Quite a few sisters have asked me in the past how I manage my time or structure my day to get the most out of the day, or to even get everything done. This is something I have been thinking about a lot recently as I experiment with ways to get things done at home and with my children.
Baby number five really pulled the rug out from under my feet and it took me a long time to get to grips with all that I have to do. I had to reset my family’s routines, re-think my approach to worship and revisit how I use the time management tools available to me. I also needed some inspiration and motivation, which can be half the battle sometimes.
I wanted to share some of the tools and techniques that have helped me to feel more productive and get more done in the coming weeks. But I believe in starting with first things first, so I’d like to share some resources and the thinking which really encouraged me to start trying to make the most of my time. The first is a quote from Imam Al Ghazali’s (may Allah have mercy on him) book ‘The Beginning of Guidance’:
“You should not neglect your time or use it haphazardly; on the contrary you should bring yourself to account, structure your litanies and other practices during each day and night, and assign to each period a fixed and specific function. This is how to bring out the spiritual blessing (baraka) in each period.
But if you leave yourself adrift, aimlessly wandering as cattle do, not knowing how to occupy yourself at every moment, your time will be lost. It is nothing other than your life, and your life is the capital that you make use of to reach perpetual felicity in the proximity of God the Exalted."
The second is a reminder from Hassan al Basri (may Allah have mercy on him):
"O son of Adam! You are but a bundle of days. As each day passes away, a portion of you vanishes away."
Both are reminders of the value of time and the importance of planning how you intend to use the limited time you have been allotted.
My first approach was to try and do everything and diarise it into my day in detail – right down to meal times, nursing times, prayer times, with all of my chores, cooking and to-do list allocated time. Then I tried to squeeze in any hobbies, recreation, projects and just about everything I wanted to do. I very quickly realised that this wasn't realistic and trying to do everything is not the same as making the most of your time. It’s also a short cut to feeling as if you are running against the clock and feeling exhausted and burnt out from trying to do everything.
Instead I did two things. The first was to think about my priorities – which activities are most important and need to have the most time allocated to them? How many of these are genuinely as important as you make them? In the wider scheme of things will some of them even matter? Most importantly which can you let go of? In writing the answers to these questions, I realised that there were lots of things that people expected of me or that I had taken upon myself that I no longer wanted to do. It felt very liberating and empowering to make the choice to just stop doing some of these – for example minimising computer time, minimising trips to the supermarket or shopping centre and asking hubby to make smaller shops in between the main family one and not checking my e-mail every day.
This started to free up pockets of time but I didn't want to just squeeze in more things that I thought I should probably do. Instead I thought about how short life is and how many things we want to do but put off until another time, especially as Muslimah’s sometimes we have spiritual ambitions to gain religious knowledge, to improve our prayers or to develop our relationship with the Quran (i.e. through memorisation or trying to understand the meaning). But time passes and those ambitions remain as ambitions, lost in the busy-ness of housework and the demands of our family.
There is an exercise that self-help books and life coaches sometimes use. They ask you to imagine your ideal day in detail and create a vision of everything that would include – from the moment you wake up to the time you fall asleep.
I decided to ask myself what my dream life would look like. I am a day dreamer, so this wasn’t hard at all. The hardest part is sometimes putting aside your rational viewpoint that says, “no don’t include that, it’s not realistic” and really being honest about what the life you long for looks like.
Once I decided that this is what my dream life would be like, I reminded myself that we get one shot at each day, once it’s gone, it’s gone and that there is no day better to implement our plans than today. For me my ideal day was not about wearing amazing clothes and spending every day on the beach doing nothing. I want my ordinary, everyday life to be blessed and full of beauty, not run away from the life that I have because I am dissatisfied with it.
My ideal life included all of the good intentions we have and never get round to fulfilling – reading Quran daily, memorising some surah’s, praying our nawafil and sunnah (non-obligatory) prayers alongside our fard (obligatory) ones each day. I decided that from the present day I would make these my priorities and start acting on them. This meant that the house would not be spotless, the kids would have to wait until you are done and there would be some things that wouldn't get done. I didn't care. I was tired of rushing my prayers or shortening them because I had to get dinner going or the babies were crying. The routine of my ideal day is built around my prayers at the beginning of their allotted time and with my full attention.
My ideal life also included eating properly, having breakfast, and making my meals look good as well as taste good. This means expanding the time I give to preparation before each meal and trying new things. Most importantly, no mobile phones or books when we are eating and we will all be sitting together.
Finally my perfect day would include spending some time doing something you love and which gives you immense joy. This one has made me think deeply about what leads to real gratification and satisfaction and why and this is one that I have promised myself I intend to explore every day.
Being clear on what your priorities are and what you would like your life to look like is the first step in planning your time.
If you are not clear on these you risk your days being full of activity but lacking in achievement or productivity.