Living on Borrowed Time

by Somayya Patel

"The time I kill is killing me." - Mason Cooley

You may have heard the term ‘time management’ before and dismissed it as being one of the many newly concocted phrases of the self-help industry. However, it refers to using the time one has in the most effective manner and although not always labeled as that, this single trait has often been cited by many as one of the key success factors of all productive human beings, alive or dead, be it in the material or spiritual sense. Time is life and once lost can never be retrieved. The value of time is something never underestimated by people who live to make a difference and has always been the common denominator of those who left a legacy behind them.   The historian and exegete, Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, who authored more than 350,000 pages of scholarly works is often remembered for his incredible use of time.

Sometimes you will hear someone say ‘I do X to kill time’ as if having spare time is an annoying hindrance. At the other end of the spectrum are individuals who are constantly complaining ‘I don’t have enough time’. And the last type are the ones I envy:  nearly always doing something productive, never complaining about the excess availability of time or lack thereof and they carry themselves with a certain aura of serenity, always maximizing their usage of time and realizing that every minute gone by is not going to return. The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘there are two blessings which many people do not make the most of and thus lose out: good health and free time.’  

Time management is redundant if you are living your life doing whatever comes across your path, wandering aimlessly from one day to the next, not really knowing what direction you’re heading in. Having clearly defined goals in life is vital to living a healthy well-balanced life. Being unsure of where you are going can cause anxiety and a sense of dissatisfaction with life. In the Islamic tradition, the purpose of a believer is to worship God and acquire His pleasure and subsequently all of his goals in life should be directed towards that.

Once you have your goals in life clearly defined with scheduled action plans, the second step, prioritising will become easier. Trying to fit in a multitude of tasks in the limited time available can become a challenge when you haven’t decided what tasks should come first.

The third step is to mentally and physically get rid of the stumbling blocks in your life which allow you to be unproductive or procrastinate. Coming across a task you don’t want to complete, have you ever found yourself discovering new things to do which weren’t important two minutes ago? If you have, you are a ‘structured procrastinator’. You make yourself believe that you are being productive and not lazy, but what you’re really doing is putting off critical tasks.

At other times, you may make excuses like ‘I just don’t have the willpower’ as if willpower is like eye colour; something you were born with. Willpower is a personal trait which can either be developed or ignored. Accordingly, time management will hone your personal qualities, such as patience, determination, self-discipline, which are at the heart of tazkiyah, or purification of the self.

And the final step is to wake up early. The Prophet Muhammad informed us that the early hours of the day are blessed. Along with taking other steps to increase the blessings in your life, bid farewell to the cozy duvet early in the morning and say to yourself: "Here I come.  I have a purpose in life to fulfill, goals to achieve and no time to waste."