Kevin Kruse of Forbes recently interviewed over 200 ultra-productive people including seven billionaires, 13 Olympians, 20 straight-A students and over 200 successful entrepreneurs. He asked a simple, open-ended question, “What is your number one secret to productivity?” After analyzing all of their responses, he coded their answers into the 15 unique ideas I’ve adapted for Jesus-followers who want to make a difference.
You might not be an entrepreneur, Olympian, or millionaire—or even want to be—but their secrets might help you to get more done in less time, and help you to stop feeling so overworked and overwhelmed. We church planters bite off more than we can chew as a matter of habit. In order to keep up with Jesus, we need to do the best we can with what we’ve got.
Make the most of your time
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16
Most of us are still working on organizing our days into hour and half-hour blocks on our calendar (if we can find the calendar!). Super successful people know there are 1,440 minutes in every day and there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed. Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller says, “To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” The idea is “You must master your minutes to master your life.” This is especially important if you want to be a super gymnast or millionaire. And it is especially relevant if you are your own master. But any human, locked in time for a while, knows that disciplining our time makes us more effective in accomplishing what we have been given to do.
Focus on one main thing.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14
Our handhelds get us to multitask all day and soon the day has been like running ahead of a zillion demanding tasks. Productive people know their Most Important Task (MIT) and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. (Those of us with children at home are fondly remembering such a time). Tom Ziglar, CEO of Ziglar Inc., shared, “Invest the first part of your day working on your number one priority that will help build your business.” What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goal? We are interested in being whole people who reach the whole world with the whole gospel. What needs to happen?
Get over to-do lists.
For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, — Romans 16:7-9
Super effective capitalists schedule everything on their calendars. Maybe you don’t care about making money, but you would like to get something done. A study found that only 41% of items on to-do lists are ever actually done (if you make a to-do list, verify that). And all those undone items lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and then work and live from that calendar. “Use a calendar and schedule your entire day into 15-minute blocks. It sounds like a pain, but this will set you up,” advises Jordan Harbinger.
Imagine yourself overcoming procrastination
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.—Romans 1:13
Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are “time inconsistent” (this used to be called, “fickle,” I think). We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week; then we throw out green, rotting mush in the future. We buy a P90x because we want start exercising and the box sits unopened a year later. What can you do now to make sure your future self does the right thing? Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future, and come up with a solution to defeat your future self. Mentalizing about what you do to undermine yourself can turn those stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
Make it home for dinner.
I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. – Philippians 2:25-26
There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done. If you can’t stop, you can never start. Successful people value more than work. Jesus followers value truth, community, worship along with family time, exercise, giving back. We must consciously allocate our 1,440 minutes a day to what we care about (i.e., put it on your calendar) and then stick to the schedule. If you don’t have a home, a dinner partner or a job, you have that many more disposable minutes; you don’t need to wait.
Use a notebook.
Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah and all the other nations from the time I began speaking to you in the reign of Josiah till now. – Jeremiah 36:2
Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn’t have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes. In one interview, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down…That is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!” Ultra-productive people free their mind by writing everything down.
Process email only a few times a day.
Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. – Psalm 55:17
Some of us don’t process email at all, even if we are important to a task or a loved one. So that’s another issue. If you check it all day, just note that productive people don’t do that. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has parachuted into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their email quickly and efficiently. For some that’s only once a day. For others it is morning, noon and evening. As far as Facebook and other social media, they might delegate that.
Keep meetings short.
For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. – Colossians 2:5
Ideally, Jesus followers live in a perpetual “meeting” in the Spirit and are working in community, even when they are not in the same room. Our lives do not occur in our meetings, even though we love to meet. Love and truth is harder to achieve than profits, so sometimes a meeting will last all night. Mark Cuban says, “Never take meetings unless someone is writing a check” (but he also does Shark Tank). Meetings are notorious time eaters. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander in their topics and run long. Many productive people avoid them whenever they can. Maybe you should hold fewer yourself, and if you do run a meeting, keep it short and pointed.
Say “no” – a lot.
Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. – Matthew 5:37
Billionaire Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” Another successful entrepreneur gives this tip: “If something is not a “hell, YEAH! Then it’s a “no!” There are only 1,440 minutes in every day. We make sure they count. Buffet is not that stingy about things, so feel free to disperse your minutes to the poor or however you are moved, just be sure to be moved.
