Do you have a massive To-Do List that keeps getting longer and longer, and, although you run around like crazy, ticking things off it, you never feel as if you’re achieving anything productive?
There is a solution, alhamdulillah, and you’ve probably heard it before, you need to prioritize! But how do you dothat? To work out your priorities, you’ll need to have a system. This will require you taking some time out of your busy routine just to sit down and work out, but insha’Allah, the end result will be worth it.
Allah’s Priority List
What better model to use than one that is in alignment with the model given by our Creator? We all know that when Allah created us, he did so giving us a specific mission in life:
“And I (Allah) created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone).” (al-Dhariyaat, 51:56)
He then told us how we should fulfill this mission, through a range of activities that He said are either Obligatory, Recommended or Permissible. And having these rulings attached to tasks makes it easy for us to choose which activities to give priority to over others.
But what can we do about all the other tasks that are permissible to us, but don’t have a specific religious ruling attached to them? We need another model for these and we can use man-made models that follow the same principles.
Time Management Matrix
Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix is a really useful tool to use to work out your global priorities. It requires you to examine how you spend your time in relation to your life’s mission. Once you have identified your life’s mission, or your long term goals, it will be easier to complete the next stage.
Take a look at the matrix below. These four quadrants are divided up to help you to identify your activities, as to whether they are Urgent or not, i.e. whether they require your immediate attention, and whether they are important or not in helping you to achieve your goals.
The Unproductive You
If you’re feeling as if you’re not achieving much, it’s likely that you’re spending too much time in Quadrant I ‘fire-fighting’ and dealing with matters that can’t be delayed any longer, such as staying up late to finish off reports that have to be in tomorrow.
Or maybe you’re in Quadrant III, running around doing things that other people feel are important, such as helping your friends to complete their assignments or interrupting your work to answer an email, text or phone call that isn’t actually a real emergency and could wait for an answer.
It’s also likely that when you do get some free time, you resort to Quadrant IV activities to relax and switch your mind off, and spend too long checking your Facebook account or watching “rubbish television”.
If you’re stressed, you’re probably not spending enough time in Quadrant II. You’re not being proactive and undertaking activities that will make a positive difference to your life and move you more rapidly towards your goals. Because you don’t have time, but this is exactly where you should be spending the largest proportion of your time.
The Productive Prioritized You
So how can you make the shift to a more productive you?
The first stage is to be sure of your mission in life or your long term goals. You’ll then be able to look at everything you do in your life that distracts you from those goals and eliminate them. This will take discipline, but once your life becomes aligned to your mission, it will be much easier to say “No” to the other things.
The first aim is to get rid of all those Quadrant IV activities. They are just a waste of your time and of no benefit to you.
The next step is to put your Quadrant III activities in their rightful place. For example, when you are checking through your email, you don’t have to read every message or immediately answer messages that need responses straight away. Go through your Inbox quickly and Delete the unimportant messages, Defer those that will take more time to read or answer to a scheduled time later, and only Deal with the ones that really do need a quick immediate answer and can be done in less than 5 minutes.
This will then give you time to concentrate on your Quadrant I and II activities. You won’t be able to avoid the Urgent and Important activities, as many of them are just part of the structure of life, but spending more time in Quadrant II planning and preparing will help to reduce the time you spend there.
Your aim is to gradually increase your Quadrant II time, so you are spending more time, planning how you’re going to meet your goals and doing the background preparation work. Life in the second quadrant isn’t all work and no play; you’ll also be keeping fit, taking part in beneficial recreation and building relationships with your friends and family and those who will help you to achieve your life goals.
Give it a go! Take a good look at all the activities that you do and filter them out into their appropriate quadrants. And next time we’ll look at how to prioritize tasks on a day-to-day basis. So keep a look out for that article!
About the Author
Amal Stapley, a Life Coach for Muslim women, founded the SuperMuslimah project at www.coachamal.com to support, motivate and encourage Muslim women to step forward in their lives with confidence. After accepting Islam in 1992, she graduated from the International Islamic University of Malaysia with a degree in Psychology and Islamic studies, and then went on to work with Islamic organizations in the USA, Egypt and now in her home country, the UK.