“Of making many books there is no end” (Eccles. 12:12); this seems especially true of books on productivity, which flow from the presses like a never-ending stream. Many of these titles have become classics, such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and more recently James Clear’s bestseller Atomic Habits.
Yet while there is much to glean from such books, fewer productivity books are written from an explicitly Christian perspective. In recent years this lacuna has begun to be filled by such admirable works as Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next, Tim Challies’s Do More Better, and Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy.
It’s into this latter category that Jordan Raynor’s Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive fits: a book on productivity that is explicitly Christian in its outlook.
Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive
Despite the overwhelming resources for time management and work-life balance, the ability to cultivate the efficiency and equilibrium needed to manage all our worthy pursuits can often feel frustratingly out of reach. The reason for our struggle is that productivity and time-management systems focus on individual habits rather than more meaningful and lasting lifestyle changes. But as it turns out, there is a better way to reach our full potential.
What we need is an operating system that takes into account the full scope of our lives. In these pages, bestselling author Jordan Raynor uses seven time-management principles drawn from the example of how Jesus lived.
Raynor—an entrepreneur, author, and podcaster—seeks to integrate the best practices from productivity literature with an explicitly theological, “grace-based productivity” approach (xix). He looks to the way Jesus used his time, and stresses serving others. This laudable goal aims to produce a more trustworthy, theological account of productivity, as Raynor balances “the theological, the theoretical, and the tactical” (xxi, italics original).
Principles and Practices
Raynor suggests seven principles and 32 practices to help readers vanquish their to-do lists, and to make progress toward life’s most important and strategic actions. The seven principles are all taken from the Gospels:
- Start with the Word
- Let Your Yes Be Yes
- Dissent from the Kingdom of Noise
- Prioritize Your Yeses
- Accept Your “Unipresence”
- Embrace Productive Rest
- Eliminate All Hurry
The 32 practices are varied and include many that will be familiar to readers of productivity literature and some that may be new. He includes tips for organization, calendar management, and goal-setting. The book’s endnotes make clear Raynor has read and digested many key works on productivity and has conducted original interviews.
Our Goal: Glorify God
The abundance of productivity literature reflects a widespread desire for help in organizing our lives, and the corresponding reality that there is always more to learn. While many productivity books are theologically vacuous, Raynor’s is not.
He consistently asks the right sorts of questions and provides sage biblical advice. He is less concerned with helping people make a name for themselves. Instead, he keeps the biblical goal of loving others squarely in view.
Those burned out on or skeptical of secular books on the topic will find in Raynor’s book a breath of fresh air. He encourages readers to emphasize spiritual disciplines, take a weekly Sabbath, and remember that our productivity is not our foundation for peace with God, for “we will all die with unfinished symphonies” (xxvi).
Those who are burned out on or skeptical of secular books on the topic will find in Raynor’s book a breath of fresh air.
Raynor offers insights into his own productivity practices, and his how-to advice is consistently helpful. Examples include reading a newspaper rather than doomscrolling, maximizing the effect of breaks, and putting systems in place to capture and organize all our commitments.
I was also happy to see Raynor provide guidance on what can be one of the most paralyzing features of getting organized: creating an all-encompassing mission statement. Raynor cuts through the complexity and shows simply that our mission statement should be to glorify God (85).
We should be grateful to Raynor for providing a book that promotes love for God and neighbor in how we handle our obligations. I appreciate the robustly Christ-centered spirit throughout. Yet I would suggest some refinements.
One is on the nature of the Gospels and what they reveal about Jesus’s use of time. While it is true that the Gospels are biographies (14), they are ancient biographies that often do not share modern biographies’ level of chronological detail.
The various accounts in our Gospels are strategically presented and limited in scope in a way that seeks to persuade readers that Jesus is the Christ. So while we do have some insights into Jesus’s use of time, the information is not extensive enough to construct a comprehensive picture.
One example Raynor gives is Mark 11:11, when Jesus waits until the next day to drive out the money-changers from the temple because it was already late. From he speculates that “adding anything else to [Jesus’s] already busy day would have tipped the scales from busy to hurry” (159).
This is unlikely. Mark 11 recounts the beginning of the most climactic week of Jesus’s life, and Jesus is preparing one of the most dramatic actions that leads directly to his arrest and crucifixion. Better explanations for why Jesus delayed when it was already late include the lack of sufficient crowds or the absence of the right people to witness his prophetic actions.
Raynor provides a book that promotes love for God and neighbor in how we handle our obligations.
Occasionally Raynor explains what Greek terms mean, but this is mostly unhelpful without fuller discussions of the contexts in which the words are used. I would also express caution when he states that the Son of God “traded in his godly omnipresence for the human unipresence” in the incarnation (109, italics original). While Raynor clarifies a couple of pages later (111), this statement could mislead. The human nature assumed by the Son is not omnipresent, but Jesus always remains omnipresent as divine Son of God.
Consider Your Season
For all the beneficial practical advice, I also wonder if the book sometimes presents unattainable possibilities. For example, Raynor writes that almost everyone needs eight hours of sleep. Since he wakes at 5 a.m. each day, this means he is in bed almost every night by 8:45–8:55, and his three small children are in bed by 7. But children don’t always go to bed so early, and many people have obligations that won’t allow such a flexible schedule in both mornings and evenings. (Raynor admits in a footnote he doesn’t know how this will work when his children are older.)
It could be helpful to acknowledge that we go through various seasons of life, and some seasons are more conducive to stricter schedules than others (see Eccles. 3:1–8). While the ideal is often to go to bed early and rise early, getting eight hours of sleep, sometimes we simply need to survive and may have to burn the midnight oil.
One final observation: Raynor often points readers to additional (and free) resources that supplement the book, but most of these are only available on his website. I would’ve liked to see more of this material included in the book.
These points notwithstanding, Redeeming Your Time presents a helpful summary of some of the best productivity literature and is full of helpful advice. The tone of the book, and the concluding theological reflections, help to calibrate the benefits and limits of our productivity. Raynor has provided a solid addition to a growing list of explicitly Christian approaches on how to invest our time and labors most effectively for the glory of God and the benefit of others.