Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Time of My Life

Presented by: Sister Winnie

(update:  Thanks to Sister Solange who pointed out :
Just wanted to clarify that dhikr is an ibadah that must be done by the tongue (ideally the heart too). Using the heart alone is a different act, reflection, and does not qualify as dhikr.  
So I’ve adjusted that section accordingly.  Also, thanks to Sara and Solange for help with grammar and spelling.)

You might think from the title of this talk that you are in for a really good story knowing that I’ve  been around for awhile, (actually 53 years), is very happily married with three grown children, an added lovely daughter, Sara, and a beautiful granddaughter and one on the way.  She must have some great reflections you say to yourself, but no this is not where we are going today.  

Today, I want to focus on the notion of Time and how it affects our lives as Muslimahs.  

Time is a blessing from Allah, Most High, but it is one that is always decreasing, as we have learned in the Surah Al-Asr.  

Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِِ
1. Wal' asr
2. Innal insaana lafee khusr
إِنَّ الإِنسٰنَ لَفى خُسرٍ
3. Il lal lazeena aamanu wa 'amilus saali haati wa tawa saw bil haqqi wa tawa saw bis sabr
لَّا الَّذينَ ءامَنوا وَعَمِلُوا الصّٰلِحٰتِ وَتَواصَوا بِالحَقِّ وَتَواصَوا بِالصَّبرِ ِ

Abdullah Yusuf Ali Translation

  1. By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
  2. Verily Man is in loss,
  3. Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.

In the first two verses, Allah, Most High tells us that mankind is at a loss,  time is going.   The only thing that is going to save us is given in the third verse

We can’t get time back, it is non-refundable or exchangeable.  Time is not in our control, but we can control the actions that use time.  We can gain even though time is passing.  

Time has been described as more valuable than money.  Ask yourself are you a consumer of time or an investor of time.  What is the difference?   A consumer wastes time and uses it in pointless pursuits, whereas an investor in time, recognizes the true value of time and tries to put each and every second to use.  Of course, that is not saying that we must be super achievers and never sleep, on the go 24/7 in honorable pursuits,  (though some of our famous Islamic scholars did practically that) rather it is recognizing that Time is a blessing from Allah, and therefore, we MUST, try our best to be efficient and productive by doing things that would please Allah, Most High.

Time is relative,  when we reflect on events and occasions in our lives, it seems like just yesterday, but when we plan for the future it seems so far away.  So how can we (myself first) develop ourselves to use time efficiently?  First lets identify some problem areas we may have experienced.  I’ve often sat down at a computer to do a specific task but an hour later the task isn't done actually it has been completely forgotten and I can’t claim any good product from that hour, ie, the time I spent was frivolous.  Time flew (even though it is constant, not going fast or slow) and I had let something else take control of my actions.   How many times have you felt that there is not enough time in the day, or “I have nothing to do”  (a common complaint of teens I’ve heard).

These are just a few examples of ineffective use of time, or lack of respect for the blessing of time. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step on a path to fixing it.  I have recognized my problems with time management and have started a path to becoming better with Time.  In no way am I an expert, if I was I wouldn’t have been finishing this article last night, but trying to effect change is a gradual process and as long as you see some improvement, then in sha Allah, you’re on the right path.  So, that is how this talk came about, from my own interest in time management, and also from the Islamic notion to share useful information, once you have learned it.

Now that we’ve identified the problem, lets again, reflect on Why we should be better with our Time.  Simply put …….. to gain entrance to Paradise.

With that in mind, I’ll share with you some tips and strategies for becoming a better Time Manager, in sha Allah.  They are not in a specific order of importance and for sure there are plenty more strategies out there.

Strategy 1: Become Efficient  

Did you know that being efficient will gain you more time.  How?  Well when you are efficient what you do in 1 hour could take 4 hours if you were constantly distracted or not having a clear head.    Remember quality over quantity.  

How to become more efficient?  The answer to that leads us to more strategies:

Strategy 2:  Read Quran in the morning  

By doing this in sha Allah, your day will be filled with barakah.  Your time will be blessed in sha Allah, and you will find your efficiency soaring by the will of Allah. Try reading Quran before or after Fajr.  Choose the amount that you can consistently do every morning.  Allah, Most High, loves the small regular deeds.

Strategy 3:  Exercise
You might think that exercising takes time and that is time that could be spent in a better use, but actually exercise is a great activity which can be considered a form of worship if your intention is to improve your health and fitness for the sake of Allah.  Exercise could help you to perform your salat better, to focus on tasks better.  Just a few sessions of exercise each week can make a difference,  I speak from experience on this front.  Exercise is also a great time to listen to informative podcasts, do dhikr or to reflect on your day and activities.  More on that to come.

