in the world has thought more deeply about theology and productivity. I think that's spot on. I've tried to catch up a bit with Redeem Your Time, but I'm not at that Perman level.


All right, you were at Desiring God for 13 years or so. Today, or the last few years, you served as the Director of Career Development at King's College in New York. What does that job entail at a high level?


[00:07:43] MP: It's amazing. First of all, I'm so glad to have this job, because it is such a good fit. Again, it was unexpected. I moved to New York, because of the influence of Tim Keller, not the personal influence, but –


[00:07:55] JR: I didn’t know that.


[00:07:56] MP: Yeah. Through his writings and sermons, he talks so positively about the city, and makes an outstanding case for Christians to be engaged graciously with culture. He makes the point, if we really want to make a difference in the culture, more Christians need to move to major cities long-term. That's a mark of the major city, if you heard that horn —


[00:08:19] JR: There it is, a taxi right outside. Right on queue. Right on queue.


[00:08:22] MP: Right outside my window.


[00:08:24] JR: I think, it’s Tim Keller blowing the horn. Yeah.


[00:08:28] MP: Yeah. Maybe it was. Because, well, their west side location is just down the street from me. That really captured me. By the way, I feel like, John Piper and Tim Keller complement one another very well. Anyway, I moved out here without a job. I was running my business — Jordan, you are way better at running businesses and startups than I am. I couldn't get that going the way I really needed it to. Heart of it is, I enjoy researching and writing so much that it distracted me a bit from running the business side of things.


Well, anyway, I moved out here saying, “Oh, it'll be easier to get a job if I'm already here.” I came across the opening at King's College for Director of Career Development. I wasn't expecting to move into that field. Immediately I thought, “Well, this would be a great fit. It fits my faith and work emphasis. Productivity is immediately related to this. it's going to position me well to be able to succeed in this job, my background will. It was exactly the type of thing they were looking for.” The president of the college had read my book, and heard of it, and so everything came together.


[00:09:38] JR: That's awesome. Today, you're giving a lot of advice to students about their careers, about vocational paths. What's one of the top pieces of advice you're giving to these college students in that vein, especially regarding your discerning vocation?


[00:09:57] MP: Yeah. It's interesting. You know what's really cool? There is a lot of scientific research on this. It's called the field of vocational psychology.


[00:10:06] JR: Amy Wrzesniewski at Yale. Have you read Wrzesniewski’s stuff?


[00:10:10] MP: Yeah. She’s got some good stuff on calling —


[00:10:12] JR: Cal Newport talking about it. Yeah, yeah.


[00:10:15] MP: Yeah. The big idea, the big principle is person environment fit. I looked into this, because if I'm going to advocate something for, and teach something, I want to make sure it's solid. The academic research supports this, a good fit between the person and the organization and job does correlate substantially with higher performance and higher satisfaction. Okay, so that's my big principle.


My biggest advice to them is to help them understand themselves, and then understand the job market to find the match, and that's what gets overlooked a lot. I know that you can go about that in the wrong way, like the concept of follow your passion. That's one dimensional, and looking only at one factor. The concept of interests is very relevant to choosing a career, and that's a scientifically studied career factor. There are ways to determine your interest, and there are six main categories.


What I really want to do is help the students understand themselves, so they can then evaluate different career fields and talk about themselves more powerfully in interviews. That's really important.


[00:11:31] JR: I want to unpack the nuance between follow your passions and follow your interests a little bit more, because I think this nuance is critically important. I think a lot of times, when people say follow your passions, what they mean is, there's this expectation that once I find the Mr. Right of my career, I am immediately going to find cosmic level satisfaction that is going to sustain me the rest of my career, which we know is a ruse, is a lie. Following that advice is really poor. I talked about this in my book, Master of One. Follow your interest is a really different concept. It's related, but different. Can you unpack the difference a little bit for us?


[00:12:11] MP: It is yes. Yeah. One of the big issues, too, with the follow your passion, a lot of times, they're not even defining passion. You're like, “Well, what do you mean? What's going on here?” Interests are preferences for certain types of activities. It's a specific thing. What types of activities do you most enjoy? Now, there are six categories. I won't list the six categories, but John Holland is the one who has done the major research on this, and it's been other scholars have come along to test and verify his framework, and it holds up. His major book, it's called Making Vocational Choices: A Theory of Vocational Personalities and Work Environments. It's quite something.


