This piece was written for my regular column in the 'Australian Muslim Times' :)
How often do you repeat the phrase, "oh, I'm just so busy?"
In a world where we are surrounded by technology aids that are meant to save us time, it is amazing that so often we still seem to find ourselves swamped, run off our feet and 'too busy' to be doing the things we say we want to do but never seem to find the time to.
They say that if you want something done, ask a busy person. Yet so often we are seemingly so busy that the time seemingly can't be found. Where is the disconnect, and is being this way really allowing us to be as effective as we can be?
Ironically, sometimes being extremely busy does not always correlate directly to being extremely productive or creative. At the beginning of this year, I did a personal stock take of how my year went and areas I would like to improve on. I found that being constantly over-occupied did not allow me to stop, think and reflect. It is these moments of reflection that allow us all to think outside the box, critically analyse issues and mull over topics in our mind. This enables connections and links to develop between ideas that may have not been easily noticed had we simply rushed to the next task.
There is a reason why many a great idea is thought of in the shower. The shower is a brief moment in time where there are no distractions apart from a simple, routine physical act, allowing the mind to wander. It is this moment of brain-walkabout that can often bear fruitful mental results. When was the last time you had an A-ha moment? Was it in a moment of routine activity?
So how can we increase the instances of mindfulness in our lives, allow for more reflection and less unproductive busy-ness?
Western convention talks a lot about meditation, and we are fortunate in Islam to have a meditative, reflective process inbuilt into our worship. Salah is the perfect chance, particularly as it occurs five times in our day, for us to take out time from our busy lives and reflect. First and foremost naturally, we can use this time to remember Allah. We can also use the time as a prompt to take an extra five minutes to reflect on what is going on in the day, let our mind wander and have a mental rest before we continue. This is something that I hope to start implementing this year inshallah.
Secondly, I hope to take the concept of a mental break further and better utilise an habit I picked up from my father that I practiced throughout my school and university studies.
No matter how 'busy' I was, whether it was with event planning or with writing my final year thesis, I would take Friday afternoon and night off. From about 3pm every week, I would clear out my schedule and desk and mentally disengage myself from work or study in order to give my brain a rest. One night off a week was an important habit to reduce the chance burn out. It allowed for making time to appreciate other important aspects of life like family and friends, and to just take a break. It may be more difficult with full time work, but that is all the more reason to try to schedule in time off.
The third thing I am going to try this year inshallah is to change my attitude towards being 'busy'. For at least a month, I am going to try not use the word when someone asks how I am. Rather than simply masking my actions by describing it as a hive of activity without specifics, I will look to find other ways to answer that question and force myself to acknowledge what I am spending all my time on. In this way, I am constantly reflecting and keeping myself accountable.
None of these actions will directly reduce the physical number of tasks in a day, but it will inshallah change the mindset that tasks are approached with. By cleaning, clarifying and sharpening the mind by reducing the focus on haste, as well as allowing for mental space to reflect and spend time with those we love, hopefully we can move away from being simply 'busy' to becoming little more mindful, appreciative and productive members of society. We can pack a lot into the 24 hours of each day, and inshallah enjoy as many of them as possible.