Whenever you hear of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) life, you become amazed at his productivity. He (peace be upon him) was a Prophet, a Messenger, a teacher, a governor, a father, a husband, a friend and human. He (peace be upon him) had multiple roles in his life, and excelled at each one of them without exception. It made me wonder, did Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) uni-task or multi-task?
Most of us grew up in the age of multi-tasking, where you can’t call yourself productive if you weren’t a good multi-tasker. You’re expected to do 10 things at at a time, and that’s how you’re supposed to survive the 21st century. But does it make sense? After all multi-tasking is less efficient (due to the need to switch gears for each new task, and then switch back again), it’s complicated, prone to stress and errors, and it’s simply crazy!
Let’s look at the seerah and how the most productive busy person (peace be upon him) in history used to work:
Going through the Seerah and researching examples, we could not find a single evidence of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) multi-tasking (we could be wrong, please correct us if you think of any examples). He always seemed to fully concentrate on the ‘project’ or person at hand and gave them his full attention. When he prayed he fully concentrated in his Salah, when he was with his family he was always present with them (both physically and mentally), when he was in the battle-field he was fully engaged. We never seen him distracted, or out of focus (peace be upon him).
In my interview with Sheikh Tawfique Chowdhury last Summer, he said something that really stuck with me: He said, have you ever heard of the Prophet’s wives complain that the Prophet didn’t spend enough time with them? Why is that? Because he used to spend quality time with them. Even though he was super busy and had multiple roles to play, but he focussed on each of his role individually, at the present moment, and didn’t get distracted.
He (peace be upon him) had priorities, knew what those were and was guided by Allah’s (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) blessing to fulfil those priorities to the best of his human ability, thus serving as an example to all of us.
You may argue that this was then, and now in the 21st century, it’s almost impossible to survive if you don’t multi-task. I beg to differ. Multi-tasking has resulted in nothing more than stress and poor quality work from all of us and never allowed us to live to our full potential. Instead the multi-tasking mode has become the cause of never being able to complete a single task! It’s time to move away from this crazy lifestyle and adopt a more natural way of living.
So what is uni-tasking and how can you develop a uni-tasking habit? Single-tasking is doing your work, one task at a time, each task done with full focus and dedication. The following 5 steps are taken from Leo Babatua’s book on Focus which I highly recommend for you to read:
1. Become conscious
When you start doing something, become more aware you’re starting that activity. As you do it, become aware of really doing it, and of the urge to switch to something else. Paying attention is the important first step.
2. Clear distractions
If you’re going to read, clear everything else away, so you have nothing but you and the book. If you’re going to do email, close every other program and all browser tabs except the email tab, and just do that. If you’re going to do a work task, have nothing else open, and turn off the phone. If you’re going to eat, put away the computer and other devices and shut off the television.
3. Choose wisely
Don’t just start doing something. Give it some thought — do you really want to turn on the TV? Do you really want to do email right now? Is this the most important work task you can be doing?
4. Really pour yourself into it
If you’re going to make dhikr, do it with complete focus, complete dedication. Put everything you have into that activity. If you’re going to have a conversation, really listen, really be present. If you’re going to make your bed, do it with complete attention and to the best of your abilities.
This isn’t something you’ll learn to do overnight. You can start right now, but you’re not likely to be good at it at first. Keep at it. Practice daily, throughout the day. Do nothing else, but practice.
I want us to think of the best example set by our final Prophet (peace be upon him), and ask yourself: Do you think you can do better than him (peace be upon him)?