Archive for category Time Management

“The world doesn’t slow down for your weak imaan…”

Weak imaan exists inside of us, [it doesn’t exist] in the entire universe around us. Only we change when we have weak imaan. Allah swt does not become less Great. The times do not decrease in their fitnah and tribulations. The Muslims don’t stop being oppressed and murdered. The Day of Judgement doesn’t move further away. And your time of death doesn’t, either. The world doesn’t slow down for your weak imaan and give you time to catch up. You need to wake up and run harder and faster so you can catch up.

From my Journal – February 14th 2013

It is from the Mercy of Allah swt that the world doesn’t slow down for us when we have weak imaan. Otherwise, what motivation would we have to increase. It is only when we open up our eyes to the reality of world around us that we realize our purpose once again.

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Gadgets – Time Savers or Wasters?

Bismillah walhamdulillah

I recently received a new gadget, a device that I’ve wanted for quite some time, thinking that it would help me in my studies and elsewhere.

These things are supposed to help us save time, right?

They have so many different features, it’s hard to keep up. But it does seem like they are all trying to help us save time, what with the Siri and everywhere-you-go Internet Access and reminder apps, etc.

Wrong.

I don’t remember the last time I wasted this much time trying to figure out how the device will help me save time. It got so bad, I brought it with me to my Qur’an class, just so that when my teacher asked me why I did not finish my homework – I could pull it out and show her why.

Irony.

After a week, I realized I had to sign out of my email on the device. I am not a spend-all-day-on-emails type of person, but I had a feeling that email access at my fingertips was the main issue. Funny, because since signing out of my email, I don’t think the device has left its box lol.

Here is some advice I came up with for myself, and for others:

1. As soon as you can, sign out of your email (and anything else that you check compulsively).

Some devices force you to sign in in order to buy apps and the likes, but as soon as you can, sign out because you can check your email elsewhere. Emails were not originally designed to be responded to as soon as you read them. If someone needs to contact you for an emergency, they should send a text or call. The more you spend time responding to emails (as well as facebook comments, the twitter equivalent, etc.) the more time you will continue to spend on it because you will be feeding the beast (the more emails you respond to, the more emails you will be sent).

2. Don’t rush to figure out all of its features.

Within time, you will get to experience all the different features. For example, one day you will realize you would like to download a surah for listening purposes. That day you will figure out how to do that inshaAllah. If you rush to figure it all out, you will actually waste time doing something that would have happened on its own anyway.

3. Monitor your usage.

Anyone who cares about their time will monitor it in regards to everything (email, socializing, eating, breathing – just kidding). It might be a good idea, though, to set a timer for 20 minutes, do what you need to do, and then get off.

4. Ask the people who know if you do not.

Find some people who have had the gadget for longer than you, and ask them what they use it for. This will save you a lot of time on your own research.

5. Use it for good, not evil.

I didn’t want to assume that this goes without saying. With every blessing that Allah swt gives you, use it to enhance your worship of Him. This is your test.

6. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.

If you are getting along just fine without a new device, don’t buy it and don’t crave it (and definitely don’t unnecessarily upgrade!). It may very well be that shaytan is using it to distract you and you will only be more distracted once you own it. Pause and wonder why the people of the past, who owned no devices, got 100x more work done than we do today with gadgets spilling out of our ears.

May Allah swt bless us in our time and increase us in himma. Ameen

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[Productive Hobbies] Inspiring Tips to Jump-start Your Journal Writing

[Productive Hobbies] Inspiring Tips to Jump-start Your Journal Writing

[Productive Hobbies] Inspiring Tips to Jump-start Your Journal Writing -Productive MuslimYou’ve read about the benefits of journal writing and still haven´t started? Here are some inspiring tips and ideas for the productive Muslim on how to get started and keep going.

Personal journaling: A tool for reflection and improvement

As Muslims we’re encouraged to reflect upon ourselves and our lives, and continuously strive for improvement.

“Verily Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change what is with themselves”[Qur’an: Chapter 13, Verse 11]

Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“I have been sent to perfect good character.” [Al Muwatta]

Personal journaling can be a very valuable tool for self-reflection and development, and here’s a quick reminder why:

  • It allows you to reconnect with yourself and your life: In our hectic day-to-day lives, many details simply get lost, somewhere between breakfast and bedtime. Taking some time each day to sit down and write about your day makes you more aware of what you’re thinking, feeling and doing. And the first step to improvement is always awareness.
  • It helps you see the bigger picture and discover patterns in your life: When you journal for some time, you will find it much easier to connect the dots and recognize the patterns in your life and your relationships. Reading back earlier journal entries can be a real eye-opener and gives you insight about where you’re coming from and where you’re heading to.
  • It enables you to diffuse negative feelings and attitudes: Sometimes you just need to let off steam about something that happened to you, or perhaps you struggle with negative feelings and thoughts that hold you back from being productive. Writing about it can be an enormous relief and it can help you to let go of the negativity and focus on being positive and productive.