This six interests correspond to the six types of career fields, really. The interest is not the only factor. There are three other factors, it's called the big four, when it comes to your career factors. There's interests, there's values, there's personality, and then there's one other which I can't remember exactly right now, but it'll come to me in a minute, I'm sure. You need to take all of those into account in making your choice, not just one of them.


[00:13:33] JR: I like the word interest here, though, because it's this idea of just being curious. What are you insatiably curious about in the world? What general things do you like to do? It's not this expectation that passion is going to lead to mastery. I dig that. In your role, though, when you're coaching these students in these choices, foundational to everything is a solid theology of work. Understanding what the biblical narrative means for their vocational choices. What are you telling your students to that end? What's the overarching advice there?


[00:14:12] MP: We seek to do everything within the framework of the Christian doctrine of vocation. That's the overarching framework. I'm most influenced there by Gene Veith, his great book, God at Work, but also there's other great books on this, Os Guinness’s, The Call. Then the original Puritan who articulated this so well, William Perkins, I think it is. A Treatise on the Callings and Vocations of Men, from the 1600s, or maybe it's late 1500s.


The framework is that you can do any work as a calling. Instead of finding your calling, now I do believe there is a type of career, a career field that is a great match that puts to use the special talents God has given you.


[00:15:08] JR: Yes. But there is not the match. There is a best. There's a good match. There's not the magical thing that God's created you to do in the world.


[00:15:16] MP: That's right. It's a range. It's a zone. I think, you have a part to play in identifying that. Even if you're not in that zone, that job is still a calling in the sense that God has you there sovereignly, and wants you to do it for His glory, and it will have great meaning. That overarching framework. Amy, who you mentioned a few minutes ago, in her work, she talks about the different orientation, the mindset you have towards your job. The great news as Christians is, we can always have the mindset of this job fulfils a higher purpose, and is not simply a way to pay the bills, because of the Christian doctrine of vocation. All lawful work can be done for the glory of God, in the benefit of others.


[00:16:08] JR: Amen. Very well said. In the introduction of Redeeming Your Time, I talk about the difference between works-based productivity and grace-based productivity. I only use that latter term, because I just didn't want to steal your own better term, gospel-driven productivity, let's be honest. Unpack this term for us. You wrote extensively about this in the past. What do you mean by gospel-driven productivity?


[00:16:37] MP: Yeah. This is coming from the belief that the gospel shapes all of life, the gospel is to shape all of life. It's not only how we get saved, it also gives us the framework for how we are to live, having been saved.


[00:16:53] JR: Amen.


[00:16:53] MP: Amen. There's three things I especially mean by a gospel-driven approach. These are so core. They're why I wrote the book, to try and get this across. First, you do your work, not in order to be accepted by God, but because you have been accepted by him. It is not to appease God, it is to please God.


Now, a really cool thing there is the work we do in our jobs ties to the New Testament doctrine of good works. Ephesians, 2:8-10 brings us together so well. It says –


[00:17:30] JR: Preach. Preach. Yes.


[00:17:31] MP: Preach. Yeah. You have not been saved by works, you’ve been saved by faith, apart from works, so that you may walk in good works that God has prepared before you in advance. The question is, where do we do those good works? Are those just things we do once in a while? If I give some money, or a sandwich to a homeless person, or a Cub Scout growing up, makes his bed and does these good deeds as a good scout? Or are they, when we volunteer at a soup kitchen? All those things are good works.


The concept of good works in the New Testament is much more pervasive. Good works are anything you do out of your faith in Christ and for the good of others. That includes what you do in your job. Paul, actually, in Ephesians, when he's giving instructions to how we are to go about our work, he calls those things we do in our work, a good thing. He says, whatever good thing each person does, that he will receive back from the Lord, that's referring back to good works.


In chapter two, verses eight through 10, he's essentially calling things we do in our jobs, good works. Now, your whole life can be an arena for doing good works, which is part of the purpose of our salvation. Then, of course, that puts it within the framework, though of, you're doing them out of gratitude, because you have been saved and out of joy, not as a way of earning merit with God, or finding your identity, your ultimate significance.


[00:19:09] JR: Amen. Well said.


[00:19:10] MP: We find that in Christ, not in our works. Now then the second thing, and this is the thing that I think gets overlooked a lot. It's the issue of motive. To be gospel-centered means, now that you haven't saved, you look to Christ as your model for how you are to go about your life and work. This is the concept of the imitation of Christ. It's more than that. We're not just imitating him. He's working through us.


