The 5 P’s of Productivity
How to Get Things Done
By Heba Alshareef
Wed. May. 27, 2009
We’re all guilty of pulling “all nighters” when it comes to studying for exams or completing a work on deadline. We overdose on caffeine and chastise ourselves for all the time we waste. We’re so tired that we can hardly process the information we need to process, yet work hard alone to say we did a “well done job.”
Why do we wait until the last minute?
Why do we procrastinate so long, thinking to ourselves that we have all the time in the world?
And then, like a flash of lightning in the sky of a sunny day, we realize that tomorrow is the day when the exam will take place or when the boss will fire us if we do not hand in our assignment. And we panic, drop everything and everyone and just barely get things done. Maybe!
We say we will do better next time; that we, as Muslims, should be outstanding examples of excellence and upholders of the concept of ihsan. Ihsan is an Arabic term with many meanings, not the least of which is "perfection" or "excellence." In Islam, ihsan is the Muslim responsibility to obtain perfection, or excellence, in worship, such that we try to worship Allah as if we can see Him, and although we cannot see Him, undoubtedly, we know that He does see us. But it applies across the board in our actions and transactions as well. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:
“Verily, Allah loves that when anyone of you does a job, he should perfect it” (Al Bayhaqi)
And so, if you’ve ever resolved to do better next time and have suddenly realized that next time is here right now, then I have a few strategies that will help insha-Allah. They are what I call the “5 P’s of Productivity” and if you keep them in mind as you work to complete a task, that level of ihsan should go through the roof. May Allah (SWT) grant you success in all that you do!
Someone once told me that if I did things out of sincere love for them, then Iwould make sure they were done with sincerity. I would make sure that they got done with ihsan. “Fall in love” with the task, she said, and indeed, this can lead to great productivity.
This is proven in how a petite mother turns into a superhero to serve an ailing child or how a young man works long hours to pay for his wedding to the girl of his dreams. However, how do you fall in love with a final exam? Or a mundane work assignment?
You reflect on the purpose behind it. And then really connect with that purpose.
So, for example, you might ask yourself why this particular task is so important to you. Your answer may be different, but perhaps if you do well on it, you may finish a great education. This great education can lead to a great job that will require use of your skills for the betterment of your society. People need your skills; and maybe your parents will be pleased with you. If they are pleased with you and you are happy that you’re helping others, then Allah (SWT) will be pleased with you – and if Allah (SWT) is pleased with you then you’ll have the best of this life and of the next.
All these great things start with that one task, and because it can potentially lead to these things, you must fall in love with it – just as you love to win the satisfaction of your parents or your Creator.
What is the purpose of the assignment you’re currently working on?
Once you’re able to connect your tasks to the real (and higher) purpose behind them,a purpose that appeals to you and makes you fall in love with the task, then you’ll need to prioritize when you’ll actually work on them. Out of all the things that you do, the things that take up your time:
Where does this fit in?
What time can you take to give it its due attention?
How much time do you need?
What needs may be put aside so that you can have enough time for this task?
Subhan Allah, one of my favourite sayings is “time is not something we find, but rather something we make.” So, make the time for this task. Give it its due on the list of priorities. After all, wouldn’t you do the same for the people and actions you love?
Okay, now that you are clear on the purpose and how you are going to prioritizethe task, make sure to write all of this down.Oftentimes, we think we should do better, and keep telling ourselves that we will. The thoughts become empty promises though, when we do not start recording them in some way or another. We are forgetful by our very natures, but if we record our thoughts in our journals with a pen, that gives them permanence and helps us to remember and act upon them. Our thoughts become courses of action – rather than free roamers in our heads.
If you can get into the habit of keeping your daily diaries (especially important when there is a deadline looming) you greatly increase the chances of success. Once it is on paper, things become clearer and you’re more likely to see the path that you need to follow in order to accomplish your tasks with ihsan.
Do you know those maze puzzles that ask you to find a way out and you focus on finding the only route that will work? You follow it with your pencil and once you are out - you’re done. Depending on the complexity of the puzzle, this can be a quick, focused and a productive exercise. All of us with delusions of “multi-task- syndrome” should practice it more.
Designate a period of time during which you will focus entirely on the task. It doesn’t have to be long, but the time involved should be relevant to the task. Set a timer for the amount of time you decide on, and then start working with “getting out of the maze-like” focus until the timer goes off. Do nothing else during this time. Rid yourself of all distractions, and just do it for the time you’ve designated. Hopefully, if you’ve prioritized the task, then undertaking the actual work involved will be easy.
Sociologists have long extolled the virtues of positive reinforcement when looking to complete a task, or even establish a good habit. Think of a toddler who remains behaved at an important event because his mother has promised him a treat afterwards or an employee who earns a bonus each time he lands a prominent client. Pain can force us to change the way we have been doing things, but pleasure and reward can create new neurological pathways in our minds so that our productivity becomes second nature, and our work ethic is one that is consistently in the “high ihsan” mode.
For every good turn, for every completed task, find a way to reward yourself. It does not have to be an expensive reward or even one that will cause some damage to the scale (people like to celebrate with cake), but it should be something that will give you a sense of accomplishment, that feeling of joy. An outing with good friends, a cup of herbal tea, or a good book that you devour – whatever it is, don’t skip this part.
Nourish your body, soul, and mind and you’ll find that, by the mercy of Allah (SWT), they too will serve you (and your tasks) with excellent productivity.
Heba Alshareef is a teacher and author of Release Your Inner
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