It’s that time of the year again – the month of forgiveness and mercy, where the gates of heaven are wide open and the gates of hell are locked shut, where the Qur’an was sent down for all humanity, fasting was prescribed, where rewards for every act of ibadaah is multiplied, suhoor, iftar gatherings, taraweeh, early nights… What a time to be alive, isn’t it?
A few days ago, I attended this amazingly motivational talk by Brother Mohammed Faris, founder of Productive Muslim. I have always been a fan of PM’s works in giving da’wah through short videos and insightful articles. So when the opportunity was presented to me to attend his talk, I grabbed it. And it was probably one of the best talks I’ve attended. Brother Faris was comprehensive, clear, and engaging in his presentation. He shared many useful tips for maximizing this blessed month, all of which I am currently implementing for Ramadhan this year. I believe these tips and reminders will hugely benefit more, so here are my notes, thoughts, few added tips, and takeaways from the talk.
Interestingly, research on the correlation between Ramadhan and productivity has shown that workers’ productivity decreases during Ramadhan. As a result, Ramadhan gets a bad name. There is a whole Ramadhan <-> Productivity debate that is going on, but one thing we need to understand is this: It is not the fasting, it’s the people’s attitudes and beliefs towards our work ethic this month that is the problem. Somehow, many enter this month with the mentality that work isn’t as important. People would instead use Ramadhan as an excuse. Hey could you complete this pile of work by afternoon? Sorry bro, I need to conserve my energy, it’s Ramadhan. Do you mind delivering this item to so-and-so’s place? Sorry bro, I’m fasting.
This is the complete opposite of what is supposed to be happening – that of all months, this is the month when we are supposed to be at our most productive and proactive. Ramadhan should not be an excuse for dwindling productivity.
We have perhaps misunderstood the purpose of our fasting.
What is the purpose of us fasting?
It is so we can achieve Taqwa. We increase our god-consciousness, develop piety, hence involving ourselves in more acts of worship. Think about it – when I am more god-conscious, I would want to do my best in everything I do, so instead of being lazy and doing less work “because I’m fasting”, I would be more productive in my work and contributing more because I’m fasting. Allah tells us to show Him our best in our every role.
You know the typical equation for productivity? Where the ratio of output should be more than input?
I don’t like that definition. It makes us seem like we are machines. To me, this is how productivity should be defined:
Productivity = Energy x Focus x Time
And with this equation, keep in mind that we are working towards a beneficial goal.
In Ramadhan, our basic goal is to reach Taqwa!
Living a productive lifestyle is all about making smart choices continuously with our energy, focus, and time, to maximize our performances in each of our roles, be it as a daughter, a sister, a brother, a mother, a father, a teacher, a son, an employee, a boss, and so on.
We have to change our mindset from:
- Stress to challenge
We must make Ramadhan as not something to be stressed over, but a challenge. Have a clear why; this will drive you to take the extra step. Want to be better than we were yesterday? Then we need to set goals for ourselves. Set STRETCH goals – goals that are a stretch for you, but entirely possible. Make them SMART. What are STRETCH goals? To give an example, this Ramadhan, I have a simple goal of perhaps, doing light, stretching exercises every morning. But my STRETCH goal, would perhaps be, to avoid eating rice and fried foods the whole month. Gasp! Right? So these are stretch goals – goals that would excite you and make you think, wow, this is going to be interesting… think of a few exciting goals that you wish to achieve this month. Then make a plan to achieve these goals. Put your thought to paper and paper to action. Walk the talk. See if you can achieve them by the end of 30 days. Make it a challenge! See if you can make the, what you think was impossible, possible. (Read the end of this post to see my examples).
- Scarcity mindset to barakah mindset
It seems like we have this limiting belief in our minds. That what we get or what we invest in doing, will not yield the best returns. We forget that Allah is our Giver, our Sustainer. In order to change our mindset, we need to understand the concept of Barakah well. Barakah means a divine attachment to something (e.g. time, work, etc). It is an increase, it is continuous, it is stable. To better illustrate, here are sources of Barakah during Ramadhan:- Barakah of Fasting
Fasting will boost our willpower and discipline – the number one ingredient in achieving success in this life and the next. Fasting increases this, and as a result we gain taqwa. There are many immense benefits hidden in fasting. That’s the barakah in this act of worship.
– Barakah of Charity
Charity does not decrease wealth, instead it increases it. In the raw, technical aspect, this does not make logical sense, but this is what it’s called Barakah. When your salary might be meagre in number, but enough for the family. When you donate a huge sum, then realize at the end of the month that you have more money than you calculated you’d be left with. That’s Barakah.
