So you want to be productive? Me too, which is why I decided to do some research. However, before we delve into the ways of productivity ask yourself this: Why do you want to be more productive? This may seem like an obvious question. Who does not want to be more productive?! But seriously think about it.
Done? Good. What did you come up with? Maybe there is nothing to watch on Netflix and you are looking to fill some time. Perhaps you have you been feeling lazy and slow and want to feel better. Or, possibly, you are feeling spontaneous and the sudden urge to do something grand and significant. I hear you, loud and clear. I know because this is my struggle too. Knowing the reason behind why you desire to be more productive is your ticket to staying productive. So whenever you are feeling sluggish again look back at your reasoning.
I have found, through trial and error, that the key to becoming productive relies on four main key factors: renewing intentions, time management, organization, and prioritizing.
The first step to anything, but especially before starting something new, is to make your intentions to please Allah and to get closer to Him. It is kind of like getting Allah’s blessing. Starting with the right intentions gives you a better chance that good things will come out of your hard work plus all the extra good deeds you can gain.
‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab relates that he heard the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, say, “Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended. So the one whose hijrah was to Allah and His Messenger, then his hijrah was to Allah and His Messenger. And the one whose hijrah was for the world to gain from it, or a woman to marry her, then his hijrah was to what he made hijrah for.”
Making your intentions is that simple. There is practically a duaa for everything, from taking a trip to using the bathroom, but the real struggle is remembering. In Arabic, the root of the word “people” translates to “forget”. Therefore, it is in our nature to forget but that is part of our test. You need to ask yourself, how do I strive to remember? I can say I had the intentions to pray but did I set a reminder? Really, baby steps are the key. Recently, I have been trying just to make the first thing I say in the morning be Bismallah and then I make my intentions for the day. It is only a start but I have noticed that because of that Bismallah I am more God-conscious throughout my day.
Islamically speaking, we all need to be conscious of the fact that we are going to be asked about how each of us spent every second on this Earth. Now, I am not saying that you should be striving to pray every second you get the chance (but if you can, the power to ya) but I am saying that you need to use your time wisely. There are many ayahs and hadiths that discuss time but the most commonly referenced is surah Al-Asr.
I swear by the time (1) Man is in a state of loss, indeed (2) Except those who believe and did righteous deeds, and exhorted each other to follow the truth and exhorted each other to observe patience (3)
I am no scholar, so I highly recommend each of you to go check out the deeper meanings of surah Al-Asr but let’s stick to the basics here and scratch the surface level meaning. Allah swears by things in the Quran when He wants to highlight their importance. Therefore, one can deduce that time is important. If you have watched any sci-fi movie ever, you know you do not mess with time. And yet as the second ayah in surah Al-Asr mentions we are all “in a state of loss.” To be in a state of something suggests one is constantly that certain way. Therefore, it may sound disheartening to say that we are in a state of loss but this is just pointing to our human nature. As said earlier the root of Arabic word people translates to forget. People are naturally forgetful. So what do we do about it? The answer is in the third ayah and explains that we can remedy our nature simply by doing good deeds! Fill your time with good deeds encourage others to do good deeds and your set.
I would also like to point out the use of the word patience in the last ayah. Subhanallah, it is amazing that Allah discusses patience when discussing time because when one thinks of using their time wisely they think of taking action, actually doing something. However, having patience is doing something. Patient is a verb. Overall, I think it is a good reminder that all things take time. So even if you are waiting for something you have to decide how to use your time until then.
Even though it has been almost four years since I have graduated high school I am still struggling to create a schedule for myself. The struggle is, of course, that once you graduate high school you do not have a set schedule. Classes are always at the weirdest times and work is scheduled whenever you do not have classes and thus I’m left with odd hours in between to get stuff done. And that is the excuse I have used to not do anything productive with my time for the past four years. It is time to be honest with ourselves. You can not get stuff done if you continue to tell yourself otherwise. Whatever time you have is the time you are given so you need to use it to the best of your ability. Complaining will definitely not fix anything. If you research the habits of successful people, like Bill Gates or Oprah, you will find that they create specific schedules balancing their different commitments and fill their waiting time with reading. In other words, they do not waste time.
It is unfortunate that Muslims have a reputation for being late and not even a few minutes late but hours. However, I feel that we more than deserve it. Believe it or not, time commitment is one of biggest struggles of our Ummah. It is so frustrating when you invite someone over and they arrive an hour later. Perhaps, it is not said out loud but when you are late you lose respect. Actions speak louder than words and being late shows you did not plan accordingly and/or did not care enough to manage your time. It is different if you are late once in a blue moon because of circumstances beyond your control but I do not think we realize how horrible it is to be known for being habitually late. You may be asking, but what does showing up on time have to do with anything? Part of managing your time is committing to your time. So if you say you will spend 45 minutes exercising every Tuesday starting at 8 am then every Tuesday morning you will exercise for 45 minutes starting at 8 am. If we can each individually better our time management then suddenly we will have time. The reality is when you make plans with other people and do not follow through then you are not only wasting your time but your brothers and sisters as well.
During my research on productivity, I found out two very interesting concepts. The first derives from a TedTalk by Laura Vanderkam (and I highly suggest you watch it). In her talk, Vanderkam discusses how she did time studies where each person had to document how they spent their time each day. One lady documented that she had to stay home for seven hours because her basement flooded. Where did she find these extra seven hours? The answer was she had to find them because fixing her home became her priority.
Priority is what tells you what is most important. Sure you say that you want to pick up writing, sports, or spend more time with your family but what have you done to make them a priority. Often, when someone says “I’m sorry. I was busy” it just means you were not a priority and there is nothing wrong with that! Its like they say, “when there’s a will there’s a way.” We each have things that we have to do with school, work, eat, and sleep and these things take up a lot of our time but not all of it.
This leads me to the second thing I discovered. Prioritizing comes from your values so what do you value most? Write it out. Starting with pleasing Allah all the way to making sure you check your Instagram. This is your list so you can write whatever pleases you but take it seriously. When the time comes when you’re bored or have some extra time to fill, take a look at your list. How can you productively fill that time?
Now for the cherry on top, organization. Full disclosure, I am an organized person. I am that person who starts their project as soon as it is assigned and even though I do have a corner in my room where I tend to throw things I also have a “clean my room” day (Thursday). So here is my tip for organizing: do it. It is that simple. Organization goes hand in hand with all the other steps. You cannot spend your time wisely is you do not organize it in a way that balances all aspects of your life. How can you prioritize if you do not know what your priorities are? Organizing is really just the glue to life. It is the habitual routine that one creates for themselves. Organizing is knowing how you work. So, for example, if it is hard for you to get up in the morning then plan your outfit the night before so you are not late.
For me, organization means planning, doing the stuff I least like first, and writing lists. It is amazing the power of a check mark. I strongly suggest you try it yourself.
Well, that’s all for now. Inshallah, I hope you learned something new and remember to meet me next time under The Shade of a Sapling.