Assalamu ‘alaikum, sisters! I hope that you are getting ready to experience a truly fulfilling Ramadhan, insha Allah. I wonder, do you have a long to-do list for the month? Sister Nafisa* makes a very long to-do list for the entire year, just before Ramadhan. She thinks about de-cluttering her home, offering more prayers, spending more time with family and friends and even adding a little exercise to the routine. She has been making this last for some years now, but she has found that she often comes up short in achieving her goals. She ends up feeling somewhat disappointed at the end of the month, instead of feeling like she’s achieved something. The purpose of Ramadhan is to shift our focus and achieve our potential, so feeling a sense of disappointment with oneself is the exact opposite of the desired effect. Nafisa was so focused on doing all these things that she had no time for inner reflection or actually adopting a productive mindset.
So what is productivity?
Being productive means that someone has a mindset that is focused towards something they want, and then take actions that fit within that mindset. Productivity isn’t always about doing lots of things; it is about doing the things that are most useful at the time. At certain times, doing less or even nothing is more productive than taking action, especially if we are tired, stressed or grieving over something for example. Productivity isn’t about forcefully pushing oneself, but either going with the flow of things, or challenging oneself just enough to get going. Productivity means that we are taking the appropriate action at the appropriate time.
Being productive during Ramadhan would be different for each one of us. First, ask yourself the questions “How will I know that I’m being truly productive this Ramadhan? What will I be seeing, hearing and feeling that will tell me that I’m being productive?” The second question will give you some hints on the kinds of things that you would consider productive. Now that you have a general sense of what productivity in Ramadhan will look like for you, use the following strategies to plan your month ahead.
Find a poster or photograph that represents your purpose for this month… Each time you see it, it will remind you that you are aiming for something wonderful.
1. Choose your focus!
It is so tempting to want to do everything during this holy month, isn’t it? We all want the extra blessings that go with each action but is it realistic to do everything? We all have our usual commitments to contend with as well, so a productive thing to do is to choose an area of focus. Choose an area or two, that when developed further, would really mean something to you. By developing these areas, you will know that you are developing into the person you wish to become, insha Allah. For example, an area of your choosing could be spiritual education, community service, giving to others, or prayers etc. Once you are sure of your focus, then begin to list one or two things that you intend to achieve in this area by the end of the month. Through this, you will have very specific and measurable goals to aim towards.
2. Set achievable goals
Once your focus is there and your goals have been carved out, make sure that your goals are achievable by the end of Ramadhan. For example, if you choose to recite the Holy Qur’an twice during the month, ask yourself how much time this will take, and whether the goal is truly realistic. If it is, then great. If not, then ensure that you break down your goals into more achievable chunks. Do make a few adjustments for time, as certain days may not go to plan, or last minute things may come up. The clearer your plan, the higher the chances of success, insha Allah
3. Keep the purpose in mind!
One key to being productive is to have the big picture in our minds at all times. There will be days when your energy will be low, or you’re feeling the fast more than usual. Those are the days when we can sometimes feel disempowered or overwhelmed. If we remind ourselves of why we are actually doing all this (for the pleasure of Allah (SWT), and to grow and develop), then getting through the challenging days may be a little bit easier. Also, we will be more likely to stay on track. An easy way of keeping the big picture in mind is to literally use an image as a reminder! Find a poster or photograph that represents your purpose for this month. It could be a picture of literally anything, just something that reminds you of what you really want. Keep this picture somewhere where you can see it daily. Each time you see it, it will remind you that you are aiming for something wonderful. Insha Allah, this will help in keeping the productive mindset alive.
4. Do first things first!
Ramadhan is a busy time, often busier than other times of the year. This is a time when it becomes critical to be able to prioritise well. There will be some things that will be important to do every single day, whereas you may be able to stagger some of the others. Take some time to list down all your priorities for the month, including the every-day things that will also need to be done. Aim to prioritise them in terms of importance. Draw a diagram, write a list, or use any method that works for you. The idea is to be as clear as you possibly can. Once you’ve done this, you will have a clear idea of what absolutely must be done every day. Again, do ensure that your list is realistic and achievable. This will ensure that you feel productive at the end of the fast, even if some of the extra things get left. Why? Because you ensured that you did what you really needed to do. Do remember to give yourself a little breathing room. There will be days when you will be tired, thirsty, or the energy will just be a little low. Being compassionate is an important part of being productive. Compassion ensures that we are aware of our needs, and are doing our best to meet them. This way, you will do what you really want to do, and take care of yourself (and others) as you are doing it.
Productivity really begins with awareness, and results in useful actions. Insha Allah, I hope that you will find these strategies useful in planning a truly productive and fulfilling Ramadhan. My very best wishes to you for the wonderful journey ahead.
Sayeda Habib works with sisters, one to one, to help them create spiritual growth and fulfilment in their lives. She is the author of Discover the best in you: Life Coaching For Muslims. To contact Sayeda, log on to www.makelifehappen.com, or email Sayeda@makelifehappen.com