Inspiration: Do it your way

The key to upholding any good habit is motivation. If you lack motivation, whether it is for journal writing, exercising, or getting up for Fajr, it is very unlikely that you will keep up the habit. You should keep in mind that journal writing can be so much more than ‘keeping a diary’, and that there are no fixed rules for journal writing.

Feel free to experiment and find the style of journal writing that you are comfortable with and that keeps you motivated to get out that pen and notebook regularly. While some people can sit down every night in front of a new, blank page and write dutifully about everything that happened during the day; others may write a few entries and then store the journal somewhere on a shelf.

1. Start a theme-based journal: Focus your journal writing around a theme that you want to reflect on. Your health habits for example, or your children’s development. You could also keep a spiritual journal, where you reflect on your growth in Islam, and the signs and favors of Allah. When you are blessed with the opportunity to travel, or make Hajj or Umrah, keeping a travelogue will help you to reflect on all that you see and encounter.

2. Do it together: Journaling together can be a great communication booster. Write a journal together with your husband or wife, sharing your thoughts, and be surprised at how much insight you both gain from this! If you have children who are old enough, you can also involve them, and keep a family journal in which everyone has the chance to contribute. Such journals help strengthen the family bonds, and they are a priceless source of smiles and memories in the years to come, Inshallah.

3. Get creative: Use colors, doodle, make sketches. Write upside down, or in a spiral. Copy inspirational passages from books you have read. Stick in pictures or artwork of your own. Make it fun!

4. When and where: Who said you need to sit down on your bed or at your desk at the end of the day? Why not take your journal to the park on a beautiful day? Or write early in the morning, after you’ve prayed or read Quran?

5. It’s not about the paper: Use the resources that work for you. Some people like to write the classic way; leather-bound notebook and fountain pen. Others like the space of a generously sized sketchpad. You might want to carry a small notebook in your bag, so you can write wherever you want, or use a loose-leaf journal. For those who prefer writing on a computer rather than in a notebook, you can keep a journal online, use journaling software, or specially designed apps for your smartphone or pad. The possibilities are endless.

So, how about getting started on your journal today?

Jump-start your habit by dedicating time for it. Get your Productive Muslim certified Lifebook now!

About the Author:

Maryam Mujahid is a psychologist and teacher who accepted Islam in 2000. She is currently based in Saudi Arabia, and it’s her goal to inspire Muslims to get the best out of themselves.

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Think BIG: Plan and Action – Nouman Ali Khan

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The 9 Characteristics of the Productivity Ninja

From ProductiveMuslim

The 9 Characteristics of a Productivity Ninja - Productive Muslim

Guest blogger Graham Allcott, author of “How to be a Productivity Ninja,” discusses the 9 characteristics that lead to ninja-level productivity.

It’s often been said that good time management is the key to being effective at work, but the old time management theories no longer work: we live in the age of information overload, where it’s impossible to plan your day first thing in the morning and then just work through your to-do list for the rest of the day. We’re overloaded and overwhelmed. It’s time to think like a ninja!

The mindset of a ninja offers us some very useful ways to approach our work, described here by the following 9 characteristics:

1. Zen-like calm

The ability to remain focused and not be stressed by all the things you’re not doing.  Use technology or paper to create a ‘second brain’ – a good system to store the information, actions and cyclical procedures in task lists, checklists and files. By using a system that you trust, you’ll stop feeling the stress of trying to keep it all in your head! And by trusting a good system, you’ll ensure that whatever you’re doing, you can be calm and present. When you’re working, you don’t want to be distracted by other work thoughts. Just as when you’re praying, you don’t want to be distracted with other things either!

2. Ruthlessness

Saying ‘no’ to as many distractions as possible. For example, ask your team, “What would you do if you suddenly only had half the time for each meeting? Could you afford to be more ruthless in your focus?  Could you create rules so that some of those emails never reach your inbox at all, but land in a separate folder for later quick-checking and deletion?” Thinking like a ninja means being ruthless with your attention and focus. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’ And practise saying ‘no’ in logical, nice, and graceful ways!

3. Weapon-savvy

Knowing what tools to use, but being clear that the tools are to save you time, not provide distractions. And for your team, do you have good communication systems in place and is it easy to track who does what? There is often a big problem with productivity websites and blogs in that they constantly encourage people to ‘fiddle’: to move from one piece of software to another, from one system to another, from one device to another. Remember that being weapon-savvy is being aware of the impact of your tools, not how cool they are!

4. Stealth and camouflage

Getting out of the chaos once in a while. Are there times when working alone, away from the limelight, might be more effective? Making yourself unavailable and getting away from the noise are naughty (but often effective) tricks!

5. Unorthodoxy

Challenging the status quo. Don’t think how would another company make the same decision, think how would Nelson Mandela make it, or how would Google make it? Take inspiration from unusual (as well as usual) places.

6. Agility 

Having good systems to help you react and respond quickly. Are there opportunities to discuss the storm during the calm before it? Plan ahead!

7. Mindfulness

Asking yourself good questions, being more aware and avoiding stress. Meditation, prayer and mindfulness are great ways to work out what your brain is processing, and bring subconscious thoughts and feelings to the surface. Are you a good listener? (To yourself and to others.)

