“By Time!” recited Mr. Ahmad. He was giving a lecture on Surat al-Asr.
“Human beings are in loss by default. The only ones to come out of that loss are those who utilize their time in doing the four things mentioned in the third ayah (verse) of Surat al-Asr: to believe, to do righteous deeds, to help each other in the way of truth, and to help each other in the way of patience.”
Sarah was listening to the teacher with full attention. He seemed to be addressing her directly. At the moment, she really felt like a loser. She had no clue how to utilize her time productively.
“I’m going to work harder from today,” promised Sarah to herself.
Returning home, she drew up a daily to-do list. She pinned the list on the wall behind her study desk. That day, she ticked off 80% of the tasks she had listed. “I’ll work harder,” she said, quoting the horse Boxer in Animal Farm, one of her favorite novels.
With her newfound energy, she continued working harder. Ticking off items in her to-do list gave her fresh boosts of confidence.
After a week, things started to get difficult. Sarah would often feel stressed out. Every time she looked at her to-do list, she felt a spasm of dread. “What if I can’t finish the tasks on time? I can’t relapse into unproductivity again!”
Slowly but surely, the crash came. “I can’t take it anymore.” Sarah completely broke down. “It’s just too much for me. I need a break.”
And that break was of a month’s duration. It took that long for Sarah to regain her peace of mind.
Does this story sound familiar? It is a cycle of two extremes – productivity and nervous breakdown. If you find yourself in the same vicious cycle, you’re not alone. I have been in Sarah’s situation, quite a lot of times. I still struggle with it. But each time I came out of such a cycle, I learned something new about myself and about what went wrong.
On one hand, we appreciate the value of time in Islam. We have a limited supply of it and have to make the most of it to attain the timeless pleasure that we desire – in Jannah. But on the other hand, we also have a stress limit. And stress is a by-product of productivity, which in turn is reduced by stress. If we still keep pushing ourselves, the stress hits its limit and our system completely shuts down.
- Appreciate the fact that both time and our productive capacity is limited. Not everyone is psychologically so strong as to work overtime. Just as we must not look at rich people and feel jealous of them, we should not look at super-productive people, sigh, and say, “Why can’t I be like that?” I am not like that because Allah (swt) didn’t create me that way, and this is what He means when He mentions:
And Allah wants to lighten for you [your difficulties]; and humankind was created weak. (4:28)
We must know and accept our own weaknesses and our personalized individual limits.
- Valuing time doesn’t mean we have to work 24/7. Allah wants to make things easy for us, and the point of the Shariah (Islamic law) is to fulfill that purpose. If, on a freezing winter morning, we do tayammum instead of wudu, we will be rewarded for taking this ease gifted by Allah. If we dine out with friends after an exhausting day, we can gain rewards by intending to do it for the sake of Allah – in order to be psychologically fit to worship Him in the best way. In this situation, the best way to value time is by relaxing.
- We tend to feel and do certain things when stressed out. Some of these are:
- Feeling restless
- Biting nails or lips
- Suffering from headache/pain on the neck
- Snapping at people and being ill-tempered
- Feeling depressed without any reason
- Feeling a sense of loss of control
Look out for these signs, and as soon as you detect any of them, take an emergency time out! Quit whatever you’re doing (unless it’s very urgent). Remember – Allah wants to lighten your burden.
- Bring khushu’ (reverence) in prayers. A good, sound prayer is the best stress-reliever in the universe. Allah said:
Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured. (13:28)
The Prophet (sa) once said to Bilal (ra): “O Bilal, call iqamah for prayer: give us comfort by it.” (Abu Dawud, sound)
Copyright 2016 IIPH. This article was originally published on IIPH blog here: http://blog.iiph.com/know-your-limits-achieve-maximum-productivity/