Tag Archives: Productivity

How to Avoid Multiplying Useless Work

Have you ever wondered why small things can feel so huge? Do you want to know how to avoid feeling flustered because of small interruptions? I discovered an explanation in Matt Perman’s new book, What’s Best Next (which I reviewed here). Also, Perman gives some advice to help avoid this feeling, which you can find at the end of this post.

Researchers have found that whenever most systems — such as airports, freeways, and other such things — exceed about 90 percent capacity, efficiency drops massively. Not just slightly, but massively. This is called the “ringing effect.” The reason is that as a system nears its capacity, the effect of relatively small disturbances is magnified exponentially. This is why traffic slows down at rush hour almost inexplicably. When you think about it, unless there is an accident, there’s almost no reason that traffic should be going slow. And, here’s the thing: you’re right. Or, in other words, there is a reason, but it’s not what you’d expect. The reason traffic is slow is because of the relatively small and otherwise insignificant braking that some guy four miles ahead did — and the person a quarter mile behind him, and half a mile behind him. It’s not that they are slamming on their brakes; under ordinary circumstances, what they are doing would have almost no effect on the f low of traffic. The problem is that once capacity is past about 90 percent, small disturbances have a huge effect. And so traffic slows down, sometimes to a crawl. That’s the ringing effect.

Perman gives an example of how useless work multiplies when a system is too close to capacity:

You see the ringing effect, for example, when you are trying to schedule a meeting for ten people, and they all have to be there. It’s almost impossible to find a time that works for everyone, resulting in an untold number of emails going back and forth. And then, once everything is figured out, something unexpected comes up for someone and you need to reschedule the meeting again (and then reschedule the other stuff on your plate that is now interfering with the new time). That “rearranging” is the ringing effect. And it takes time away from the productive stuff that you have to do (in this case, times ten). And the effects continue cascading, for as you keep rescheduling, other people involved need to reschedule as well (even if they aren’t part of the group for the original meeting). And on it goes.

The best thing to do to avoid the ringing effect? Relentlessly prioritize your work by learning to say no to things that don’t fit inside your giftings or calling! We are finite creatures and shouldn’t expect that it is our job to solve every problem that comes our way. Remember this: the need is not the call…

Michael Hyatt has a great post on how to say no.

How about you? What other tips do you have for beating the ringing effect? Let us know in the comments?


Review: What’s Best Next by Matt Perman

I just finished: What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman. This is the book I Imagine John Piper would write on productivity; its Christian hedonism/Jonathon Edwards mixed with a good dose of the best secular authors on productivity. This shouldn’t surprise us since Perman worked for Desiring God for some time, and Piper writes the forward…

As the title implies, this book is not just a collection of productivity hacks; instead, it articulates a Christian theology of why we should prize efficiency, well also explaining why we sometimes shouldn’t. This may be the book’s most important contribution, given that much of what matters in the information age is intangible, and often feels incredibly unproductive (i.e., writing a book, networking).

Like most New Testament epistles, the book begins with theology, and only then moves toward practice. As a New Testament professor, my favorite part was the theology of productivity section. The rest feels familiar, covering skills like speed reading and task management (an expanded and updated version of Getting Things Done by David Allen mixed with First Things First by Covey). I don’t feel like I learned much from the skills section, but I loved the incredible selection of quotes from Christian history about productivity, especially from Jonathon Edwards, which will sparkle in future sets of class notes! Along with this, Perman has also included interviews with a variety of Christian and secular influencers on their own habits of productivity. The interviews range from Seth Godin to my favorite Christian blogger, Tim Challies. To be honest, I was hoping for more from these interviews, given the way they were hyped in the introduction. Nevertheless, they still provide a nice break from the nitty-gritty of task management.

On that note, the whole book is designed to be readable in whatever format you want. You can gobble it in one sitting, or read a chapter every other month. It is set up with text boxes at the end of each chapter which include the core material for the chapter, including a core quote and the core takeaway, as well as follow-up reading. Another strength is that the book allows for any level of application, insisting that it is better to act than fiddle with perfecting our tools. This explains the title of the book, that “What’s Best Next” is actually a question. The core thesis of the book is that no matter what moment we are in, true productivity means honoring God with our gifts by discerning what is most valuable for his kingdom in our immediate context.

My final assessment: I expect this will be required reading for vocational ministry at the seminary level, because it moves beyond efficiency to theology and provides a map charting how to be productive in the age of 24/7 intangible productivity.

Related Links:

Why 35 Hours Per Week is the Perfect Number

David Murray brings us some fascinating news from a video game company on why working more than 35 hours a week is a bad idea for knowledge workers. Sure you can do it in the short term, but you actually will make less progress in the long run if you work too hard. Here’s a fancy chart to prove it:

Work less to do more | HeadHeartHand Blog.