8. Preparedness

Knowing that rest, relaxation and good organisation skills are important. If you’re over-stretched, can you see the light at the end of the tunnel? If not, change it!

9. Finally, a productivity ninja is not a superhero, but it often appears that they are!

Ninjas are just humans with good skills and disciplines. We can do amazing things – but we can’t do everything!  Humans make mistakes too and we shouldn’t try to be perfect. Aiming for perfection is often the quickest way to ensure things get stuck. There’s glory in imperfection – better an imperfect dome in Florence than a castle in the sky.

This is the first article in a continuing series about how to be a Productivity Ninja. Stay tuned for more!

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7 Habits: How to Start Building Your Productive​Muslim Lifestyle

How to Start Building Your Productive​Muslim Lifestyle

How to Start Building Your Productive Muslim Lifestyle - Productive Muslim

So you’ve read every ProductiveMuslim article/e-mail so far, you’ve attended our seminars and other seminars on being productive, active, focused, etc. The question in your mind: How do I put the knowledge in my mind into a practical solution that would help turn my life around?

Build the Right Habits

The key to turning around your life and embedding all that you’ve learned into a practical day-to-day solution is to build that into a series of daily habits. Habits have 3 main parts:

1. Trigger: something that kicks off the habit. It could be a particular time (e.g. 4:00am) or a sound (e.g. athan) or a feeling (e.g. stress). Any trigger psychological, emotional, physical or external which alerts you that it’s time to start a habit.

2. Routine: this follows the trigger, so perhaps you have a 4:00am trigger that makes you jump out bed, brush your teeth, make wudhu, and get ready for Fajr. Routine is the set of steps you’ll consistently make – initially concisously, but eventually unconciously- every time the trigger goes off.

3. Reward: this is the prize that your brain craves at the end of each habit. Continuing the above example, this could be the feeling of calmness after Fajr prayer, or the feeling that your teeth are clean after brushing them.

For any habit to be ingrained (consciously or unconsciously), it needs those 3 elements, and if you observe your life today you’ll notice many habits that have been developed without even thinking about them.  The beauty of building habits is that once a habit is firmly ingrained in your life, it becomes effortless. Notice how some of our parents or grandparents wake up so effortlessly for Fajr prayer, even without an alarm; that’s the power of habits!

So which habits do you need to develop so you can bring all the components of ProductiveMuslim lifestyle together? I’ve identified 7 Productive habits below:

1. Morning Routine Habits

Your morning is the start of your day and it’s an extremely important aspect to getting a head start at your new productive lifestyle. This begins by looking at your morning and understanding how to overhaul it. According to Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: “When you make over your mornings, you can make over your life. That is what the most successful people know.” You can click to learn about what the ’perfect’ ProductiveMuslim morning routine should be; but, as a basic minimum, the following should be the cornerstones of your morning routine:

  • Fajr Prayer: Needless to say, your day should at a minimum start with Fajr athan. The benefits of this prayer, not just from a spiritual point of view, but physiological and emotional point of view, is immense and you don’t want to miss it. If you’re strugging to wake up for Fajr, check out our “How to Wake Up For Fajr?” Series.
  • Athkar + Quran: After Fajr prayer, it’ll be time for your “Spiritual Breakfast” with the Morning Remembrances (Insert link to MRDF PDF on Morning/evening supplication) and Recitations of Quran. This is one of the 7 Spiritually Productive Habits we recommend you keep up each day.
  • Exercise: You might think that you exercise to keep your body healthy and looking good, but reality, exercise benefits the brain far more than your body! It helps you to be more focused, reduces stress and anxiety, and improves your capacity to learn (Insert amazon affiliate link to SPARK: The new science of exercise and the brain). Mornings are the best time for you to build your exercise habit, since you still have a reservoir of willpower to draw from, compared to when you reach the end of the day and you’re exhausted and just want to relax. Research has shown that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to continue exercising habitually (i.e. once a week) compared with those who don’t exercise in the morning.
  • Planning your day: Getting into the habit of planning your day instead of jumping straight into it with work/activities can immensely improve your productivity. You’ll identify your M.I.Ts (Most Important Tasks) for the day, arrange/rearrange your schedule to fit certain important commitments that have come up in the last few days and simply make yourself feel in control which is a key to leading a productive life. A tip here for planning your day: divide your day in “chunks of time.” These are blocks of time which you’ll commit to do something in them, e.g. after Fajr until 8:00am. Then 9:am – 12:pm…etc. It’ll help you allocate certain tasks to certain chunks of time and develop habits to do those same tasks around those specific chunks of time (e.g. I do most of my writing in my early hour “chunk” of 6:00am – 8:00am).
  • Breakfast: This should be the reward for your morning habits. If you successfully managed to wake up early, pray Fajr, did your athkar, recited Quran, exercised and planned your day, then treat yourself to a hearty healthy breakfast which will load you with  energy to continue being productive for the rest of the morning.

