If you have been following along, you would have by now a list of goals for this Ramadan (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3) and a list of duas (Part 4) to make throughout the month. Without noticing, you have already made a subtle yet decisive shift in your mindset. You have begun using Ramadan as a springboard for the rest of your year by making lots of dua.
But how can we expect Allah to answer our dua if we do not put in any effort? We put in the effort to make them with consistency, but we need to put in the same amount of time, effort and dedication to doing the necessary actions to make each dua a reality. In this final article, we will focus on doing our part to make our 8 Ramadan duas come true, In sha Allah.
If you invested the time to make the necessary preparations for Ramadan, then what have you done about the rest of the year? I know the idea may seem overwhelming, but In sha Allah I will help break it down into simple steps. The best part is that you will, In sha Allah, be able to finish this planning during Ramadan without taking any time off work.
A Tactical Retreat
Every year, my family and I go for a retreat during the last weekend before the last ten days. During this retreat, we set our plans for the upcoming year until the next Ramadan. Believe it or not, this can be accomplished in less than one day, so it is not really a “retreat”, but you can make it into one if you like (more on that in a little). Also, if you are single or unable to make it to a family retreat, it does not need to be. But imagine how wonderful it would be to share your dreams for the next year with your family, so you are all in agreement. It is not always possible, but it is highly recommended.
I pick this time for the retreat because once the last 10 nights begin, it is time to focus on i’tikaf and increased ibadah to catch Laylatul Qadr. By finishing your planning before the last 10 nights, you get a head-start on making dua for each of your goals and also ensure you will make dua for them during Laylatul Qadr. This is the perfect time to schedule such a retreat because your Ramadan duas will invariably be the goals you plan to achieve. We have called upon Allah for His assistance and now, we must do our part. We must put in the effort.
One tip to ensure a distraction-free retreat is to eliminate as many items from your to-do list prior to the retreat as possible. For example, get shopping for Eid out of the way as early as possible. Try to complete any other tasks like food preparation, buying groceries, etc. before going on this retreat and before going into i’tikaf for the last 10 nights. Try to outsource some of these tasks by using a service like TaskRabbit.com (your mileage may vary).
What Do You Do During This Retreat?
Start the retreat by revisiting your life mission and vision. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish in your life and who you are trying to be. I keep a record of this in a cloud-based storage system to make sure my compass is set to the right bearing before I start planning. I also have all my old goals saved, so I can refer back to them to get some perspective. If you do not have that, do not worry. The important thing is to simply start!
Next, based on the duas you have been making in Ramadan, set your annual goals according to the methodology mentioned in Part 3. Answer questions like “Where do I want to be by next Ramadan, if Allah gives me the life?” Or fill in the blank “I would be overwhelmingly grateful to Allah if …”
Segment your goals into the nine categories listed below (in no particular order) to ensure you are maintaining a healthy balance.
Tips to Having a Productive Retreat
- Private Place: Go somewhere you can focus. Usually going somewhere far from home and far from day-to-day distractions is beneficial.
- Beautiful: There is something about nature that makes it easier to focus on what is truly important. Pick a location where you can bask in the beauty of Allah’s creation. You would be surprised, but I am sure there is a beautiful place near where you live.
- Reserve time in calendars: If you are making this a family affair (which I highly recommend), make sure you schedule time in each other’s calendars to make sure everyone is available. Talk about it way in advance and make sure everyone understands what is involved. Set aside two days of a weekend and start early on Saturday (or Friday, depending on where you live). You should be able to finish in one day, but it does not hurt to have another day as backup.
- Be Present: Put your phone in airplane mode and shut off Wi-Fi on your computer. Bring only your best self.
- Bring Supplies: Bring a computer, flip chart, notebooks, pens and markers. Ideally, the computer is only used for research or documenting things after they have been discussed.
- Time to think individually: Start off with a blank sheet of paper and answer the questions above. Sit alone in nature and clear your mind.
- Present and discuss: When you have completed your first session, present to each other what you think and discuss. If you do not have a partner, take a break! If you need a partner, send him/her this article and ask him/her to be your accountability buddy.
- The hard part: Once you have goals in each of the categories you desire, break each of them down into their component goals, projects and tasks. For example, if your goal is to memorize 6 juz’ of Qur’an in the next 12 months, then that equates to 1/2 juz’ a month or 1/3 page every day. Or if your goal was to be a better son-in-law or daughter-in-law, you might define that as visiting your in-laws every other week.
- Transfer to a trusted system: Have a system to track your progress. This could be as simple as a journal and as elaborate as a cloud-based app. Before you leave the retreat, be sure to put the new goals and targets into the system.
- Celebrate – You deserve it! This is such a monumental step in taking control and directing your life with Allah’s help. How many other people go through the effort of doing all this to achieve their goals? Do you think Allah will let all this effort go to waste? Of course not! As He says: “And be patient, for indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good” [Qur’an: Chapter 11, Verse 115].
Most successful people who achieve their goals have a disciplined process for setting them and planning how they will achieve them. Now you do too!
Make it Count: Finding the Results You Seek
You have made the intentions, made the duas and created your plan. Now comes the hard part: Patience in execution. The best way to make sure you stay on track is to have periodic check-ins with your accountability partner (if available) where you revisit your plans to see if they are still valid or if they need to be tweaked. For the best results, you must do all four check-ins listed below. This is the best way to maintain momentum after Ramadan.
- Follow-up meetings every quarter: Stay on track by meeting every three months to see if you need to make any changes to the plans and goals you have created. It is okay to change your goals as you learn new things and get more information. The fact that you are dedicating time to planning is what counts. Make sure to focus on the strategic big-picture level and stay away from the daily details.
- Monthly reviews: Every month, check your system to see how you are doing and if you are on track. This could be a quick check to make sure all is well and remind you of your goals in case you forgot. Also, check if any new goals have come up and are due for you to begin working on them. This is the least intensive check-in.
- Weekly reviews: Every week compare your actual performance with your ideal performance. This is the most powerful and important step to ensure accountability.
- Daily check-in: Keep track of what you do every day toward your goals and take credit for the wins and adjust when there are gaps. Figure out what you need to do to adjust and keep moving! Here, avoid thinking too much. Just document what has happened in the past 24 hours.
If you notice any areas of weakness, there are two possibilities to make corrections: (1) Change your behavior or (2) Change your goal. Depending on the goals, you might need a higher degree of accountability, for example, to ensure you are hitting the mark. Avoid making changes to your goal unless it is a quarterly (or maybe monthly) review.
This concludes our series “Aiming for an Awesome Ramadan.” I pray that Allah grants each of you the most productive Ramadan ever and helps you to plan your year around the Ramadan season!
Have you been on a family retreat before? Are you planning one anytime soon? As the series comes to a close, please share any thoughts, experiences or questions you may have regarding the ideas discussed and tips for maintaining the same momentum after Ramadan, In sha Allah!
This article was originally published on Jun 14, 2014
P.S: Benefited from this article? Join our Productive Ramadan Online Course – a simple, practical and complete blueprint for leading a Productive Ramadan inshaAllah!