Book Review

Book Review: What’s Best Next

by Kristopher Schaal

What’s Best Next book cover

On this blog, we talk often about how God has called Christian men to be leaders, especially in their own homes (Eph 5:22–24; 6:4). However, you will never learn to lead others until you first lead yourself, and What’s Best Next by Matt Perman can teach you that skill.

I have been meaning to read this book for a long time. However, I finally decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I knew I needed whatever Matt Perman had to offer, and I was not disappointed. What’s Best Next was the biggest game changer I have read in a long time. Since reading it, I have beefed up my personal mission statement, written out my life goals, created a personal time map that makes both my work and my rest more productive, added the essential habit of weekly planning, revamped my task lists, and implemented new ways to keep track of my projects.

Now, that might sound overwhelming to you, but for me, it’s been life-giving. Less than one month after finishing this book, I am already experiencing greater freedom and peace of mind along with greater productivity. (Yes, that is possible.)

Not only that, but my productivity is gospel-centered. I can go to bed at night feeling fulfilled because I know I have done the most important things that God wanted me to do that day. What a gift!

This book is at the same time philosophical, doctrinal, and practical. On the philosophical side, it helped me define, “What is productivity?” Perman says, “Productivity is not first about getting more things done faster. It is about getting the right things done” (43), which begins with determining what’s most important (or “what’s best next”).

The book also clarified that hard work is a good thing. Perman warns, “Let’s not fall into the notion that being a good worker who works unto the Lord means you will always be done with your work by 5:00 and ready to go home stress free. If your work is that easy, you probably aren’t challenging yourself––or seeing the good of others––sufficiently” (331). This framework helps me to avoid false guilt and unfair criticism of “workaholics.”

On the doctrinal side, WBN challenged me to make love my guide for personal productivity (chap 6). Perman states, “Generosity is to be the guiding principle for our lives. This is both the right thing to do and the way to be most productive. It is the surprising, counterintuitive key to productivity” (86). I was challenged to trust and serve others (even when delegating!) and to give from the right motives. I was also reminded that productivity is a character issue that begins with walking with God. As Perman puts it, “The only way to make the right decisions is first to be the right kind of person” (13).

On the practical side, the second half of this book is a detailed handbook for organizing your life. You literally just follow the steps while Perman walks you through his complete system, which is based on the best secular productivity literature out there. Perman adds his own tweaks to the systems of others, while grounding his advice in a biblical framework. Again, what a gift!

There were so many invaluable concepts I learned from this book, including…

  • Time blocking,
  • Weekly planning,
  • Project lists and plans,
  • A role map,
  • The sometime/maybe task list,
  • And the DEAD method for reducing my task list (delegate, eliminate, automate, defer).

One of the most helpful concepts I took away was that of the “ringing effect.” Perman explains that when systems reach 90% capacity, their efficiency plummets. He applies this observation to productivity in the following way: “Our default mode is to think that in order to get as much as possible done, we need to cram as many projects as possible into a given time frame. Resist this temptation. Everything will take longer and you will discover death by the ringing effect. To get more done, do less, not more” (225). As a person who rarely plans for any margin but values accomplishment, I needed to hear that.

Another concept that has been extremely helpful for me is killing two birds with one stone by overlapping your roles. The following extended quote was a lightbulb for me.

“Your differing roles and responsibilities are not a juggling act, where you can deal with only one at a time, quickly having to touch it and then toss it up into the air so you can deal with the next role. That’s a circus act, not a life.”

“So how do we avoid becoming plate spinners and jugglers? We need to realize that many roles can be carried out in an interdependent way and create overlap. In other words, whenever you can, seek to do things in a way that involves multiple roles, not just a single role. This is one of the fundamental ways of avoiding the juggling mentality and keeping your roles for competing against one another” (186).

This concept has helped me to better integrate family life with my work (pastoring), which has allowed for some satisfying ministry alongside my wife and created powerful teachable moments with my kids while also easing our schedule.

This book even inspired me to invest more in this blog, Growing Fathers, a “hobby” of mine. Perman pleads, “Please take yourself and your creative pursuits seriously. Your ideas must be treated with respect because their importance truly does extend beyond your own interests. Every living person benefits from a world that is enriched with ideas made whole––ideas that are made to happen through your passion, commitment, self-awareness, and informed pursuit” (321). How encouraging!

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Read the book! Yes, it’s long (350 pages), but it’s very readable, and it’s packed full of wisdom.

Lastly, for those dads who retort, “I’m just not a list guy,” could I kindly suggest that you may be selling yourself and your family short? All of us quickly run into the limitations of our own brains to handle our tasks, schedules, priorities, calendars, etc. If you have not “upgraded” to a system for managing these things, you may be underachieving. God will hold each of us accountable for how we stewarded the resources He gave us, including our time and our energy (Mat 25:14-30). I don’t know about you, but I want to be as fruitful as possible.

I regret not reading this book sooner. I quipped to someone that if I had read it 10 years ago, I may have earned my doctorate by now. Maybe not. Either way, I’m glad that God led me to read it this year. I’m looking forward to seeing the long-term effects it has on my life as I continue to pursue the commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mat 25:23).

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