2. Commuting Habits

Another very important habit to be concious of is what you do in your daily commutes to work/school. Most people spend on average about 30-45 minutes commuting to work/school, and in some cities this stretches to 2-3 hours. Instead of wasting these hours, build your daily commutes to include productive activities such as listening to beneficial audiobooks/podcasts, planning your day, journaling, thinking strategically for the year, etc. [Check out our “Productive Commuting” article for more tips on how to commute “Productivemuslim style!”]

3. 1st Hour at Work Habits

What you do in the first hour of work will determine how Productive you’ll be for the rest of the day. Thus, developing the right habits for the first hour of your work is crucial to building a Productive lifestyle at work. The most important habit to STOP yourself doing is checking e-mails first thing in the morning! Many productivity experts advise against such a habit because it truly makes you submit to other people’s “urgent” demands and requests and you’re not in control on what gets done first.

Here’s a brief routine I’ve adopted for my 1st hour at work:
a. Read a book related to my work/career (or study for a certification/professional exam) (30 minutes)
b. Plan my work day hour by hour (10 minutes)
c. Start working on my Most important tasks first (20 minutes or more)
If you’re interested what the rest of your day should look like at work, check out ProductiveMuslim’s Work Routine Article.

4. Focus Habits

We live in an age where attention is limited more so than time. Therefore, cultivating the habit of staying ruthlessly focused in whatever you do is an extremely crucial skill to develop in this age of distractions. However, being able to focus is a habit just like other habits and you need to develop it, this includes:

  • Removing distractions from around you:
    • Turn off non-urgent notifications on all your devices (laptops/phones/etc). Remove the “pings” that only serve to distract you.
    • Do NOT check your phones obsessively (put your phone in the drawer!)
    • Practice the Pomodoro technique for each task you perform (1 task, 25 minutes, nothing else).
  • Simplify your life: Try not to clutter your life with so many projects or things to do that you can’t focus. Your motto should be: Simplify.
    • Make your desk nice and clean and remove the clutter of paperwork on your desk (Try to put all the stuff on your desk on the floor and only the item you’re working on on your desk, your focus will improve immensely!)
    • Make your desktop computer/laptop clean and remove unnecessary files/shortcuts from your computer screen (resist the temptation of having 10 programs open at once! It’ll only slow your computer down and not help you focus).
    • Avoid multi-tasking and adopt the art of uni-tasking; one task at a time. Neuroscientists have found that our brains are ineffecient at thinking of 2 things at the same time.

 5. After Work Habits

We normally think that we only need to be productive at work and once we come home we can be lazy, unproductive couch potatoes! One thing we advocate at ProductiveMuslim is to lead holistic lifestyles that balances one’s performance at each area of his/her life. This is inspired by the hadeeth of Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who said: “Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you” [Bukhari].

As I normally say in my seminar, if you’re the most successful CEO in the planet but a failed family man, you’ll be held accountable for that. We’ve laid out what a ProductiveMuslim routine should be after work, including taking a shower, quiet time for remembrance of Allah, and dinner with family.

6. Weekly Review Habits

Every week, make it a habit to take 1-2 hours of your daily life to pause and think about every aspect of your life:

  • Your spirituality/Deen
  • Your Health
  • Your family life
  • Your work/study/career life
  • Your community life
  • Your personal development/manners

Do a review about each of these aspects and ask yourself questions such as:

  • How am I doing in each category?
  • What can I do to improve?
  • What actionable thing can I do next week to grow in this area?

These weekly reviews are habits of highly successful people who reflect and adjust their daily lives so that overall they achieve success in dunya and akhira. However, if you do not do a weekly review, you might tread a path that years later you’ll realise may not have been the best option.

7. Sleep Habits

Sleeping is a ritual that one must take care of, because how you sleep and when you sleep will have an immense effect on how you’ll be productive each day. We’ve covered what a ProductiveMuslim night routine should be in the following articles: ProductiveMuslim Sleep Routine and How to master your sleep during Ramadan.

This is it… the 7 habits of highly productive Muslims that brings together all that we’ve shared over the past years on this website!

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The Hidden Secret

Translated by Abu Sabaya

“…We can prove the existence of this secret with tangible evidence from the words of those who do not believe in the Hereafter but who do believe in being active and energetic, and believe in the necessity of making good use of their time. We will present this only for the sake of knowledge and comparison, nothing else.

Many studies have been carried out regarding the subject of human potential and the extent and power of this potential, and this is a topic that we can all gain something from. Everyone who studies the human being and his hidden potential says that it is something quite extraordinary! The human – any human – has unbelievable hidden reserves of power and energy! Let’s take a normal person with an average level of intelligence. If we tap into his hidden potential, it is possible for this person to become from the greatest geniuses – greater than we can imagine – and it is possible for him to be from the greatest leaders in the world, and it is possible for him to be from the greatest authors in the world, and it is possible for him to be from the greatest scientists in the world.

How?

They say that this potential is reserved and exists. However, it needs something to tap into it and bring it out.