Piper has some fancy term on this, I forget exactly what it is. You look to Christ as your example for how to go about your life and work and that means, first of all, you're motivated by love, which is concern for others. Sometimes it can be hard to define love. I've worked hard on this, especially even since writing what's best next. How do we define love, and express it in a way that people will understand and get, and see its connection to work?


I think, at the heart of love is goodwill towards others. Theologians, like Jonathan Edwards go into this. Or we can say, genuine concern for others. We need to be motivated by that in our work. Then what that results in is the third thing, the gospel becomes your standard for how to go about your work; the norm, the norming norm for how to treat people. What that means is you treat people as important in your work. You aim to meet their needs, and you consider their needs as equally important to your own needs, even more important than your own needs.


That means you create products that are easy to use, rather than hard to use. You do your work all the way, not halfway. I just heard someone, their office was being painted. The workers didn't paint behind the bookshelves. Well, that's going to create more difficulty for this person, because if she ever rearranges her office, whoa, here's this wall, that wall that's only half painted. You don't do that if you really care about the other person.


If you get your motives right, that is going to shape the way you do your work, and you're going to do your work in such a way that it will provide maximum benefit to the other person, not just to yourself.


[00:21:26] JR: I may be butchering the line, but an idea I think about a lot from your book, What's Best Next, is this idea that mediocrity is a failure of love. It is falling short of loving your neighbor as yourself in the ministry of excellence that we are called to pursue, what are – going back to the first point in this gospel-driven productivity framework, I feel like, it is part of the reason why I know you wrote What's Best Next and why I wrote Redeem Your Time, because every other time management book advocates that all right, hey, you're feeling out of control in your life. You want to feel peace. Follow my system. Do exercises X, Y, and Z. Then, you'll find peace.


The gospel assures us that the opposite is true. God loves and accepts us, regardless of how productive we are. Thus, we do time management exercises, or whatever, XYZ as responsible worship. That said, while we start with peace in the rest, the gospel should lead us to be diligent in how we spend our time, right, Matt? I mean, this is what you're really passionate and fired up about.


[00:22:41] MP: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and this is really basic Christianity. I especially learned this from reformed Christianity, theologians, such as John Murray are really good on this. He talks about – some people talk about this concept of like, let go and let God, for example.


[00:23:02] JR: Oh, you and I exchanged emails about this with my devotional a few weeks ago. Remember this?


[00:23:05] MP: That's right. Yeah. Because, yeah, you had that great devotional on it. I was like, “Oh, I got to let him know about this great concepts from John Murray.” They're great quotes and stuff. I just love the concept is, trust God and get going. Because, first of all, when it comes to peace of mind, as I'm writing the book, I'm thinking to myself, “I'm not smart enough even to give people a system that is guaranteed to ensure peace of mind.” I'm not that smart. I don't want to make a promise to people that I certainly cannot deliver on.


Then theologically speaking, which is the main way I came to celebrate this reality is, as I was trying to implement David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, which is a fantastic book, I found it was not bringing peace of mind, or what he calls mind like water. It was bringing mind like tsunami. I had these super long lists, and then I was overwhelmed, because I'm thinking, “How am I going to do this? I can't do all of this.” Then sometimes, I could spend hours doing this mind dump, he talks about and just adding things to my list.


I was like, “Okay, this sounds familiar to me.” I thought of Martin Luther, because he talks about how he was always seeking to list all of his sins and do penance and all this stuff in order to obtain forgiveness. It just wasn't working. It wasn't bringing him peace of mind. Then the labor went on and he felt, he entered into the kingdom and is born anew and he realized, God gives us righteousness as a gift. We are accepted apart from works, through faith in Christ, not through the works we do, but through faith.


I thought, my desire to find peace of mind through my productivity system, it's like the practical counterpart to seeking justification and salvation through works, except when I'm not seeking – I'm not seeking salvation through my productivity system, but I am seeking peace of mind. That's when it hit me. Oh, you know what? Peace of mind in the Christian life also comes through faith, not through works.


Then ironically, that motivates you to work harder, because the pressure is off. There's something about that pressure being off, which all of a sudden, now you've got more energy, and you're more diligent.