– Barak of I’tikaaf
I’tikaaf is to disconnect ourselves from whatever we are doing, to just be with God. The few moments before waiting for the next prayer in the mosque, instead of idling or doing things that don’t bring benefit, we sit quietly, at peace, to reorganize our thoughts and have a timeout to reflect.
– Barakah of Qur’an
We need to be like the Qur’an, think like the Qur’an, and be a walking Qur’an. We need to understand and implement the Qur’an in our lives. With this goal in mind, we need to put in the effort in studying this book. As a result, there will be barakah in our lives.
– Barakah of Du’a
Du’a comes when you take action; it’s a spiritual booster. You do, then you make du’a. You show effort, than you ask Allah.
– Barakah of Taqwa
And finally, as a result, you will achieve taqwa, god-consciousness, whenever and wherever you are carrying out your role.
- Surviving to strivingAs Muslims, we need to think like an athlete. We need to manage our sleep, nutrition, and fitness. It is our responsibility to build sustainable habits and mental models, so we can perform our best.
Managing Focus During Ramadhan
So referring back to the productivity equation, we need to manage these three things intelligently, in order to be at our most productive during Ramadhan. We need to manage our energy drain, interruptions, and time constraints.
How do we manage our energy drain? We need to fix our nutrition, fitness, and sleep. How do we fix this? AVOID fried foods, added sugar, refined carbohydrates, etc. These are the kinds of foods you want to avoid because they slow you down and make you lethargic. Instead, eat fruits and vegetables, food with a low GI (eg. oats, avocados, nuts, sweet potatoes, etc). You can just Google to research on effective, healthy Ramadhan meal plans which you can incorporate into your diet.
Remember, our bodies are like machines – if we insert the wrong fuel, it will give us a bad performance. If we feed it the right fuel, it will give us a good performance.
We basically need to move more. It is not only for the betterment of your body, but also for your brain. You know there’s a saying that says ‘Sitting is the new smoking’? If the nature of our work is sedentary, then we need to find ways to move more – take the stairs instead of the escalator, do light stretching exercises in between work. If you own an iPhone, then you can check your ‘Health’ app and see how many steps you take per day. If on an average, you take about 10,000 steps, then you’re healthy. Anything lesser than that, you’ll have to work on moving more!
We need to maximize our sleep – the more you sleep, the better you perform. Simple. Get to bed early. Don’t get into a food coma and then find it hard to wake up the next day for sahoor, and as a result, because you skipped your important pre-dawn meal, you’ll feel sluggish because you won’t have energy to last you through the day. After taraweeh, skip all the late night suppers with friends, just go to bed and make the intention to wake up early for sahoor, so you’ll have energy to fast the next day.
- External distractions
Stop notifications, switch off your phones, hide your phones, do whatever it takes to make you forget that you have a phone. Only check it when necessary. Limit it to a certain amount of time. If you used to check it every few minutes, try to check your phone only 10 times per day. Or something like that. Again, set a personal target for yourself. Same thing applies to the internets – mute notifications, turn off the internet, download distraction-free software (eg. writeroom). For me, on the social media platforms that I have, I simply unfollow accounts that I don’t find beneficial to me, or just delete the app entirely if I find them a tad too distracting sometimes.
- Internal distractions
Sometimes you find yourself having loud thoughts at the back of your mind, which can disrupt your inner peace and focus. Or your emotions might be stirred, because someone might have said something to you, or wronged you. Instead of keeping it inside, you can use the method of Writing Therapy – where you write from a third person perspective on what has happened to you. Sort of like a journal, but instead of ‘I’, you write ‘she/he’. This is a method that’s been proven to improve our psyche, and helps in dealing with trauma.
We need to build a mental model for Ramadhan. Schedule our tasks according to our energy levels. Use a timer to beat procrastination and get things done. Tip: Schedule analytic tasks when you feel the most energetic, schedule creative tasks when you feel the least energetic.
I’ll leave you here with some of my personal #ramadhangoals and #ramadhanstretchgoals, so you may understand what these mean and perhaps set your very own. (It’s not too late! We still have 28 more days to go)
- Do light stretching exercises in the morning and before iftar every day
- Wake up before suhoor to perform tahajjud prayers
- Be consistent in my sunnat rawatib prayers
Ramadhan Stretch Goals:
- Memorize Juz 30 of the Qur’an
- Avoid listening to music entirely (replace it with Qur’an recitations & Islamic lectures)
- Go for a run an hour before iftar
This is simply a glimpse of useful tips and techniques to maximize our Ramadhan by Productive Muslim. For more, check out Productive Ramadan.
May we make the most out of this beautiful month of Qur’an. Have a meaningful and productive Ramadhan this year, folks!