For example, take the long distance swimming marathon race – and it is from the practices and innovations of Greek jahiliyyah and religion. They made it a religious ritual in which they race around the Alps, which they considered to be a holy mountain, saying that the gods live in these mountains. These are all false religious beliefs that have spread around the world since then. So, if the one who races ten or twenty kilometers runs out of energy and quits, the doctors who observe him will say that he still has hidden energy reserves until now – an natural, organic reserve of energy that is endless. This is indeed something amazing.

So, what is the proof for this?

They say that if someone who is in a race and becomes exhausted and quits suddenly encounters a hungry lion who is trying to eat him, he will get up and run away as fast as he can. So, subhan Allah! Where did he get this energy? Did it descend from the sky? They say that this is proof that these hidden reserves of energy exist, and it is possible for the racer to take advantage of them in the time he has left to win the race. The only limiting factor is the weakness of whatever is being used to tap these reserves and bring them out. If such a factor exists and is strong, these reserves will be accessed on a greater scale.

What if we were to apply this principle to the reality of the first generation – the Companions – and how they were?

They were regular bedouins, just like all of the Arabs. They included those from Quraysh – and they are a virtuous people – and those from Banu Tamim and Yemen, just like other people. However, when they believed and entered Islam, look at how their potential and abilities were tapped!

For example, look at ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud. He was a sheep herder on the outskirts of Makkah, and there have been thousands and millions of other sheep herders throughout history. However, when this herder and the other Companions believed and entered Islam, they became transformed into something amazing. He was from the most famous scholars of the city of Kufah in the Islamic state, which is famous all over the world. People would travel there from all over to visit ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud, the sheep herder! How was his potential tapped and how was his hidden power brought out?

So, the entire issue has to do with what it is that brings it out. This instigating factor would come to the Companions – and I ask Allah to grant us this in our hearts – and you would never see from them one who sought Paradise or was escaping from Hell sleeping.

One of the Salaf said: “Whenever I want to sleep, I would remember Paradise or Hell and jump up like someone who was crazy, and I’d be unable to sleep afterwards.” Subhan Allah, he would recite the Qur’an and pray, he would want to sit down, and he would suddenly remember an obligation he had of Jihad, enjoining the good and preventing the bad, etc. So, how can you make this a time to relax while for him it is a powerful instigator?

Praise Allah that this is the nature of the believer, as it can be the case that he is sleeping on his bed, has one of his brothers ask his help in something, and he then wakes up and becomes enthusiastic in fulfilling this task. It is as if he didn’t want to sleep in the first place and was instead looking for something to do, and he might even spend long hours doing whatever it is his brother asked of him. Here, we come to know the secret of the victories of the Companions, as all of their hidden potential was tapped. There is the Paradise, and you want to sleep. Suddenly, you remember the maidens and servants that are in it, just like the Companion said: “There is nothing between me and Paradise except for me to be killed.” So, he threw away some dates he was eating and entered the battlefield because this is Paradise, and the strongest instigator is for you to remember Paradise and go forth to do something, or for you to remember Hell and step back from doing something.

This is why the believer can turn away from the most intense, strongest, pressing desires, just as what happened with Prophet Yusuf. In fact, this happened to the man who was trapped in the cave when his cousin came and they were about to sleep together, and she said: “Fear Allah and do not break the seal unlawfully!” So, the fear of Allah came to him while his lust was thriving, and he left it all for Allah because this thing came to him that was stronger than every lust and stronger than every desire and stronger than every instigator. So, the person forgets everything and goes back to being strong and upright, and he uses this energy and power in something good.

One of the Salaf was very old, and he was very pious even in his old age. So, the people were amazed and said: “An old man who is able to maintain his piety to this level?” So, he replied: “I protected these limbs from what Allah had forbidden when I was young, and He protected them for me when I became old.” Amazing! The energy and potential is still there!

So, look at the potential that Allah has given us. Concentrate on it and you will find the most amazing things. However, this potential is like petroleum: if its owner leaves it to spill on the ground, nobody will gain anything from it. However, if he puts it in his car and starts the engine, the car will move with the permission of Allah…”

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Running on the Fuels of a Pure Intention

Bismillah walhamdulillah

For much of my life, I prided myself on the fact that I consumed zero coffee or tea. Being that my culture is one of avid tea-drinkers, I always told myself I would be different. In an effort to get more work done (trying to balance all the aspects of my life), that recently changed, perhaps a year or so ago. Before that I would only drink a small amount of coffee in an emergency (also known as studying for a Chemistry exam the morning of). More recently, I began to drink a cup of tea in the morning. Not every morning, only some. And I didn’t drink it for the taste, only for its staying-awake effects.

Soon it became every morning. Then it was at the point that I felt sleepy and tired without my cup of tea. Even more recently, I began to drink coffee with about 1/4 of a teaspoon of instant coffee powder. I remember one day I took about 1/2 a teaspoon and it left me buzzing for hours.

I noticed that when I drank coffee, I could go on until about dhuhr-time without feeling the least bit tired. (Of course, I would crash as soon as the caffeine left my system and would end up sleeping more hours total than if I had had zero caffeine…Irony.)