[00:25:22] JR: The best picture I've ever heard of this comes from my friend, Paul Sown. He used the analogy of an American Idol finale. I don't even know if this show still on, but way back in the day, you and I watched this. We all watched this. The difference in the two finalists, in the pressure and anxiety they carried in singing their songs when they were still competing, that pressure is immense. Then, once the winner is announced, the winner comes back on stage and gets to sing the song again. The countenance is totally different, because now there's no pressure. I've already won. I've already been declared the winner of this thing, and I could just sing for pure joy of singing over that victory. That, I think, is part of the picture here.


[00:26:13] MP: Yeah. I think so. That totally nails it. There are fascinating things about human motivation here in this. There are some very profound things here. I try and weave this into how I manage employees and systems I set up. Instead of operating from more traditional fear-based management, or command and control, I try to operate more from values, lead from values, enable freedom of choice, self-direction. Because something about that taps more fully into the human spirit and into motivation and satisfaction in work.


I really try to think hard about how God has treated us in the Gospel, and what implications that has for how we should treat others. I think, this is another one. Don't put pressure on people. I know there's a place to push people. A coach is going to push people and things like that. I get that. The overarching framework and the rock bottom thing is not that you have to perform to prove your worth.


[00:27:19] JR: Amen. Well said. In your book, you argue that the center of our approach to productivity has to be a walk at the Lord, and reminding ourselves of the gospel day in, day out, preaching the gospel to ourselves. I love this quote of yours from the book, to live your life without God is the most unproductive thing you can do. Unpack that a little bit more. Why do you say that?


[00:27:39] MP: Man. Well, okay, here's why I say that. Because originally, I was going to write a secular book. Because for good reason, C.S. Lewis has this great quote where he says – Now, I don't totally agree with this. You'll hear why. He says, “We don't need more Christian books. We need more great books on secular subjects written by Christians.” I thought, oh we do need that. I'm going to do that.


Well, John Piper, he said to me, “Matt, what are you doing? You have these theological giftings. You're just going to be withholding them from the church if you try and write secular books. Let other Christians do that. Your gifts mean, you ought to be seeking to serve Christians, first of all.” I thought to myself, Piper's a very gracious guy. He wasn't trying to impose that on me. He was giving his viewpoint, but he's a reasonable guy. I thought to myself, I really need to listen to that. He's giving me some advice there that is different from what I had been thinking. It's worth taking seriously. I came to the realization, I think he's right.


That's what got me thinking more about going deeper with the biblical connections between productivity and faith, and theology. Of course, that was one of the most significant ones and ones that most quickly came to mind, because of the biblical teaching on the importance of a relationship with God. There is going to be a final judgment. We don't need to be scared of that if we're in Christ, but there is this reality that our work will be evaluated by God, by Christ. What this means is, if that's the ultimate definition of what's productive, what Christ will regard as worth worthy and productive when we stand before him, that's the criteria of success and productivity.


If you do amazing things, but you don't do them for Christ, you've left him out of the picture, then you haven't done something that's ultimately productive, that's going to ultimately receive his approval at the final judgment, because he says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Now, your work might have been of great benefit to people during your time on earth, and so forth. That certainly matters a lot, but in this ultimate sense —


I thought, actually, productivity, a concern for productivity points to God and points to Christ. Because, don't we all want this? Don't we all want to be maximally productive, which would mean, our work having an impact for eternity? That comes from doing your work with Christ and for Christ.


[00:30:35] JR: Amen. I can't speak to obviously, how the Lord's going to judge your work, Matt, and the productivity of it. On this side of eternity, man, I just look at you from the outside, I'm like, you're an incredibly productive writer. You're an incredibly skilled writer. I respect your writing for a long time. Got way more than the “10,000 hours of experience as a writer.” I'm curious, what have you found to be some of the keys to mastering the craft of writing? Maybe the cut-across vocations, that are relevant to writers, but not just writers?


[00:31:06] MP: Yeah. Oh, man. Two things here. First, before I wrote What's Best Next, I think I read 20 books on writing, writing and publishing. Now, I got interested in writing in high school. I had an outstanding advanced comp teacher, with high standards. I got some papers back with lots of red marks. That helped me grow. Then, I started writing in college, more on my own initiative. I always felt like, writing clearly will make you stand apart in your career.


[00:31:45] JR: Regardless of the career. I tell young people all the time, learn how to write, you can do anything.


[00:31:50] MP: Yeah. You absolutely can. You stand out, because so many people don't. This includes proper use of commas. A lot of times, people are creating run-on sentences, because they're using commas wrong. Anyway, then when it came time to write What's Best Next, I read 20 books, and I took notes on writing and publishing. Getting that framework, the formal academic framework of how to write well was important to me.


