By: Nareman Amin
Every day we try to wake up with a plan we want to follow. But, subhan'Allah, the hours of the day just slip through our fingers like sand in an hourglass. Before we know it, the day is done, and we barely reached any of the goals we set for the day. The following are a few tips I learned from a Productive Muslim workshop in Cairo which have helped me a lot, and I hope they help you as well, insha'Allah!
Productivity and Its Importance
Why is it important to be productive?
- It is the path of the messengers. They were an example to mankind and should be followed. Prophet Noah spent 950 years making da`wa, and not too many people believed then. So, ultimately, it is not about the results; it is about the effort.
- It is a key to success.
- It gives meaning to life.
A general equation for productivity is Productivity= Focus + Energy (towards a beneficial goal).When you feel that you are not productive, ask yourself which part of this equation is missing. Am I focused? Do I have energy? Is what I want to achieve beneficial? If the answer to one of these questions is no, then you will most likely not be productive. As Muslims, our productive lifestyle should be based on three premises: Spiritual Strength, Physical Vitality and Social Responsibility.
To be productive in something (whether work, exercise, etc), you need: knowledge, action and consistency. They are the pillars of productivity. Ultimately, most people fail to be consistent. An important key to constant productivity thus is discipline. We must have control over our desires and not vice versa. Everything in our deen disciplines us: 5 prayers every day at a set time, fasting a whole month, etc.
In order to achieve discipline, we have to keep in mind and work on the following:
- Mind management: controlling your thoughts. Do not keep telling yourself that you cannot do something, because then it really will become difficult for you to do.
- Body management: regulate exercise, sleep, and what you eat.
- Life management: set goals and objectives for yourself.
- Remember that you belong to Him. You are doing all of this for Him.
- You need Him. We can’t do any of this without submitting to Allah’s will and asking for His help. We need His help to be disciplined; it’s not something self-acquired.
- Be pious.
Three Types of Productivity
As Muslims, our productive lifestyle should be based on three premises: Spiritual Strength, Physical Vitality and Social Responsibility.
- Spiritual: how deen is a source of productivity;
- Physical: things that promote general physical wellbeing;
- Social: productivity that goes outside one’s own personal circle to benefit others, like working for an NGO, etc.
The Islamic equation of productivity is slightly different. It should be: Focus + Energy (towards maximizing your reward in Akhira.) Our center has changed. We’re no longer just carrying out a task; our action is Akhira-centered.
Intention is the first step to productivity, not action. So you have to “have sincere intentions and work hard.” And then come what may in terms of outcome.
Barakah is the spiritual link to productivity.
What is Barakah? According to a well-known da`iya, “Barakah is the attachment of Divine goodness to a thing, so if it occurs in something little, it increases it. And if it occurs in something much benefits. And the greatest fruits of Barakah in all things is to use that Barakah in the obedience of Allah.”
The eighteen sources of Barakah article is very useful: http://www.productivemuslim.com/18-sources-of-barakah/ They include: having a good intention, piety and belief in Allah, reading Qur’an, eating with people, halal income, etc.
There are “body hacks”: things you can do to boost your physical productivity in order to increase overall productivity.
3 essential body hacks:
- Early rising
- Healthy eating
- Good exercising.
Early rising starts with the night before. Nighttime is generally good for memorizing Qur’an, studying, etc. But this is usually different from one person to the next.
So, how can we get up early? Before going to sleep, say athkar, read Qur’an, understand your sleep cycle. You must ease yourself into sleep: don’t eat right before sleeping; turn your computer off completely at least 30 minutes before you go to sleep; don’t exercise right before you go to bed, etc.
5 tips to wake up:
1. Have multiple alarms in different places; in the bathroom, living room, your room, etc. so you’ll have to physically get up and turn everything off.
2. Make a public pledge; call someone and tell them you will get up at such and such a time. This is especially effective for fajr. One person wakes another person, and that person calls another person, etc and the last person in the chain calls the very first person in the cycle.
3. Jump out of bed without thinking, because then you’d just want to go back to sleep.
4. Be excited about the next day; have something to look forward to. If you don’t, then your body will naturally respond by just wanting to continue sleeping.
5. Know your sleep cycles. This differs. You go through several sleeping cycles every time you sleep. Each one lasts from 90-120 minutes, and this is different for each person. You go through “transition to sleep” during which your muscles relax and you are still conscious; then light sleep; then deep sleep which you can’t easily be woken up from; and finally REM sleep. That’s one cycle. And depending on your nature, how hard you worked during the day, etc. your cycle differs from other people. Once you know how long your sleep cycle is, even if you just sleep for one cycle, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and energized. If you wake up in the middle of a cycle, you won’t be happy… or refreshed.
