Several months ago a friend of mine asked me 3 questions on productivity for his blog. Here’s what I wrote so that it is easily available here as well:

1. What’s the most common mistake people make in trying to develop a system for productivity? 

There are a lot of wrong turns that people make here, but I think the biggest one is that they simply seek to make their system capture and organize their existing work. We shouldn’t first ask “what things are vying for my attention and how do I organize them?”

Instead, we should first ask “what things are most important for me to be doing and how do I make sure that I am able to move ahead on them?”

The former is reactive and the later is proactive.

2. In the last three months, what has been the most helpful insight that has helped you be more productive?

Peter Drucker’s comment that “effective executives put first things first and do one thing at a time.” My workload has been larger than normal the last few months, and that makes it tempting to splinter myself and move on too many fronts at once. Drucker reminds me to avoid this trap. First, you don’t have to do everything. Instead, identify what is most important, and start there. Second, build momentum by doing one thing at a time, bringing it to completion, and then moving on to the next thing (what’s best next). You might think this makes it take longer to do things, but it actually saves time. The scarcity of time is precisely the reason we need to do one thing at a time.

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3. In a nutshell, what is the most important and fundamental principle for being productive? 

I would actually say: realize that you don’t have to be productive. By this I mean: your significance does not come from your productivity. It comes from Christ, who obeyed God perfectly on our behalf such that our significance and standing before God comes from him, not anything we do. Then, on that basis, we pursue good works (which is what productivity is) and do so eagerly, as it says in Titus 2:14.

When it comes to day-to-day application, the main principle is this: The key denominator of effectiveness is not intelligence or even hard work, as important as those are. It is the discipline to put first things first. You need to operate from a center of sound principles and organize and execute around priorities. This means that instead of prioritizing your schedule, you schedule your priorities.