Here's the biggest thing for anybody, especially for those who don't want to read 20 books, the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath is so helpful. One of the biggest ideas in there is to be surprising. State things in a surprising way, in an unexpected way. Not, don't be sensationalist, don't be clickbait. Has to be true and accurate, but state things in an unexpected way.


I try to bring that in to how I write, try to be unexpected and be clear. Those are my two big writing principles. That will help anybody, no matter what their career field is. If you're writing emails, or if you're writing a policy document, or writing a report, or you're preparing a presentation, if you bring in those two principles, number one, be clear. Number two, find interesting and unexpected ways to say things, you will get people's attention. They will enjoy your writing more. They will understand it, and it's more likely to stick.


[00:33:25] JR: Such good advice for anybody, regardless if you ever want to write a book. How do you ensure your writing’s clear? One of the questions you ask people when you're getting feedback, how do you make sure writing is clear, Matt?


[00:33:36] MP: Yeah, that's a great question. Really, my first criteria there is, does it make sense to me? Would it makes sense to me if I knew nothing about the subject?


[00:33:46] JR: Yeah. You can get pretty far with that question on your own.


[00:33:49] MP: You really can. Yeah. This doesn't mean that I'm dumbing down my writing, but I try and write for the person who has never encountered the subject before. It helps you make sure you're not skipping things, not taking certain things for granted. Revising is my favorite part. The first draft is laborious and highly challenging to me. The revising is what I really enjoy and where the clarity really comes through it.


I review a lot of analysis. What am I leaving out here? Are there steps I'm leaving out? That's something people frequently do. They just assume that a person knows this and this and that, and they skip over it and the person actually doesn't know that. I try and make my writing self-explanatory.


Then second, empathy is really crucial. Empathy is the fourth habit in Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It's couched in listening. Listening is the broader principle, or empathic listening. Empathy is central to that. What I try and do is put myself in the other person's shoes, who will be reading my writing, or listening to my presentation, or the student who I'm teaching. Look at things through their eyes, so I can identify what are going to be some sticking points for them, some things that aren't going to make sense, so I can work those out and cause them to make sense?


[00:35:19] JR: That's a really, really good advice. Matt, I ask every guest this, and I'm excited to ask you, because you've thought really deeply about productivity. What does a typical day look like for you? Take us through the literal tick-tock of your day, from the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to bed.


[00:35:36] MP: Yes. During COVID, it was a bit different. I’m in a bit of a transition now, because we’re getting back into the office. You know what I started doing for the first four hours of every day?


[00:35:46] JR: Four hours. Oh, my gosh. What?


[00:35:48] MP: First four hours, I read management textbooks.


[00:35:52] JR: What?


[00:35:53] MP: Yeah. I read textbooks for four hours every day.


[00:35:58] JR: That's intense. That's intense.


[00:36:01] MP: It is. Some days, 12 hours. During COVID, where you’re – Some weekends, I spent 25 hours reading textbooks.


[00:36:11] JR: Geez. You are a champion of reading. I could never do this.


[00:36:17] MP: I do the exercises in the back. What I'm trying to do, I am dead serious about the importance of the gospel shaping, not just the way we do our work individually, but the way we design organizations — how we create policies —


[00:36:30] JR: Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s a big, big, big topic. Really interesting.


[00:36:35] MP: It is big. One of the things, you just need to understand the subject really well. Then second, you know what's incredible? Modern management thinking has so many principles that overlap with the Bible, and it doesn't even know it. I'm actually learning a lot about how to make application of the gospel in my management, through modern management theory, which is very affirming of people, which I think the gospel is. That's the big idea.


There's different aspects of management. There's strategic management. There's management per se, there's operations management, human resources management, marketing management, all this stuff. I'm reading textbooks on all those. That's about the first four hours of my day. The reason that's first is right now, for me, that's the most important thing that I need to be doing. I need to be building that knowledge base and applying it, so that goes first. Then it's email. Get into the more urgent stuff, the more ordinary stuff of my job. I like –


[00:37:4JR: JR: The shallows.


[00:37:48] MP: Yeah, that's right. The shallows. That's right. Yeah. I love Cal Newport’s concept of deep work. For those four hours, I don't take a break. It is deep work for four hours. Then, it's more into the shallows, email. I don't do this literally every day, but I like to take the first hour of my non-deep work part of the day, and get my email inbox to zero, process through all of it. I know what's the new stuff coming at me, and all of that.


