My Obsession with Productivity Books (and What They’re Teaching Me)

They’re a bit addictive.

Read a book about habits, feel the rush of applying them, gradually numb into the fallout of not applying them, and then rediscover the excitement of picking up a new book on habits.

I love books about productivity, habits, and spiritual disciplines. Listed below are a few titles I’ve enjoyed:

Of course, these books are no good if we don’t apply them. I find I start off applying the practices they prescribe, but then I wean off the disciplines, and I forget.

Which is precisely why I need to be reminded again.

A New (Old) Productivity Book

A few days ago, I picked up (okay, tapped a button on my phone to play the audiobook of) another one: Deep Work by Cal Newport. According to the Libby app, I’m 28% through. It’s not new (published in 2016), but it’s new to me.

It is absolutely fascinating.

Deep Work reminds me of truths I desperately need to hear again.

I’ve fallen into the trap of “shallow work” – checking email constantly, mindlessly scrolling social media (C.S. Lewis warns in The Screwtape Letters of “noise,” and boy, is it easy to get stuck in the cacophony).

What Deep Work Is Teaching Me

While the content of Deep Work is catalyzing me into action (I signed out of Facebook and Instagram on my phone and moved my email icons to a folder on my third screen), it’s also serving to give me a holistic picture: 

1. We need reminders

In the Old Testament, God repeatedly calls Israel to remember. We humans are so darn forgetful. At least, I know I am.

I need to be reminded deep work is more important than shallow work. Writing a novel that will (hopefully! 🙂 last years is deeper than responding to an email within twenty minutes of it being sent.

2. We need quiet

My sister and I recently turned to each other in amazement when we paused the movie we were watching. “What did we do in movie breaks before we had phones?”

Let’s be okay with “in between” space.

Feeling too addicted to Instagram, I checked my daily time on the app. “Oh,” I breathed a sigh of relief. “Only 4 minutes.”

But….4 minutes a day is nearly half an hour a week. What if I spent half an hour a week talking to Jesus? Or LISTENING to Jesus?

Would that change who I am?

3. We need to know what really matters to us

In Deep Work, Cal Newport writes, “Clarity on what matters provides clarity on what doesn’t.”

What matters to you? Who do you want to be? What legacy do you want to leave?

Once you have answers to these questions, you can make decisions about how you structure your day. You can ask yourself, “Will this task help me achieve who I want to be?”

A Confession

I am still very much in the middle of this journey.

I’ve written this blog post in chunks, and (full disclosure) between those chunks, I re-signed into my social media accounts. I posted something related to my work, but then I checked and checked again to see how the post “performed.”

That’s not the behavior I want to compose the bulk of my life.

That’s not who I want to be.

And if I’m not careful, those “in between” moments will define my life.

Being a Person of Depth

In Deep Work, Cal Newport doesn’t profess any type of faith, but I’m deeply grateful for his wisdom. Just as scientists have discovered laws about how the world works, I believe God allows men and women to discover principles that work.

We could call these principles best practices of living—because they are how He designed us to live.

An invitation awaits. We can be shallow people. Or we can be people of depth.

If we speak from the overflow of the heart (Luke 6:45), I want to be a person who speaks out of the depth I have taken time to cultivate.

Could not checking email and social media (and I’m just picking on those two because they are my personal vices) actually make me a more loving person?

Could avoiding certain habits create space for other habits? Could valuing shallow tasks less allow me to love the Lord more?

Could being okay with quiet “in-between” spaces allow me to interact deeply with my Lord and allow me to interact deeply with people?

What if?

Dear friend, won’t you join me? I don’t think I can do a “deep life” alone.

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom

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