This morning I drank tea and was feeling a little heavy-headed around 9:30 AM so I decided to see what’s up. I mean, a whole teabag versus 1/4 of coffee — was that little amount of coffee really stronger or was it a placebo effect?

You’re probably expecting an answer.

Well, I don’t really have one.

Because I went on google and got distracted when I read this:

Extensive research has shown that moderate caffeine consumption is not a health risk, and that there is no scientific link between moderate caffeine consumption and the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis. For an adult, a moderate daily caffeine intake is generally understood to be about 300 mg a day, which is approximately 6 cups of brewed, hot tea or 3 cups of coffee a day.

Source: http://tetleyusa.com/tea-and-you/a-bit-about-caffeine

 

Say what?!

That’s considered moderate?

At first, I couldn’t believe it. Then I started to think that maybe it’s okay for me to continue consuming caffeine since I’m so far from the “moderate” threshold, and I can just slowly work my way up to being normal (lol).

That was until I thought about Imam An-Nawawi (rahimahullah).

“His pursuit of knowledge dominated his entire life. He would put all of his time into studying, learning and teaching. It is even stated that he would not sleep except when sleep would overtake him. He would rest on his book and sleep for a little, then he would act startled upon awakening and continue studying. He once said about himself ‘I spent two years without lying on the ground [to sleep] on my side.'”

And what about his food and drink?

“An-Nawawi would fast perpetually (every day except the days of Eid). In general, he would only eat once a day, after the last obligatory prayer of the day; and he would only drink once a day, before dawn. When he drank, he would not drink cold water out of fear that it may make him drowsy.”

Source: Commentary on 40 Hadith An-Nawawi by Jamaal Zarabozo

In theory, someone who eats and drinks very little will be extremely low on energy. You will find them to be lethargic and lazy. However, Imam An-Nawawi was the opposite of these, and that can only be explained as a result of his sincerity to Allah s.w.t.

So while others are all hyped up on 3 cups of coffee a day and considering this to be normal since (my guess is) this is the only way for them to get any work done, Imam An-Nawawi was running on the fuels of a pure intention.

 

Something to think about during your next coffee break. The fact of the matter is, if your time is not blessed by Allah swt, no amount of time management or caffeine can change that.

May Allah swt grant us all a pure intention and barakah in our time. Ameen

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Why focus (not effort) is the key to getting stuff done

Bismillah walhamdulillah
By Scott Young

Around the time I started this blog, I was obsessed with habits. The psychology is fascinating and the idea that you could reprogram your behavior was compelling. After all, how much could you accomplish if you never failed to act on what you planned?

The science of behavior change makes it exciting too: operant and classical conditioning, trigger patterns and variable reinforcement. It turns the seemingly dull task of building good habits into an exotic discipline.

During that time, I got pretty good at it too. Exercising regularly, reading a book a day, cutting out television. I saw we were all robots, operating on unseen patterns. My only difference is someone had shown me the control switch.

Looking back now, in spite of the fanciness of the psychological tricks, I think I neglected the power of what may have been the most important rule: never more than one habit at a time.

Focus is an underestimated resource. What’s more, unlike willpower or motivation, which can be fickle to summon, focus can be created easily.

Stop Doing So Much Stuff

Being more focused is easy: stop having so many goals.

Sometimes I’ll get emails from students who are in a double major, active in sports, chair in student government, volunteering, and desperately trying to prevent from burning out. Then they go on to ask me how they can focus more in their studies.

The problem is that their life is the antithesis of focus. Part of the blame comes from the belief that being “well-rounded” is essential on resumes, so they fill their time with draining activities. (For an excellent critique of this strategy, read Cal Newport’s fantastic book: http://calnewport.com/books/highschool.html)

It’s obvious that the stress would disappear if these students decided to drop most these small goals and focus on only one or two big ones. What’s less obvious, but also likely, is that by harnessing focus in one or two goals, their accomplishment would go up enough that it would more than compensate for the other gaps.

Focus is a philosophy, not a resource. You can be focused by choice, just by choosing to have fewer goals to work on.

The Hardest Year in My Life (a Case Study in Focus)

As an example of the power of focus, I want to contrast two years in my life. One where I burned out and felt enormous stress, and the other where I felt almost none and I was generally pretty relaxed.

The difficult year was in college. Like the hypothetical student I discussed, I severely lacked focus. I had two positions in student government, full classes, and a demanding schedule of competitions. Not to mention trying to sustain this blog which would eventually become my full-time business.

I was so burned out by the end that I left the country for the year, with little to show other than aches from my misadventure.

The year of low stress and relaxation? This past year, doing the MIT Challenge.

To an outsider, last year seemed a lot more difficult. After all, trying to learn the content of a 4-year science degree from a tough school seems far more difficult than trying to balance a few student council positions while taking a couple business classes.

The difference was focus. The total difficulty of my hardest year was aggressively compounded by the fact there was so many different goals. The MIT Challenge was more difficult and impressive in isolation, but avoided the temptation of distraction.