Then during the summertime, what I would do is focus on resource development for students. Career resources, to help them understand the big four we talked about, the big four career factors, different career fields, so summaries of the fields, recommended companies, all that stuff. Now, with the school year starting up, around 11:00, I don't let meetings be scheduled before 11 a.m., so I can devote time to deep work. Then by 11 and after, then it's a pre-arranged day; meetings with students, meetings with employers throughout New York City, and elsewhere. Staff meetings, faculty meetings. Doing coaching by email.


It's interesting. Some of my student coaching is actually by email, though. Students email me questions where they need help. Connecting with employers. It’s kind of less structured, but I have my framework. My job responsibilities on my OmniFocus, and all that. I'm much more open to interruptions and those sorts of things. Then usually, ending work about 5. I have this aim of actually working till about 7, or 11, if I can. I know that that's incredibly unrealistic. During COVID, I really want to make the most of this time, where there are less – in one sense, there's less demands on all of us, because we're having to stay home.


I really wanted to make that productive and had dreams of almost these 16-hour work days. I think, that's a personality flaw. I wasn't typically able to do that, but sometimes I did. Now what I'm getting back to is a hard stop to my work day. Because Cal Newport talks about this, your mind actually replenishes more if you have a hard stop, rather than, “Oh, a little bit. I'll check email a little bit later, all that stuff.” Give yourself a hard stop. I'm getting back to that. Then, it's social activities and stuff in the evenings. It's really great now that New York City is opening up more. I feel like, I appreciate it all the more.


[00:40:30] JR: Yeah. It's really good. You and I have very similar schedules. Save the four hours of management reading in the morning. The same deep work, shallower construct. You had this great quote in What's Best Next, I maybe butchering a little bit. Basically, this idea that if you want to be satisfied at the end of the day, there's got to be a match between what you value and how you spent your time. The way to do that is not blocking your entire day out for deep work, but blocking out ideally, the first few hours, if you have the luxury of being able to do that. I really like that advice.


Hey, Matt. In Redeem Your Time, I talked about this idea how Jesus was incredibly busy. As John Mark so eloquently put it in his book, he was also really unhurried. There's a difference between those things. I think, one of the keys there appears to be the fact that Jesus just had margin in his life. You're the one who first taught me about the ringing effect, which is fascinating. I think, such a good illustration of what happens when we have no margin. Can you explain the ringing effect to our listeners?


[00:41:38] MP: Yeah. I learned about that from an engineer who's also written a textbook. His name is Robert Monson. I was in a class, professional development class, and he shared it. I was like, “Wow. Light bulb on.” What it is, is, let's take the freeway as representative of how this works. When it's under capacity, say at 80% capacity or lower, it is going well. People are able to go the speed limit, so forth. There aren't really delays, and so forth.


As you approach a 100% capacity, things start getting clogged up, and clogged up way more than you would expect. Because very small disruptions end up having a huge impact, because they cascade through so many different factors. What this means is, if you want to get more done, and in a more peaceful way, don't max out your capacity. Don't try to work at a 100% capacity. Work at 80%, or 85%.


It's the same in airports. It's the same in, take this example from your own workload, scheduling meetings. If you have a meeting scheduled packed in there all day long, and then one of them has to change, then you might have to be rescheduling two, three other meetings, and that is wasted time that you're involved in. That cascades to other people as well. Schedule yourself and set up your productivity systems, so as to avoid the rigging effect, and you'll actually get more done.


[00:43:20] JR: Yeah. It's this idea that, I love the analogy of it's actually not logical that somebody's lightly tapping on their brakes on the freeway, we cause such a backup. When the system is at a 100%, it does make sense, because of those cascading effects. The same is true with our time. In the book, I write about this time budget template framework, which you do something similar a lot of people do. It's just this idea of ensuring that every day, as you're planning out the next day, there's plenty of margin. 80% capacity, not a 100% capacity.


All right, Matt. Three questions I love to wrap up every conversation with. Number one, which books are you recommending, or gifting most frequently these days?


[00:44:03] MP: Yeah. Okay. Here's the big one. Jim Collins book. This is going to be unexpected. A lot of people –


[00:44:09] JR: You're an unexpected guy. Four hours a day of reading. Yeah.


