Do you feel stuck? Unable to move forward? Not making an impact?
‘Stuck’ is an experience common to each of us and in his new book, How to Get Unstuck: Breaking Free from Barriers to Productivity, Matt Perman has identified the three chief ways it happens:
- We don’t know what God wants us to do.
- We know what God wants us to do, but we don’t know how to make it happen.
- Obstacles in our way are preventing us from doing it.
He also makes it clear that God wants us to be unstuck. 1 Corinthians 15:58 – referenced throughout the book – continues to ring in my ears:
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
I benefited greatly from Matt’s first book, What’s Best Next, and was excited to hear that a new resource was on its way. There are too few books that integrate a Christian worldview with the why and how of work and productivity (Do More Better by Tim Challies is one of the few that comes to mind) and this new book is just what is needed.
How to Get Unstuck is such a helpful book for all who want to “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16) and “abound in every good work” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Here are 7 key points that have stuck with me.
1. Christ must be at the centre.
Christ is our aim and we do all things for Him and by His power. Christ also shapes who we are and what we desire – without Him at the centre our priorities will be skewed.
Allowing Christ to be at the centre of who we are is critical to our success in leading initiatives and people. As Andy Stanley explains:
“To become a leader worth following, you must be intentional about developing the inner man. You must invest in the health of your soul. Nobody plans to fail, especially leaders. But to ignore the condition of your soul is the equivalent of planning to fail.”
2. We need a clear ‘why’.
Vision is the ‘why’ that drives individuals and teams. Why I do what I do. Why we what we do.It pulls us in the direction we want to go. It clarifies what is important, and helps identify what isn’t.
Start With Why is one of the most important books I’ve read on this theme but Matt’s exploration of this theme is just as compelling. Vision isn’t an optional extra – it is key to success:
“Developing a clear vision is essential to getting unstuck, staying unstuck, and being the people God has called us to be.”
The ‘why’ must have God at the centre and the good of others as our primary aim.
I found it interesting that Abraham Maslow’s research into high-performing teams identified shared vision and purpose as the most striking characteristic. Jim Collins makes a similar point:
“The importance of vision cannot be overemphasised. A shared vision is like having a compass and distant destination in the mountains. If you give a group of people a compass and a destination point and then turn them loose in the mountains to reach that destination, they will probably figure out a way to get there.”
3. We need to appreciate the preciousness of time.
Jonathan Edwards wrote that “time is exceedingly precious”. Therefore, we need to use it carefully and intentionally. I was challenged by this point perhaps more than any other in this book:
“We need to recognize that we have to choose what we will do with our time.”
This has caused me to carefully consider where my time is being spent, and whether this is the best use of the time God has given me. I was challenged to manage my time, not my tasks, because as Jim Collins has observed:
“Work expands to fill whatever time is allocated to it. To be productive, therefore, you must manage your time, not your work.”
4. We need to set priorities.
Given that time is so precious, we need to set priorities for how our time will be spent so that we act on importance not urgency. Perman shares Peter Drucker’s principles for choosing priorities:
- Pick the future against the past.
- Focus on opportunity rather than problem.
- Choose your own direction – rather than climb on the bandwagon.
- Aim high, for something that will make a difference rather than something that is “safe” and easy to do.
It is just as important to set ‘posteriorities’ – the tasks we won’t tackle.
5. We need to know how to work.
Being unstuck is about being effective.
“Personal effectiveness is the skill of leading yourself everyday to get the right things done in the right way, for the right reason, and in the shortest possible amount of time.”
We need to learn how to be effective because there are so many obstacles that stand in our way and . Effectiveness also requires learning and mastering key disciplines:
- The discipline of staying focussed and driving away distractions.
- The discipline of pursuing deep work (I also recommend Cal Newport’s excellent book on this topic).
- The discipline of learning.
- The discipline of preparing well (explored particularly well in chapter 10).
- The discipline of protecting your energy (Tony Schwartz first introduced me to this concept but Matt’s reminder was timely).
- The discipline of renewal.
6. We need to regularly get in the zone.
We must maximise the amount of time we spend on important tasks in a high state of focus. This is where our best and most satisfying work gets done. However, remarkably, only 20 percent of people get in the zone at least once a day.
There are many factors that contribute to working in the zone, but two that stood out to me are the importance of setting goals and visualising progress.
“If the goal is not clear, you have confusion and not flow; likewise, if you can’t see progress happening, the sense of momentum which is such a part of flow does not materialise.”
The solution he suggests:
“To move forward towards a state of flow in your work, define clearly what the specific goals are for the task you are doing – what success looks like. And set up the task in such a way that you can see your progress as it happens.”
7. We need to set aside time to think and pray.
Thinking and prayer have many enemies – there are so many things that can take their place, that can seem more important. But of course, as J.C. Ryle put it:
““No one ever said at the end of his days; ‘I have read my bible too much, I have thought of God too much, I have prayed too much, I have been too careful with my soul’”
Perman also encourages us to not just think but to:
“Draw conclusions. That’s the point of thinking. Those who ponder, ponder and ponder some more without ever coming to a position on things will be ill equipped to bring much insight and help to others.”
Are you ready to get unstuck? Get your copy here.
You might also like to read 10 Ways to Become a Better Leader.