Strategy 4: Making lists, using calendars etc.

Sometimes your mind gets overloaded with ideas, thoughts etc.  By writing down these ideas and thoughts down,  it frees up your mind to focus on the “task at hand” without worrying that a particular thought or idea will be forgotten and you know that you can get to it, when the time is right.  Also, if you have a smartphone,  you can use a voice memo application when out, to record a thought.  Calendars are very useful not only for planning your days but also for remembering events.  I’ve started using all these three ideas and have found that they help me to be more organized.   

Strategy 5: Scheduling

From researching this talk, I’ve learned that Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon Him) was excellent at time management and that He broke his time up into three different parts:
  • spiritual
  • family
  • personal/social
All our schedules will be different depending on our unique circumstances but we can use our Prophets example to help stay focused and be moderate so as not to spend too much of our time in one area only to the detriment of another area.  Try to think out what are your priorities in these three areas then schedule time for them. Of course it is a flexible schedule as things happen outside of our plans. One thing I try to do throughout the day is analyse and adjust.  Normally when I am taking a rest laying down or driving in the car, I think to myself ok, what have you done, what is next, what are today’s plans.

So, adjust and accomplish. Don’t get sidetracked.  This leads us to the next strategy

Strategy 6: Overcoming obstacles and interruptions

Despite our best plans, things will happen that will challenge our time management.  Understanding this is key to dealing with those interruptions.  Sometimes it will be due to a sickness of yourself or someone you know.  You have to recognize the limitations of those times.  From personal experience, I did have to deal with a major illness that caused me to become  stationary for a long period.  Even my mind did not function well.  The most I could do at that time, was to pray to the best of my ability, with my eyes and hands.  But from that experience I appreciated when I regained some of my health.  Actually that was my sickest year, yet that is also the time that Allah, Most Gracious, planned for me to accomplish Hajj.  Subhan Allah, I would never have envisioned going on hajj  in that state of health, but it was the superior timing of Allah, All-knowing.  When things don’t go as plan make new plans.  My plan was to be over my sickness by the time I had to leave, but actually I developed a new major illness a few weeks before, so plans changed, I travelled sick, but much thanks goes to Allah, first and foremost, then to my son Ameer and Sara’s mom Alhan for helping me complete my hajj.  Allah, most High provided me with the tools and resources needed to accomplish my plans.  Remember back to Sura Asr, where Allah instructs us to have patience,  this is especially useful when dealing with obstacles.

Other minor interruptions such as phone calls can be dealt with by letting your voice mail take over.  I used to hate voice mail, especially when calling someone only to get voicemail, but now i can recognise the efficiency of voicemail.  I use it alot.  I may not always be in a position to answer a call and deal with the situation, but by using voicemail, I choose when and how to respond.

Strategy 7: Counting Backwards

I actually owe this strategy to my husband who taught it to me very early on in our marriage.  It is one that all our boys know and Sara as well i think.  How does it work?  Well, lets say you have to be somewhere at a certain time.  For example: your flight leaves at 8 pm.  they say to be at the airport 2 hours ahead, so that means, you have to be at the airport at 6 pm.  It takes 20 min to drive to the airport, but you also have to allow for traffic etc, so take off another 30 min.  That means, you need to leave home at 5:30.  Now, it would be great if you could rest before leaving, so allowing 30 min to shower and dress, then your rest has to end at 5 pm.  When can your rest start, well you better have your suitcase packed ahead of resting, so, let’s say 2 hours rest, then your suitcase has to be packed by 3 pm.  Get the idea.  This is a very useful strategy for any event you have to attend.  Although on a side sad note, I’ve found I must ask about “muslim” events when the actual start time is, as I would end up being the only one at an event.  It is sad that our community has a lack of respect for time.  I pray that this changes one day.  Slowly in sha Allah, if we all start to practice proper appreciation of time our community will be known for it’s punctuality.  It is a duty of each one of us to respect time.

Strategy 8: Sleeping or taking a short rest

You might be surprised at this one, but if your goal is to sleep/rest so that you will wake up refreshed in order to be efficient and productive in your duties and worship, then it is actually very helpful.  It all depends on your intention.