[00:44:12] MP: That’s right. I learned from Chip and Dan Heath.


[00:44:14] JR: There you go.


[00:44:15] MP: A lot of people immediately, they go to Good to Great. It's a great book. It is not his best.


[00:44:20] JR: Agree.


[00:44:21] MP: His best is Built to Last, but the one I'm recommending most is Beyond Entrepreneurship.


[00:44:29] JR: So good. Did you read the new one, BE 2.0?


[00:44:33] MP: Yes. I've read both. The new one came out, I’m like, “Ah.” It's even better. Here's why it's so important, it's so good. It gives you a complete framework for leading a company and leading yourself. Good to Great does not do that, neither does Build to Last. Good to Great focuses on a small set of principles that are very powerful. If you don't understand the whole framework, you're not going to be able to implement those principles very well. Believe me, I tried. I was like, why isn't this coming together the way it should, the way I want? It's because I didn't have the full framework, the whole mental model. Beyond Entrepreneurship gives that to you.


Here's my favorite thing about it, though. It is beautiful. It's not a Christian book. My goodness, it almost could have been. Because he basically says, the heart of management is two things, trust and respect. Trust is based in respect. He says, “The great companies, what's different about them is they have a profound respect for all of their employees and customers. They don't look down on them. They have a high view of people. Therefore, they expect great things from them, and they trust them, instead of micromanaging them. They empower them and have an uplifting, positive management style.”


As I was reading that, I'm thinking, this is what the Bible teaches about how we should treat people. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is the management application of the golden rule. I don't think he even knew he was doing that. That's what is so beautiful. If more Christians in management would dig deep into books like this one, by Jim Collins, Beyond Entrepreneurship, or Douglas McGregor's The Human Side of Enterprise, or some others, they would be able to create systems that are more in-line with the golden rule and the way Jesus leads, and that reflects the gospel. We need to not only preach the gospel, but reflect the gospel. The gospel is not only reflected in our personal behavior, but in the systems we create.


[00:46:56] JR: Amen. Amen. Really well said. I love Collins. I love Beyond Entrepreneurship. I'm glad you and I are on the same page that Built to Last is his best book. 100%.


[00:47:04] MP: Yes. It's so, so good.


[00:47:06] JR: It's so good. All right, who do you most want to hear on this podcast talking about how the gospel shapes their work?


[00:47:13] MP: Okay, I have a great answer for this.


[00:47:15] JR: Okay. Unexpected, the answer?


[00:47:17] MP: It is an unexpected one. You can believe it. I'm on a roll with unexpected. Let me mention just really quickly two other books I recommend a lot.


[00:47:25] JR: Please. Oh, my gosh. Please. Yes.


[00:47:27] MP: Obviously, a Stephen Covey's First Things First. I think, it's really solid. Really helpful. Changes your paradigm from efficiency to effectiveness, okay. Then Tim Keller's book, Ministries of Mercy.


[00:47:41] JR: So great. So great. Didn't do nearly as well as a lot of his other books.


[00:47:47] MP: No. It's the irony, isn't it? Because most people they think of Keller and what they might say his best book is it would be, Reason for God, or The Prodigal God, which definitely is outstanding. I think, Ministries of Mercy is his best. The first half of the book is a biblical case for mercy. I think, so when I talk about gospel centeredness, what am I talking about above all, mercy. Christ-centered mercy. Keller makes the case for that, the biblical mandate for mercy, what it is, the scope of mercy. Even mercy towards our enemies, mercy towards people we think don't deserve it.


The reason I recommend this book so much is because it helps you understand what mercy is. That's to govern how we go about everything in our lives. It is to be infused with mercy. If you're like, “Well, I don't think that'll work.” Read the book. Then I have to say, most modern management thinking, the good stuff that I read, it is infused with mercy. They might not know. Even Laszlo Bock, he wrote a book, Work Rules on how Google –


[00:48:51] JR: Great book.


[00:48:52] MP: Great book. How Google does HR and management. He emphasizes again, by the way, respect and trust, also transparency. At the end of one of the chapters, he says, “Basically, it comes down to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, the golden rule does work in the workplace. They're not doing as Christians, but one of the reasons for Google's success is the golden rule. Even if they are intentionally doing it, that is the way they operate and tend to treat people. I mean, and perfectly obviously. Okay, so those books.


