Is Productivity a Godly Goal or an Unhealthy Obsession?

What Is Productivity?

Productivity can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Usually, when hearing the word productivity, most people think about getting as many things done in as little time as possible. Others dream about perfect, color-coordinated calendars and completely checked-off to-do lists. For some, productivity is really about completing ambitious projects, even if it means putting off sleep (and maybe showering) for a few days (or weeks).

To be sure, productivity involves focus, calendars, lists, and determination. But productivity, properly understood, is much more than that. From a Christian perspective, productivity is making the best use you can of the resources God has placed in your hands. Productivity is taking your time, energy, gifts, and focus and using them wisely for the glory of God and the good of your neighbor. Productivity is not mainly about speed, coordination, or influence. It is not about getting the results you want. Productivity is mainly about faithfulness. It is about trusting God’s results will prevail. Productivity is rejoicing in the Lord while walking diligently in the good works he has prepared for us, trusting that he makes our path straight.

Make the Most of Your Productivity

Ana Ávila

In this user-friendly guide, Ana Ávila teaches 6 principles to help you honor God with all you have and reflect his character through your creativity.

We often miss this. We tend to make productivity an unhealthy obsession with results. We also tend to make productivity a godly goal we can never reach. Those are terrible traps that suck out the joy from our work and our rest. Here’s how they look.

Don’t make productivity an unhealthy obsession.

The first trap is the easiest to recognize. We are so preoccupied with efficiency that we forget the reason we’re called to be productive in the first place—love. We forget that, as Christians, our mission is the mission God gave to us—to make disciples of all nations, loving our Lord, and loving our neighbor. Our projects are not the project. But we get our apps and calendars and habit trackers and we make following our plan priority #1 in our lives. We forget that our goals are not always aligned with God’s goals, and we cling to our agenda even when the Spirit confronts our rigidness and puts before us an unexpected opportunity to serve in love that we should embrace.

When our plans succeed, we are on top of the world. We feel like nothing can stop us and dream of all the amazing things we will accomplish in three, five, and ten years, forgetting James’ admonition: “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). When our plans fail, we crumble. We feel like trash. We are convinced that we shouldn’t be parenting these kids, managing these accounts, or writing these articles. We seem to not “know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Productivity is mainly about faithfulness. It is about trusting God’s results will prevail.

These are signals that we haven’t surrendered. We have made our plans and results into an idol that forces us to be obsessed with efficiency instead of doing good work while trusting peacefully in God. We have forgotten that, because of what Jesus did on the cross, we don’t have to prove ourselves before God or anyone else by working really hard.

Don’t make productivity a godly goal.

This trap is much more subtle. We understand that we are not measured by our plans and results; we are confident God loves us in Christ no matter what our week looks like. Still, of course, we want to be faithful. We want to use our gifts and energy and time to love God and our neighbor well, so we look for apps and organizational systems that help us do just that.

The problem starts when we get a very specific idea of what using our gifts and energy and time to love God and neighbor well looks like. We might be inspired by the example of a godly man or woman who worked according to a certain routine. Perhaps we find a likable YouTuber who recommends a calendar or a filing system that has the potential to revolutionize our work forever. Slowly but surely we form a very particular (and often very good!) picture in our mind of what productivity looks like and we start striving toward that vision. Although we try really hard, we often end up disappointed.

The reason is that true productivity doesn’t look like anything specific. It is not a goal we achieve when we finally set up the perfect workflow or when we hit a 100-day streak on our daily habits and routines. True productivity is a means to achieve the goal of serving faithfully. That means it will look very different from person to person and will look very different in our own lives as we grow and change. While we walk in the good works God has prepared for us, we determine in wisdom which is the best way to proceed right now. With the help of the Spirit of God, we make judgments about how productivity will look in this season. We embrace and let go of tools and systems; we start and stop routines and habits. Sometimes we use the same strategy for years, sometimes we have to change our plans by the day.

Let’s avoid the traps of making productivity an unhealthy obsession with results or a very well-intentioned goal we can never reach. Let’s understand productivity correctly—as making the best use you can of the resources God has placed in your hands—and use it as a means of serving our Lord and the people around us. This proper understanding will fill our daily work and rest with joy.

Ana Ávila is the author of Make the Most of Your Productivity: A Guide to Honoring God with Your Time.

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Ana Ávila

True productivity is not about results but about faithfulness. We are productive when we are walking in the good works God has prepared for us, whatever the results of those good works are.

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