Strategy 9: Make intention and lots of Duas

By making the intention to be efficient, to use your time wisely, you are acknowledging the value of time, the blessing that Allah, swt, has given to us.  The immense value you gain from making Dua to help you in your task, in using your time efficiently is a key strategy to be successful.  

Strategy 10: Taking mini-breaks

Recently a friend was telling me about her work day and how it was a continuous flow of work with no time for anything but work, work, work.  Have you experienced that, when you get caught up in the flow of work and just don’t stop for anything.  I have and it’s actually counterproductive as your mind needs breaks.  A brief respite for the task at hand, helps you to come back renewed and fresher to work again on your task, when you push, push, push, you could end up becoming less productive because your ability to focus and achieve is lessened, but a short break, 5-15 min will result in sha Allah, in  the ability to be more efficient.  This friend, also said, that it’s hard to remember to stop, to take that break, which, brings us to our next strategy.

Strategy 11: Dhikr

My husband and I have been using a unique form of Dhikr to help us be aware of time and allow us to praise Allah, (subḥānahu wa ta'ala) throughout the day.  We have set up reminders on our smart devices which ring on the half hour.  this little audio sound, alerts us to say a set of Dhikr we agreed upon.  This simple addition to our lives is so beneficial.  It helps us be conscious of the passing of time.  It makes us happy to know that we are remembering Allah, (subḥānahu wa ta'ala)  on a regular consistent  basis in our lives.  This friend I mentioned noticed when she was visiting how easy this strategy can be implemented and how it also could help her remember to take that short break to pause her work.

There is an app you can install on your smartphone, where you can set up Dhikr reminders on a regular basis.  Here is a link to one I have on my iphone:

Do dhikr anytime during the day, when you have a moment, you might be waiting at a traffic light, waiting for the bus, exercising, cooking etc.  This is a great time to add praising Allah.  dhikr can be happen in three different levels:
  • using your tongue  
  • using your tongue and heart
  • using your heart

Strategy 12:  Avoiding pitfalls

There are various ways that you can sabotage your efforts in time management.  Some of these are: perfectionism, procrastination, stopping half-way in a task, hyperfocusing and trying to do too much.  

In writing this article, I almost just said, hold on, I could just read out an article on time management and that would suffice, but I prayed to Allah, Most High,  to give me the ability to finish what I started.  

If you set of goal of perfectionism to your task, you will always be in a state of saying “it’s not good enough yet”   You have to recognize that Perfect is only a quality of Allah, swt,

Delaying a task infinitely is also a major pitfall.  Yes, putting something off for a legitimate reason, is useful.  (ie, something requiring major concentration can’t be done when you have lots of activities/distractions around, but you can schedule that task for a time when you will be able to concentrate, possibly the early hours of the morning).

If you try to do too much, you’ll end up not getting anything done.  Remember to use the principle of moderation

We’ve already covered hyperfocusing and discussed how taking breaks, doing dhikr can be useful to overcome that.

Ramadan ideas:

How can these strategies be  implemented in the upcoming month of Ramadhan when time seems to be so scarce.  The days of fasting are long and the nights seems so short.  One of them though is not recommended to use during Ramadhan.  That is exercise.  Making lists is very useful especially for dua’s you want to remember.  But don’t overwhelm yourself with too much to do.  Keep everything in moderation.  Remember the scheduling.

Special thoughts for moms:

Moms might feel that they are constantly inefficient in their time management. The demands of young children on a mother,s schedule are overwhelming. But a mother has to realise  looking after her children is a form of worship, it is a way for her to connect with her creator, by doing the best that on the job that the creator has given her.  Instead of seeing children as distractions, see them as a way to grow closer to Allah, Most High, a way to do your best, as a blessing in this life

Lets quickly recap these strategies:

Strategy 1: Become Efficient  
Strategy 2:  Read Quran in the morning
Strategy 3:  Exercise
Strategy 4: Making lists, using calendars etc.
Strategy 5: Scheduling
Strategy 6: Overcoming obstacles and interruptions
Strategy 7: Counting Backwards
Strategy 8: Sleeping or taking a short rest
Strategy 9: Make intention and lots of Duas
Strategy 10: Taking mini-breaks
Strategy 11: Dhikr
Strategy 12:  Avoiding pitfalls

So those are 12 strategies to help you in your goal to become more time efficient.  This google doc allows for comments, so that you can provide feedback and your own personal insights into time management.  Just highlight any word/section and right click, then choose the option comment and share your thoughts.

In closing I’ll leave you with a parting thought.  Allah, is the First and the Last.  HE was there before time started  and will be there after time ends.

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