[00:49:26] JR: I just want to make sure our listeners understand this. Pound for pound, these might have been the best – some of the best book recommendations ever made on the show. Seriously, Beyond Entrepreneurship is great. I reread Ministries of Mercy, I don't know, nine months ago. Remind how good it is. Work Rules by Laszlo Bock at Google, so, so good. You guys can find all those books at, along with of course, What's Best Next by Matt Perman. All right, who do you want to hear on the show?


[00:49:55] MP: Okay, here's who I want to hear. Hugh Jackman.


[00:49:58] JR: Oh, my gosh. What an answer.


[00:50:00] MP: Yeah. He's amazing. Okay, here's why. I've always been inspired by him. I've always wondered why. I find his acting to be spiritually uplifting. He's obviously, he's not doing Christian films, but I've always been like, “Why is this?” You know what I learned just three days ago, he's a Christian.


[00:50:18] JR: No.


[00:50:20] MP: Yeah.


[00:50:21] JR: Praise the Lord. Okay. Hugh just moved to the very top of my list, because I freaking love me some Hugh Jackman. By the way, he pre-COVID, was supposed to be playing Harold Hill in The Music Man on Broadway. It obviously got shut down. I don't know if it's still happening. Some friends of mine and I were going to go to New York just to see Hugh Jackman on Broadway. Maybe we can record an episode in Manhattan. That'd be a blast. All right, we’re going to make that happen.


[00:50:50] MP: That would be fantastic.


[00:50:52] JR: All right, Matt. What's one thing from our conversation today, do you want to reiterate to our listeners before we sign off?


[00:50:59] MP: The big thing is operate from a motive of love. That's gospel-driven living in productivity. Christ-centered love. Looking to Christ as your example, and empower, and co-worker. We are co-workers with God, with Christ. When he gave us the golden rule, and then the enhanced version of it, love one another as I have loved you, he didn't just mean that for our personal life, he also meant it for the workplace. He really did.


I know we need to contextualize it for the workplace. Sometimes in the workplace, I know you got to let people go. At first, that doesn't seem loving. I get it. It can be done in a loving way. It can be done in an unloving way. This is the big idea. It's let the gospel be demonstrated, not just preached, and demonstrate it both in your behavior and in the systems you create. To demonstrate it, and the systems you create means make these systems reflect the gospel, reflect what the gospel is like. The gospel shows us God's mercy. It shows us God's love.


Create systems that are merciful towards people, and loving towards people and care about their needs, as opposed to only caring about the organization's needs. You can care about both. That is the mandate of modern management. It's in the management textbook. I read in early July, the author says, modern management has a dual purpose. High performance for the organization, and high satisfaction for the employee. That's really the golden rule right there. Find ways to shape the systems you create, according to the golden rule, and mercy and compassion, and all of these good things that we see expressed in the gospel.


[00:53:01] JR: I can't wait for you to publish gospel-driven management. This is, whatever you call this. This is going to be a heck of a book, if you ever do it. Matt, gosh, you're such a terrific thinker. I just want to commend you for the great, great work you do in the world. Thank you for giving us just a strong vision for gospel-driven productivity and how our productivity can be fueled by love.


Man, I meant when I said at the top of this. I could not have written Redeeming Your Time without the work that you did before me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Hey, where's the best place for people to keep up with you and your work these days?


[00:53:39] MP: Yes. and I plan on blogging more again there. That's my company website for What's Best Next, if you're interested in productivity coaching. Then, there's tons of blog posts going back, probably 15 years now in there, and more to come in the future. If you want to invite me to speak, you can do it through there. That is the place.


[00:54:03] JR: That's the place where it all happens. Okay, Matt, thank you again for hanging out with us.


[00:54:10] MP: Thanks so much for having me. I really enjoyed it. Really appreciated it.




[00:54:14] JR: I love Matt. I love how well he articulates this vision of gospel-driven productivity, which is really the very heart of my new book, Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles For Being Purposeful, Present, And Wildly Productive. remember, if you preorder the book, you can go and enter to win a trip for two to the Holy Land, or a prize of an equivalent cash value. You’re going to win. It’s super simple, you guys. Step one, pre-order Redeeming Your Time on Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, wherever you buy your books. Doesn't matter. Go pre-order a copy. I'll give you one entry into the sweepstakes for each copy you pre-order with a max of three entries. Then step two, go to, fill out the form right there. That's it. Super simple.


Guys, thank you for tuning in to this great episode of the show. I'll see you next week.