“How do you possibly get anything done?”
Anyone who experiences being with me for a day comes out thinking that I’m permanently chilling. Often I hear remarks like, “Do you even do anything?” or “It’s unbelievable that you get anything done.”
Just today, while a pair of visiting friends were witnessing my chilled nature, asking these same questions, I pointed out the fact to them that, on this very day, we were launching a course, full blitz, and they knew that — they were receiving the emails. I said, “See, even though today is one of my busiest days of the year, you can see I’m still chilling, spending the day with you, my guests, without burdening my mind.” They nodded in acknowledgement.
Today I’d like to open the hood and show you three task management techniques that I use every day that have truly helped me master my time. I’ve experimented with many things, and after many years, these are the techniques that I kept with because they work.
One: Visionaire Dua Focus
One of the most confusing questions I get asked is, “So, Muhammad. What do you do?” If I was to open one of those online “occupation” drop-down lists, no matter how long and comprehensive it may be, it has nothing that fits my life. I don’t live my life ‘doing’ an occupation.
When people ask my mom, “So, what does your son Muhammad do,” she’s like, “I don’t know.” I tell her, “Don’t worry, I don’t know either.”
Want to know my real answer to the “So what do you do?” question? The answer is, “Every six months I go on a personal retreat. At that retreat, I brainstorm and visualize my key ambitions and desires. I turn six of the big ones into Duas, my DREAM Duas. Then, for the next six months, I make Dua for those things and actively work on them week after week.
That is why I don’t have a to-do list. I have a Dua list that I pray for daily, and that pulls me forward.
Two: Want my personal email? No (with a smile, of course, but I’m serious).
One thing I teach in Time Traveller, a personal development course that focuses on Time Management, to master your time you have to minimize and get control of the number of ‘inboxes’ that you have. For me, my email is reserved for family and upper management. If I get emails, however few, they will always be important ones. After my business emails are taken care of, usually just 15 minutes a day, my mind is clear to deal with whatever I want (see point one: Visionaire Dua focus).
I just want to note that you might be at a stage of life, or a have a career like a public speaker looking for invites, or a Real Estate agent, for example, where giving out your email to everyone is how you grow. That’s fine – I acknowledge that. Just do it intelligently. Possibly have a separate email that you give to the public, and a private one that you keep for family and your direct-report colleagues.
Three: What’s my 80/20? Is it still true?
Have you ever found yourself busy all day, busy busy busy — you think you’ve accomplished so much — but then when you open your task list app, you’ve found you’ve done absolutely nothing on your list? Yes, we’ve all been there. The reason is that we focused on the small things, the 80% of small tasks that only gives us 20% fulfillment.
If you’ve not familiar with the 80/20 rule (even if you are, it’s good to refresh your memory), here’s a great video that explains it:
Here’s how I apply the 80/20 rule to myself. I have a notepad that’s always in sight on my desktop. It asks me the question, “What’s my 80/20 right now?” In other words, what’s the one thing that, if I focus on doing it right now, it’ll give me 80% of my days productivity result? I write that thing down and insist on spending time blocks of 25 minutes working on that. (After 25 minutes I mandatorily take a 5 minute break, even if I don’t feel like it. Otherwise, constant work will fry your brain).
But there’s a caveat to this. What your 80/20 was four hours ago is not necessarily true anymore. Or maybe you’ve been spending way too long on something like research when you should be writing your essay, for example. So I have a follow-up question: “Is this still true?” This sub-question allows me to maintain heightened productivity throughout my work hours.
There you have it. I’ve pulled back the hood and showed you three of my most time-tested productivity techniques.
Now it’s your turn: What are the time management techniques that have stood the test of time for you? You’ve tried many things, but as the years have gone by, there’s probably a technique or two that you stuck with because you’ve found it genuinely works. What technique is that?
Founder and President of DiscoverU, an Islam-based personal development institute. Muhammad Alshareef graduated Islamic Law from Madinah University and holds a Masters Degree from West Virginia University. Canadian, ethnically Egyptian, and a true citizen of the world. He writes about Islamic solutions to popular personal development questions.