It is narrated from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny) that the feet of a slave will not move on the Day of Judgment until he is asked about four things, the first being his life and how he spent it.
As our lives continue to get busier in an age of mass consumption and rapid technological advancement, time remains to be our most valuable commodity. Surrounded by countless distractions (YouTube, Facebook, MSN Messenger, email, iPod) while we rush from university or school to work to home, and back again, time seems to evaporate ever more quickly, with day after day disappearing before us. In such a busy and fast-paced environment, it is of utmost importance that we make the most of our time. Below we present some tips:
Make a Plan and Set Goals
Pick your least busy day and use that day to plan ahead for the week. For example, take some time out on a Sunday to make a ‘Task List’ in which you write a list of things you need to do in the coming week before the next Sunday comes around.
Make sure that you break down each task into small components so that each one seems manageable and does not overwhelm you. Try to estimate the time each task may take. A part of your list might look something like this:
- History Assignment Part 1 (300 words) – 1 hr
- History Assignment Part 2 (400 words) – 1hr
- History Assignment Part 3 (300 words) -1 hr
- Mathematics Exercise 20.1 – 30 mins
- Islamic reading – “The Message”, pages 100-110 – 30 mins
- Qur’an memorization, Surah Qadr – 30 mins
- Job Applications, fill in forms – 1hr
Then use your weekly ‘Task List’ to make a plan for each day, so that you know which 2 or 3 tasks you need to knock off the list that day. This makes the work seem manageable and gives a sense of achievement once you’ve finished a task, even if it was a smaller one.
Lengthen Your Attention Span
Unfortunately these days, most of us cannot keep our hands away from the touchpad of our mobile phones for more than a few seconds, nor do something productive without browsing the internet, checking our Facebook account or being on MSN whilst “working”.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to try to lengthen your attention span – see how long you can concentrate on something without being distracted.
Five minutes? Two minutes? One minute? Ten seconds??
The reason we let ourselves get distracted is because when our mind comes across a problem that requires it to work hard and actually think, it looks for a way out, and most of the time we choose the easy option and let ourselves do something that requires absolutely no thinking at all (TV, computer games, YouTube videos about some triviality or another, etc ).
The next time you find your mind wanting to cop out and do something mindless, resist the temptation and see how much longer you can hold on for. Can that one minute become two… then gradually three… and so on?
Take Constructive Breaks
Once you think you’ve lengthened your attention span to a period of time in which you can produce something beneficial, it’s time to reward yourself!
Incorporate breaks into your schedule. So if you have 4 tasks to do and there are four hours of time left in your day, have an on-off system where you work without distraction for 20-30 minutes, then take a break and do something you enjoy for 20-30 minutes, then come back to your work for 20-30 minutes, and so on.
Sometimes, we deceive ourselves and think “I’ll just struggle through the next two hours straight without a break, then relax”. Unfortunately, most of us can’t last that long, so we become discouraged somewhere along the line and simply give up and get nothing done. Try to set realistic goals and work in small bits; you’ll be amazed what those small bits will add up to in the end if you stick to your schedule. You’ll also be amazed how much free time you will have to do the things you enjoy without feeling guilty or lazy.
Use Your “Down-time” Productively
We all have some “down-time” in our day. This may be when we’re on the bus to work, or walking home from the train station, or driving to meet some friends. This is especially the case for those of us who live in major cities with large populations, where many people spend at least 2-3 hours a day travelling.
Now imagine making an extra 2-3 hours in your day without having to sacrifice anything! This can be easily done by using your down-time productively. Maybe you can use the 45 minute bus ride to do some extra mathematics exercises to strengthen your maths skills? Maybe you can use that 15 minute wait at the train station to read that novel you’ve always wanted to read but have never had time? Maybe you can spend the hour-long ride in the car listening to an Islamic lecture to improve your knowledge and gain some spirituality?
Using your “down-time” requires some planning ahead, so try to take a few minutes the night before to plan the next day and see how efficient you can be!
Prioritizing is a major part of time management. Most of us have to balance work, study, religious duties, religious education, family and friends in our life. There will be times in our life where one of these things will need much more time than others. One week before the end of year university exams, study may take up 80-90% of the time, whereas if a family member is ill then family might take up 90% of the time.
Make sure you prioritize, and if things are getting too stressful, always have a contingency plan, and know what it is that you can afford to give up in your life and what it is that you cannot (Is a friendship more important than family? Is work more important than religion? Is it worth working extra hours for a new laptop or phone whose actual purpose is to make life easier?)
Time Is Your Capital
The above tips may work for you, or you may have your own way of managing your time. The important thing is to be wary of time and how precious it is. Time is the only real commodity we have, and unfortunately it melts away second by second without any prospect of return, so be careful and diligent when it comes to your time!