Power naps (20-minute naps) during the day help a lot! Since it’s for such a short period of time, you still haven’t fallen into deep sleep and won’t be bothered if someone wakes you up. But you’ll still feel energized.
- Just remember that you are what you eat
- Try to make eating a spiritual act. While eating, ask yourself, “How did this come to me?” Think before you eat. Try to do this even for just one meal a day
- Arabic proverb: “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a minister, dinner like a poor man.” Breakfast is extremely important.
Make it fun, social, and accessible. Do something very simple and build a routine. A lot of people are discouraged because they think that they have to prepare themselves, go all the way to the gym, come back home, blah blah blah. You can exercise in the comfort of your own home. Or go for a twenty-minute walk around the neighborhood everyday.
“Mental hacks” to make you productive:
- Measure your productivity—with pen and paper. See how much time you actually get something done. Record this every hour. How much did you get done within that time frame?
- Know your body’s heat map.
- It's like a 24-hour clock. Red are the hours in which you are most productive, orange not super-focused, yellow/green kind of moseying around and grey is when you're sleeping. Keep a record of this to get a sense of when it's best for you to work. This usually doesn't change.
The Productive Muslim website has several interesting tools and charts you can take a look at, print and use.
One other way you can monitor your time and see just how productive you are being is by using the pomodoro technique (http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/). If you keep procrastinating a certain task, set a timer at 25 minutes and just focus on doing that one task during those 25 minutes. Really focus. You’ll find that it will just keep you in the mood to do more. As soon as you’re done with those 25 minutes, do whatever you like.
Why is it so hard to focus these days?
- There are too many stimuli around us, too many distractions. And we, in fact, enjoy being distracted (with facebook *ahem ahem*, twitter, email, etc) because it feeds into our pleasure senses.
- Sometimes it’s because we might not have an aim or goal.
So how do we focus?
Disconnect + Simplify = Focus.
How can we disconnect?
- Unplug completely from the internet for around 3 days. COMPLETELY.
- If it’s too difficult, then…
- Have some disconnect time, where you just turn your wireless connection off or use a website to block your internet access to certain websites for a certain period of time.
- Create a solitude zone where you can just spend some alone time and reflect.
- Get outside; get some fresh air.
- Leave your cell phone somewhere where you can’t hear it.
- Connect/disconnect every 20 minutes or so.
How can we simplify?
- Learn the concept of Zuhd. It is the antidote to consumerism. Dunya should be in the hand, not the heart. Buy only things that you need. Simplify life; do not get attached to dunya.
- De-clutter your life. If things are buzzing in your head, write them down. If your real or virtual desktop is cluttered, de-clutter it.
- Slow down. Sometimes we’re always in a hurry. Ex: If you have a meeting, go a bit earlier, rather than worrying about traffic and not being punctual.
Islam, in fact, improves focus.
Focusing in salah, having khushu` is a great way to train your mind to focus. This does not mean reducing salah to a means to an end in dunya, but simply that as an ordained form of worship, it also has other benefits.
- Helps you slow down and manages your time
- Reminds you of your purpose
- Re-energizes you
- In order to have khushu`, try to ease your way into salah by, for example, staying away from computers for a while before you pray, by imagining that you’re standing in front of Allah (swt), by focusing on the words. You could even keep a Salah journal to track your focus.
Lowering the gaze.
- Reduces distraction of the heart
- Clears your perception and grants you penetrating insight
- Gives you strength and determination
Tawwakul ala Allah,
- Reduce your worries through tawwakul (place your faith and trust in Allah that He will guide you to the best path an that His plan for you is best), reading Qur’an, praying, making du`a, sabr (being patient).
Reading/Memorizing Qur’an daily.
- Get in the habit of reading Qur’an for a minimum of 30 minutes a day
- Understand and learn tafsir
- Memorize whenever you can
Finally, what are the 7 productivity killers?
They’re summarized in this du`a: Allahuma inni a`uthu bika min al-hammi wal-hazan wal-`ajzi wal-kasal wa a`uthu biki min al-jubni wal-bukhli wa ghalabat il-dayni wa qahr al-rijal.
- Deficiency: mental block; this is internal.
- Laziness: I have the means, but I’m not taking the initiative.
- Cowardice: thinking that “I’m not good enough”
- Miserliness: not willing to spend the time or money.
- Sadness (which is temporary, something of the past) and anxiety (worrying about the future).
- Being overpowered.
Final tip: Try to do something outside your comfort zone everyday. The speaker suggested you call someone you don’t know and have a chat like calling a big businessman about some kind of project.