The Dangers of Productivity



Confession: I’m a productivity fiend. I love the whole idea of getting things done, banging through a checklist, and keeping on top of things. I love hearing people’s tricks and tips for becoming more productive. And I do believe that there’s a biblical precedent for being productive. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Productivity can be wonderfully God-honoring, and I’m truly grateful to God for those who have helped me become more productive.

But my constant push for productivity has exposed sin in my heart as well. There are definite dangers in always seeking to be more productive. Here are a few I’ve seen in my own life. Can you relate?

The Danger of Legalism

Scripture is brilliantly clear that God will never accept me based on anything I do. My hope is forever and always in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The premise behind productivity however is doing more, and for me, much of the doing involves good things, like reading spiritual books or taking care of things around the house. The problem arises when my doing starts to bleed into my grasp of the gospel. At times I find myself feeling that God accepts me or loves me more because I’ve been productive. In the words of Sinclair Ferguson, I start to “smuggle” good works into the gospel. This is sinful legalism. I must always pursue productivity in light of the gospel.

The Danger of Doing Instead of Loving

It’s so easy to confuse doing things for God with simply loving God. This was the mistake that Martha made when she and her sister Mary had Jesus over for dinner. Martha was serving like a mad woman, running about frantically in an effort to put on a dinner extravaganza for Jesus, while Mary was just hanging out with Jesus. In an effort to get Mary moving, Martha pulled the “she’s not doing anything” trick on Jesus. But Jesus rebuffed her with these words:

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.

I need to remember that only one thing is necessary: loving Christ. Doing things for God doesn’t equal loving God. Reading spiritual books, serving in the church, keeping a well-managed home – all these things are wonderful, but they don’t necessarily mean that my heart is full of affection toward God. I want God to fill my heart with deep affection for him which will in turn lead to acts of service toward God.

The Danger of Neglecting

In the constant effort to be more productive it’s easy to neglect the most important things, like my family. When I’m sitting on the living room floor having a ‘jam session’ with Charis and her toy piano, I’m not necessarily being ‘productive’, but that’s the most important place for me to be. By God’s grace, I want to make time to ‘do nothing’ with my family. Time for memories, and ice cream, and trips to the park. I don’t want the push for productivity to take me away from what’s truly important.

What about you? Do you ever find yourself falling into the traps of productivity?

+photo by orangeacid

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  • Yes! I find myself falling into that trap, especially at work. My sister teases me and tells me that my theme, if you will, is Git R’ Done. Unfortunately, I can get things done at the expense of the friends that I serve. It’s easy to strive for excellence and mow people over in the process. Often when I’m busy, I don’t take time like Mary to quiet my head and heart to sit and listen at my Savior’s feet. The cares of life are more important (at that moment) than the One who cares for me. And, yes, legalism…I find that I bring a Git R’ Done mentality to my sanctification. I just want the 6 steps to change and follow these rules and then I’ll be done and God will be happy. :-) Nope…doesn’t happen like that.

    Thanks Stephen.

  • laurel sauls says:

    This was a great post, Stephen. The part about doing things for God, not just loving Him, really struck a chord. Wow, I had never thought of that!
    I am definitely all about productivity and efficiency…and often have to make a conscious effort to “just be” with my three boys…to spend time with them, where they are , without agenda. It’s hard, but I know it is worth doing. Thanks for the great reminders.

  • Chelsey says:

    I can totally relate to this. I love making a checklist at the beginning of every day of all the things I need to get done, and having my quiet time is normally on that list. I guess it’s good that I want “to-do” it, but soon I start relegating it to the same level as doing laundry or making my bed.

    “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” – Galatians 2:20-21

  • Hamster says:

    Stephen, thank you for this post. I can wholeheartedly relate with this struggle, as I’m definitely all about being productive by having a “to-do” list. For me, the tension lies in being productive (which may, at times, be more about my sense of accomplishment in getting my “to-do” list completed) versus not being intentional with my time, both in how I live in my day-to-day activities, which include relating with others in a focused way.

    As you so adeptly point out:
    “The problem arises when my doing starts to bleed into my grasp of the gospel. At times I find myself feeling that God accepts me or loves me more because I?ve been productive.”

    What a farce to the Gospel! As if any of my good works could add even an iota to the work of Christ on the Cross?! But I am thankful for His patience and kindness in exposing my utter depravity even in wanting to “be productive” so that I may see my desperate need for Christ and the Gospel. Thanks be to God for His indescribable grace!

  • fredokie says:

    Don’t confuse “do-nothing” time with Charis and your family as non-productive. You are making a huge investment of time in your family that will reap rewards in the years to come. The time invested in your family is God honoring and you and your family are blessed by God for the “do-nothing” time spent. Glad to know you are have a handle on it.

  • Erik B. says:

    I always enjoy it when I come by and you have written a new post.

    At one point I found myself struggling so hard to set aside time to get things done. However, often time it seemed I wasn’t accomplishing anything important and my days were unproductive. (How frustrating when you want to get stuff done and it doesn’t work out.) Anyway, the Lord showed me that I needed to surrender and not try to make any claims for “my” time. After the surrendering process I seemed to get a lot more done. I was even able to complete 5 weeks worth of tough math in 1&1/2 weeks.

    Great post.

  • Stephen Altrogge says:

    Why is it that check lists and to-do lists are so appealing? Is it a mix of good and bad motives at times?

    Fred – Great point. When I’m just hanging out with my family, that’s exactly what I should be doing and that honors God.

  • Hannah says:

    Amen. “Coincidentally,” I’ve been thinking about that same thing today. Thank you, yet again, for the insightful post.

  • Robin says:

    Oh my goodness. Someone’s been telling you about me, haven’t they?! I love lists and I always have more on my list that I could ever hope of actually getting done. It is often hard to forget the list and just enjoy my husband or one of my kids. By God’s grace, I did just that last night. I didn’t get done what I had planned to do, but how much better to just sit and talk with my teenage sons and later my husband. And I didn’t even worry about what I didn’t get done (for a change). It’s still there waiting for me, of course. : )

  • Bo says:

    “I love the whole idea…of keeping on top of things”

    Really? What happened on vacation?


  • Stephen Altrogge says:

    Bo – I don’t do productivity on vacation. Or are you referring to the canoe incident? In that case I direct you to my brother…

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