5 Lies of Efficiency and Productivity

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“Time is money”. 

All too often, North American life is all about the results.

You need to coordinate and plan your day so as to make the largest possible contribution in the smallest possible time.

At a very young age, we are taught, and accept, these apparent truths.

The North American view of time separates us from many places around the world.  To us, time is the most precious resource.

In North America, people are known for what they accomplish.  I have been to many recognition speeches where people retell the accomplishments of an individual.  We have our own expectations for those who ‘rise to the top’: results.  Life and business are all about the results. Thus, what we accomplish is synonymous with who we are.

In my home country, Papua New Guinea, people are known for the relationships they build.  It was not until recently that I figured out why there are so many inefficient business leaders in this country – success is not measured by accomplishments, but by relationships.  A person rises to leadership because of who they are, not what they do.

The Five Lies That Efficiency and Productivity Tell

Efficiency and productivity say you are too busy and too important to take a vacation.

Some people don’t take vacations because they cannot afford the time.  There is too much to do.  The lie is that we are too busy for a vacation.  The world needs me and depends on me too much for me to be gone for a week. 

God, on the other hand, in his Sabbath teaching reminds us that he is in control, so we should trust him and relax.  The world is run by God, not by us.

Interestingly, taking a break removes you from temporarily being productive.  Ultimately though, you return invigorated and energized.  This does result in the ability to accomplish more in the long run.

Efficiency and productivity tell us that getting things done is more important than helping people.

Efficiency without purpose is extremely dangerous.  In other words, you can be so efficient at the wrong things that you accomplish nothing in this life that is truly meaningful.  I am a task oriented person, so it is a challenge to put people before things. 

Jesus tells the story of some religious leaders who wouldn’t help an injured man because they had meetings to attend to.  This, we are reminded, is not right.  People supersede things. 

Remember, life is often more about the interruptions than the plans.  Henri Nowen aptly says, “Ministry is in the interruptions”. 

Efficiency and productivity tell us that you are defined by what you accomplish.

Do you think God will be excited to see your resume?  The idea of accomplishment makes it so hard for us to accept this foreign concept called grace.  We work and work to earn the favor of parents, friends, and co-workers.  It is so hard for us to grasp the concept that God accepts us for who we are, not for what we do.

God made us and he chose us before we did anything.  It’s unconditional.  You are who you are because of who you belong to, (God) not because of what you’ve accomplished.

Efficiency and productivity tell us that doing something trumps being someone.

Morals, values, and ethics are the greatest currencies in life.  Why, then, do so many people sell out for money?  They sell out because they want to achieve results.  The ends justify the means.  The product is all that matters.  So we twist, manipulate, and even break our conscience so we can produce another result.

Yet, Jesus asks, what good is it if a man gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul?

I once read that we are human beings, not human doings. 

Efficiency and productivity tell us that stress, burden, and pressure are good.

Sure, there is good stress; it’s just that most of us have bad stress.  We give, give, and give to the point of exhaustion and fatigue.  We accept the sleepless nights, the long business trips, and the constant headache all for the sake of producing.  Sure, we might be miserable, but at least people see some great results.

Jesus reminds us that his yoke is easy.  He doesn’t need us to earn his love or respect.

Is there ever a time to forget about being efficient and productive?  What other lies have we believed about efficiency and productivity?


  1. Charlie says

    I wonder if this “dicothomy” of “bing” (relationships) vs. “doing” (productivity & efficiency is legit.

    ISTM that it is impossible to be successful through relationships without doing what is needed to develop and support that relationship.

    I wonder if the issue isn’t more about being sure that what we do is aimed at building relationships instead of relationships controlling what we do. What I mean is that if we are an employyee then our relationship with our employer is most successful when the employee concentrates on doing what needs to be done and the employer concentrates on making sure the employee has a safe, rewarding place of work with appropriate compensation.

    Or is a marriage each spouse concentatrates on doing what they can do to meet their spouses needs and to build and strengthen the relationship —

    No relationship can exist if one party simply sits be and says “I’m here for you” and does absolutely nothing for the other party.

    SO I don’t think it’s healthy to be rewarded for what you do independent of any concern about the impact on relationships — but equally to say we are rewarded for building relationships without putting in an effort — without “doing what is needful” is also unhealthy.

    Make sense?

  2. says

    Awesome article, Craig! I was reading this in my feed reader and opened it in a new window because I knew just from the beginning that it was so good I’d want to comment.