Accept that things are often 80/20, not “fair.”
‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” – Mathew 20:13-16
The Pareto Principle teaches that in most cases 80% of outcomes come from only 20% of activities. Ultra-productive people know which activities drive the greatest results, and focus on those and ignore the rest. All tasks are not created equal. All people do not deserve the same honor for being effective; they have to show they are effective. We may love everyone, but we are wise about who we entrust with what counts.
Collaborate as much as possible, accept half a loaf.
There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. — 1 Corinthians 12:6
Ultra-productive people don’t ask, “How can I do this task?” Instead they ask, “How can this task get done?” They take the “I” out of it as much as possible. Ultra-productive people don’t have control issues and they are not micro-managers. In many cases good enough is, well, good enough. They take half a loaf if it feeds their next steps.
Theme days of the week.
But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts;
they have turned aside and gone away.
They do not say to themselves,
‘Let us fear the Lord our God,
who gives autumn and spring rains in season,
who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’
Your wrongdoings have kept these away;
your sins have deprived you of good.
“Among my people are the wicked
who lie in wait like men who snare birds
and like those who set traps to catch people.
Like cages full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
they have become rich and powerful
and have grown fat and sleek.
Their evil deeds have no limit;
they do not seek justice.
They do not promote the case of the fatherless;
they do not defend the just cause of the poor. — Jeremiah 5:23-8
Jeremiah needs to get in here near the end, because some people may be deluded by the ultra-effective people Forbes set up as examples. There are many more people who are ultra-effective at loving God and others, caring for the poor and evangelism. Forbes does not care about them, but they would be better examples. Nevertheless, I don’t mind appreciating brilliance wherever I see it — even among the damned and the destructive. Why should we bow before their rapacity and not have their wisdom serve our ends? So let’s finish this up and see if any of it applies to our ambitious goals.
Forbes’ highly successful people often theme days of the week to focus on major areas. Kruse uses “Mondays for Meetings” and makes sure he’s doing one-on-one check-ins. His Fridays themed around facts and figures and getting things today for the next week. Maybe you’d like to hear about Jack Dorsey’s themes; he is so effective he can be the CEO of Twitter and Square at the same time.
Touch things only once.
In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time — 1 Timothy 6:13-15
How many times have you opened a piece of regular mail—a bill perhaps—and then put it down only to deal with it again later? How often do you read an email, and then close it and leave it in your inbox to deal with later? Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or ten minutes—whatever it is—they’ll deal with it right then and there. It reduces stress since it won’t be in the back of their mind, and is more efficient since they won’t have to re-read or evaluate the item again in the future.
Practice a consistent morning routine.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly. – Psalm 5:3
It might surprise people that many of the highly successful people interviewed were eager to share their morning ritual. It is America in 2017, so someone figured out how to monetize what Psalm 5 has been giving away for free for about 2800 years and treat it as their own idea: Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning, told Forbes, “While most people focus on ‘doing’ more to achieve more, The Miracle Morning is about focusing on ‘becoming’ more so that you can start doing less, to achieve more.” Many of the successful agree. They start their day by nurturing their body with water, a healthy breakfast and light exercise. They nurture their minds with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading, and journaling. They are Jesus followers — most of them without Jesus, however.
Nurture your energy.
After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—Ephesians 5:29
You can’t make more minutes in the day, but you can increase your energy which will increase your attention, focus, decision making, and overall productivity. Highly successful people don’t skip meals, sleep or breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. Instead, they view food as fuel, sleep as recovery, and pulse and pause with “work sprints.”
You have probably noticed the giant flaw in this thinking. Most of these highly successful people think they made all their wealth and power happen. The writer thinks following these common sense, biblical rules will make a person more successful like the super wealthy. It won’t hurt, of course. But millions of people are just as disciplined and wise, but are still poor and “unsuccessful” in the eyes of Forbes and the 1%. Some are just failures and will die trying to get into the club of capitalist proficiency experts. Others, like you, probably, just have different goals and your relationship to the world is different. We have an unhinged president who, by all accounts, is successful. You probably want to be less like him every day! But I can’t help thinking that we need to get better at doing the God-given things with which we are charged since people who are proficiently wicked rule us more efficiently all the time.