5 Habits that can improve your productivity every day
As a personal development consultant, I frequently encounter people seeking solutions to increase personal productivity to achieve more in a day. Increased productivity hugely boosts the sense of worthwhile accomplishments at the end of the day, a feeling everyone wishes to experience.
In Islam, improved productivity is generally referred to as ‘barakah’, something akin to a lost treasure these days. Everyone seeks it but no one knows where to find it. People are continually complaining that there is no barakah in time, money, business, society and so on. Here I would like to share five tips that have greatly improved my productivity and increased barakah in my life.
- Wake up early / Arrive early
There is a hadith of Prophet Muhammad (sas): ‘Allah (swt) has made the early hours blessed for my Ummah.’ (Ahmed)
I find this a most profound hadith on the subject of increasing productivity. Waking up early is a critical first step towards achieving the blessings of Allah (swt) and remaining energized throughout the day.
I suggest waking up 30-45 minutes before Fajr, offer Tahajjud prayers and use that time for getting a head start on the day. If this is too difficult, then at least wake up for Fajr and stay up. These early hours of the day are filled with barakah, as stated by Allah (swt). I also recommend going to work early because you can get so much more done in those early hours as compared to the rest of the day.
- Plan your day and keep your goals in sight
According to David Allen in Getting Things Done, ‘Your day should not be started unless it is finished on a paper.’ In other words, you need to know exactly what you plan to accomplish in the coming 24 hrs. Most people start their day like a ship without radar. Also, although it is easy to get impressed by someone who is very busy moving from one task to another or who has a hectic schedule, productivity is not judged by how busy someone looks. Why? Because speed is irrelevant if the direction is wrong.
Before starting a journey, you need to know the destination. Unless the destination is decided, the direction cannot be set. The same applies to your coming day, week, month, year, and even your life. Use the early hours to reflect upon what do you want to achieve in the coming day in the form of a to-do list. Once you’ve concluded a to-do list for the day, move towards executing the list point by point. A pocket size note-book and your to-do list should always be with you. (Strategic Time Management workshop discusses the detailed module of planning and developing to-do lists.)
- Prioritize your activities
The third key to productivity is to prioritize your tasks and activities for the day. It is observed that in an undisciplined or mismanaged society, people generally tackle whatever task comes their way without considering the importance of priority. One of the ways to impair productivity is to spend excessive time on a task that is not of priority. Thousands of people attending Timelenders’ workshops complain finding themselves in confusion over prioritizing their day’s activities.
Not having a proper prioritization framework also puts people under unnecessary stress. For instance, one of the productivity destroying strategies that people use for prioritization is prioritizing tasks according to ease or difficulty. In a recent workshop at a large manufacturing plant, an engineer in the maintenance department prioritized a task that was relatively easier to perform and left out the task that required more thinking and reflection. In reality, in terms of importance, the later task was more important and had greater impact on the performance of the department and on the overall production of the plant. So, this guy ended up spending more time on relatively easier but less important tasks leaving out the more important, focused driven tasks.
Tasks need to be prioritized according to the significance of the goals and visions they eventually fulfill. Urgency is another factor and many people tend to overlap these two words failing to realize that they are totally different variables. (For details, please see the chapter on prioritization in the Strategic Time Management workshop manual.)
- Don’t play with Allah’s time
When I talk about prioritization, it doesn’t only refer to the tasks performed at the work place, but everything that you do in a day. So, from the start of your day to its end, you should not compromise on the activities that our Creator has ordered us to perform. Your schedule should be blocked for prayer timings and these blocks should be non-negotiable except in case of extreme exigency that may result in huge loss. Our Creator has asked us to offer 5 prayers in a day and if you calculate the total time required for these prayers in congregation, it is not more than an hour or so. That still leaves you with 23 hours in a day.
I am mentioning this specifically because it is a common observation that even if people do go for prayers, they rush through it whereby compromising their connection with Allah (swt) and crippling the entire purpose behind Allah’s orders. I consider five daily prayers as regular barakah fillers of my day. People who consciously remember Allah (swt) during an ultra hectic day invariably enjoy great accomplishments.
- Minimize distractions
This is easier said than done because today’s world is full of distractions. If you work from your computer, there’s always the temptation to browse on social media, surf the Internet, and check email, among many other things. However, if you wish to focus and get serious work done, close your Internet browser and turn off your phone while working. Inform your colleagues that you are busy and do not wish to be disturbed for the next two or three hours. If possible, work with your door closed and use a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door so your colleagues know not to bother you.
Although this is an era of smart phones and smart gadgets, these have only decreased the overall productivity of people. The idea of smart phone was to help people increase their productivity but research has established that rather than using these excellent tools to increase productivity, most people waste time on social media and useless games. They lose hours on end and then complain that 24 hours are not enough in a day. This is a sign of low achievers with mediocre management skills and reckless, undisciplined behavior.
Every office has people who love to discuss the previous night’s television program or political talk show. They start their discussion even before attempting the important things on their table. Avoid letting these average achievers spoil your day and hold you back. Set principles and abide by them religiously. Minimizing your distractions is entirely your own responsibility and is directly proportionate with taking your productivity to amazing levels.