    I’m definitely guilty of this myself. It really is an American mindset, too. Other people see time as something that’s renewed every day (until you’re dead). It’s not a finite resource except in the minds of Americans. As Christians, shouldn’t we see that time is infinite? We are promised eternal life with God. We will not run out of time.

    That shouldn’t be a disincentive that keeps us from doing God’s work while we’re alive on Earth either. But it should help us realize that relationships are more important than accomplishments. It should show us that people are more valuable than to-do lists. I wonder how many of us (including myself) wouldn’t stop to help someone in need on the way to church because we don’t want to be late? Or on our way to anywhere? Isn’t that the same problem Jesus pointed out in The Good Samaritan?

    Thanks for this, Craig! It was really encouraging to me – especially since I feel busy this coming week!!!
    .-= Paul Williams´s last blog ..What Caused the Economic Downturn? How Do We Rebound? =-.

  3. says

    I agree about how in North America we are known and valued by what we accomplish, what we do: as far as career/jobs. Thats why its been a struggle being a stay-at-home-wife (if by choice or situation), since many people place value on work/doing/making money. Great post, something to think about.

  4. says

    We’re all about hero’s, and we all want to be one. Inside we know we’re just regular folks, so the only way to make up the gap is by running faster and jumping higher.

    The ultimate lie of efficency and productivity is that if done fully, we’ll make ourselves unnecessary! That’s what’s increasingly playing out in the business world. In the process, we don’t know our neighbors and count few as true friends. How tragic!

    I like the line from the Alabama song, “…all I gotta do is live and die, I’m in a hurry and don’t know why..”

    Now let me wander up to the edge of that cliff again…

    I think that what’s at the core of the drive to accomplish–and I’d add to accumulate–is the unspoken and completely irrational notion that it will somehow enable us to cheat death, or at least to live a lot longer. Closer to concious thinking, we might believe that if we have enough power (money, fame, adoration) we’ll be able to marshal the resources and advantages that will enable us to over come that which has consumed others.

    One of my favorite verses in the heat of battle: “Be still, and know that I am God” Ps 46:10

    What’s the big hurry???
    .-= Kevin@OutOfY0urRut´s last blog ..Should You Use Retirement Savings to Pay Off Debt? =-.

    • says

      Your right that the focus is about doing what needs to be done to build relationships. Most of the time I think people do what needs to be done to build up themselves. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship without doing. Great point.
      You comment made me wonder what Jesus would have been like in the 21st century. Would he have been a time management guru? Would he be taking care of his Tweets in the car? Or would he be the guy who was sitting in the living room having a causal conversation with someone? Its hard for me to see Jesus getting all caught up in accomplishments.
      The Good Samaritan is a great example because those examples had something to do that become more important than showings God’s compassion.
      It is really hard for wives who stay at home. I think as a society we need to do a better job honoring in the ‘accomplishments’ of moms who stay home. I’m thankful for the sacrifice you are making.
      I do think too many of us have a hero complex. It might not be that hard work and efficiency is the problem, but the fact that we do it all for ourselves not for God.
      Psalm 46:10 is a great verse for us to reflect on.

  5. Arthur @ FinancialBondage.org says

    We have more technology and luxuries than our parents and certainly our grandparents ever did, but so many people today seem over worked, stressed out, on the edge, unhappy, overly busy, no time for family/friends. Sometimes I wonder if life was easier and simpler before TV, radio, Internet, cell phones, the automobile. My grandmother was born in 1908. Her upbringing was much different than mine. Times have changed. I am not so sure for the better.

    • says

      There is a simplicity missing from life today. We have gained some great techonology, but we have also lost some wonderful things along the way.

  6. says

    What a timely article Craig. Regarding the first point, just yesterday, in service our pastor spoke about how we’re such an action-oriented society that we sometimes fail to take a step back and listen for the voice of God. I know I’m guilty of this, and need to break this habit.

    With your second point, it’s so true that people are way more important than things, but it’s such a challenge for me to remember and live out daily.

    The same thing goes with grace. I think I need to be reminded often that God loves us unconditionally, in spite of what we do, what we accomplish, or our job title.

    Just some thoughts here. Maybe you could find satisfaction or value in making your home a nice place to dwell, and being a loving and Godly wife to your husband (though this is not to say that you’re not already doing these things)?
    .-= Darren´s last blog ..How to Calculate Your Social Security Benefits =-.

    • says

      I think that most of us are more Martha – busy, busy, busy. So busy that we don’t have time to sit at Jesus’ feet.
      The unconditional love of God is amazing.

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