Too Much Motivation?

Very few psychological factors are universally positive. The opposite of depression, is not bliss, but mania. Often the two coexist, with those suffering from manic depression experiencing both extremes.

There are those that suffer from too little motivation. Cultivating motivation from apathy is a difficult task, but not an impossible one.

But less frequently to we recognize the opposite problem: too much motivation. Too much enthusiasm leads to starting many projects you’ll never finish. It leads to splitting your focus in the misguided belief that such splits are sustainable.

If the opposite of depression is mania, not happiness, then the opposite of laziness is not productivity, it’s this. The middle ground, where you’re enthused but focused, is the work equivalent to the meditative contentment which is neither depressed nor manic.

My Advice to Get Things Done (Which Most People Won’t Follow)

I’m going to give a piece of advice for getting more work done and actually achieving all those goals you claim to have, but haven’t made much progress on yet. But it’s also a piece of advice I’m guessing most people will ignore, even though it wouldn’t be too hard to implement. Here it is:

Only have one goal at a time.

This doesn’t mean you must devote your life obsessively to only one end. All it means is that if you’re going to have goals at all, put one as the focus and let the others be optional, for a dedicated period of time.

What if you have two goals that are both really important to you? Well then let one be your focus for this month and let the other be your focus for the next.

Having a goal doesn’t mean everything else in your life is completely ignored. I still went to the gym, wrote blog articles, met new people and paid my taxes during the MIT Challenge. The difference was that I knew they weren’t my focus, so my job was only to try to keep them running smoothly.

The temptation to lose focus won’t come from laziness. Laziness may actually be a positive attribute since it discourages you from picking up new goals. The discipline to focus comes from resisting the enthusiasm to try new projects.

The Action Steps to Use this to Get More Done

The action steps to start using this to accomplish more are quite simple:

  1. Decide what is your focus right now. There can only be one.
  2. Commit to keeping it as your focus until a certain time. It might be a deadline for a project, as it was with my challenge, or it might be arbitrary. Focus doesn’t work if it switches too rapidly.
  3. Everything other than your focus, the aim is to keep it running smoothly, but no active self-improvement and absolutely no new voluntary commitments.

If your goal is a small one, make the commitment period shorter. If you have two major goals, flip a coin and commit to the first one for the next month and the second for the month after.

If your project is long-term, make it a focus in the beginning until you think you can continue it successfully with it being a non-focus. My business was a focus for the first few years, but during the MIT Challenge it became a non-focus. That didn’t mean I stopped blogging (indeed, I maintained two blogs during that time), but that I only sustained output.

For many people these action steps won’t be enough. Their existing load of commitments is so vast that they are already overextended. Merely trying to keep all of these activities as non-focuses will still leave them burned out.

If you’re in this situation, phase out your existing commitments over time. Eventually, you can get to a state where you could meaningfully focus on one goal in particular.

To the people who claim that focus is a luxury they can’t afford, why not just try it for one month? Experience tells me that after an experiment, you’ll realize that you can’t afford not to focus.
Best,
-Scott

Source: Scott Young

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The Fruits of Sincerity in Your Knowledge and Time

From: http://iskandrani.wordpress.com/2008/07/20/the-fruits-of-sincerity-in-your-knowledge-and-time/

“…How great are the fruits of sincerity, and how are the Muslims, the righteous, the worshipers who seek Allah and the Hereafter and know the worthlessness of the life of this world in dire need of purifying their actions to be solely for Allah so that they can see these fruits and blessings for themselves, and so that they can see things that nobody would believe could happen within the normal limits of the human perspective!

From these is that the scholars who wrote and sought knowledge sincerely for Allah were granted blessing in their time, lives, and knowledge by Allah, and many people benefited from them.

Take ‘Sahih al-Bukhari’ as an example. How many books have been written and authored? However, the author of this book was sincere towards Allah, and he would not write in it a single hadith except after making ablution and praying two units and making istikharah to Allah, and there was the worship and zuhd that was known in the life of Imam al-Bukhari. When this was the case, Allah blessed him in his time, and He blessed him in his deeds, and He gave this book the position and degree that it has. It is the most authentic book after the Book of Allah, and the Muslims of every era until the Day of Resurrection have accepted it wholeheartedly. This is indeed a great miracle, as how many books have been written that do not have what this book has?

Such is the case with the life of Imam Ahmad, may Allah be Pleased with him and he with Him. Look at the acceptance in the hearts of the people that Allah granted him – it is incredible! When Ahmad would simply point at someone with his finger and said ‘Yes,’ or if he were to mention someone and just say ‘Yes,’ – he praised him by simply saying ‘Yes,’ or ‘He is a good man,’ etc. – Allah would raise the status of that particular man in the eyes of all the Muslims. So, this man would become exalted, and this word of praise would spread from Baghdad to Khurasan to Egypt to Andalusia to everywhere else, and it would be recorded in the books that Ahmad said about such and such a man that he is good or that he praised him. So, this would be a tazkiyah for him and a means for the acceptance of his narrations and knowledge, and a confirmation of the soundness of his beliefs.

And the Khalifah al-Mutawakkil – from his intense keenness to be seen in a good light in front of his people as is the case with the rulers of every era – requested of Imam Ahmad to visit him because the people knew that Imam Ahmad only ate what was halal. So, he wanted him to come and eat from his food so that the people would take note of this and al-Mutawakkil would be praised by the people just because Imam Ahmad ate from his food, even if Ahmad himself did not praise him with a single word!

So, Imam Ahmad refused, and when al-Mutawakkil begged him – and he is al-Mutawakkil, the one through whom Allah revived the Sunnah and destroyed innovation, and Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah are indebted to him, and he is a leader of the Muslims – he saw that he had no other option but to obey him. So, he went to him while he was fasting. His sons ‘Abdullah and Salih said: “We were worried about our father that he would die, as he was continually fasting through the days and nights, and he would only drink water, as water was not something that could be considered a favor from anyone.” All the while, al-Mutawakkil assumed that he was eating from his food because they were not sitting and eating at the same table.

Why did they have this prestige? It was only because of their sincerity towards Allah.

In terms of the blessing in their time, look to the writings of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, the writings of adh-Dhahabi, the writings of Ibn Kathir, and the writings of an-Nawawi. You will see the most amazing things when you see these books despite the expulsion, prison, beating, inquisition, having their books burned, and prevention from any writing instruments that they suffered – especially Ibn Taymiyyah – and that despite this, the preoccupation with worship and Jihad that they displayed. Ibn Taymiyyah performed Jihad against the Batinis and the Tatars. Jihad and knowledge, collecting and researching knowledge from the books, worship, and he is still able to write all these books. How was this possible?!

Today, as you can see – we ask Allah to bless our time and our lives, and to grant us sincerity that will make us deserving of this – a student will spend five years preparing his doctorate, and he will then produce a book that will be nothing more than quotations. If he worked a little harder, he would finish it in a few months, and if he was one of the Salaf, he would have compiled it in a matter of days or weeks, as it is nothing more than quotations. What was all of this time spent doing?

This all has to do with how much sincerity we have. How?

Some even said that if you were to take the lifespan of one of them and divide it between the books that he wrote, you would find that he would write twenty pages a day. Is it possible for anyone to write this much? When would he have the time to check it over? When would he publish it?

If we ask a brother to prepare an article just one page long, he would spend the entire night writing it, and would then spend the entire next day reviewing and revising it. In fact, entire weeks might go by without him producing anything. Subhan Allah!! How did these people write so much? If they were able to write twenty pages that were reviewed, revised, fully and accurately referenced, and filled with precisely derived rulings, this could not have been possible except due to the blessing that Allah had placed in their knowledge, and this was all due to their sincerity to Allah.

This is why they had high determination and aspirations.

When at-Tabari told his students: “I will provide you with the ‘Tafsir’ in 300 volumes,” they said: “This is too long” – three hundred volumes was too long, and they couldn’t handle it – he replied: “Allahu Akbar! The aspirations have weakened!” So, he wrote it in thirty volumes instead of the 300. These thirty volumes were in accordance with the strength of their aspiration, as the vastness of ‘Tafsir at-Tabari’ – with all of its narrations, chains, linguistic commentaries and explanations – was written by at-Tabari for those with weak determination. Today, we say that at-Tabari should have summarized it, and it actually has been summarized, because the aspirations and determination that exists today is only a tenth of what existed during the days of at-Tabari’s students.

This is how it was. So, how does one’s determination become weak?

Determination weakens when there is little sincerity, and it increases when there is more sincerity and certainty. When a person combines the qualities of sincerity, certainty, love, and all the other actions of the heart that I have mentioned and will mention, he will reach the ultimate level of determination.

When the Companions reached this state, they gave no consideration whatsoever to the powers on Earth, no matter who or what they were. Rather, they would send armies to the East and West, land and sea, and they would not care in the least, and they would not look to the enemy as having any worth. Yes, they would make the necessary preparations, study the enemy in as much detail as possible, and engage in strategic research and military intelligence. However, they knew that they were fighting for Allah. So, no power was able to stand before them. They were victorious because of their faith, righteousness, sincerity, and truthfulness with Allah.

There is just one more issue to address that I will close with, and it is that having sincerity results in you being considered from the sincere, and this is because what goes around comes around. So, if you are sincere and truthful with Allah, Allah will make you from the sincere, and the sincere ones are the best of Allah’s Creation. They are the ones who know Allah, and this is the most important of their many characteristics. This is mentioned in ‘as-Saffat’ after Allah mentions the condition of the polytheists and their likes who ascribed a son to Allah and kinship between He and the jinn. So, at the end of these verses, He Said: {“Allah is Glorified above what they ascribe to Him”} [as-Saffat; 159] {“…except the sincere slaves of Allah.”} [as-Saffat; 40].

So, He is free of everything that He is described with with except what those who know Him and give Him His proper due describe Him with, and they describe Him with the attributes of perfection and praise…”

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