by Yasemin Inal
We all try to avoid the dreaded “S” word, but sometimes it just creeps up on us and our loved ones. Yes, we all want to lead productive lives and accomplish many honorable things, but we do not want to develop high blood pressure, sleep problems, or reduced immunity in the process. We all know from all the medical research that has been done that stress can do all of that and more.
So how do we strike a balance? Is there even such a thing as balance anymore?
Here are my thoughts on how to reclaim our lives from all the hidden stress and become more productive.
1. Be present
Being present has been my motto for the past 5 years. These two simple words literally transformed my life. Before knowing about being present and mindfulness in general, I felt I was living life on the go. With so many commitments and so many deadlines, I was always being dragged by the things that had to be done, rather than doing what mattered the most. Having been on autopilot while doing what was mandatory, I did not even get to savor the journey. I was too anxious to reach my destination.
All of that changed in 2010 when I declared that enough was enough. We moved out of the hustle and bustle of New York City to the gorgeous suburbs in North Carolina. Yes, we literally left everything behind because we wanted to be present and focus on what truly mattered. This is when I found my peace of mind and decided that I was going to make every single moment matter. No more living life on a highway: I am here to enjoy the ride, the breeze and yes, have time to smell the flowers.
When you become present, you finally notice the small things that you did not take the time to notice before. You notice the smile on the face of your child as you pick him up from school. You notice the beauty in the eyes of your spouse as you take the time to look into their eyes as they tell you about their day. You call your parents or visit them if they live nearby, and make them feel appreciated. You go for a walk and notice the beauty of the sky, the shapes of the clouds and feel the warmth of the sun to your core.
These simple realizations make you feel alive. Let whatever is happening to you in the moment become your focus, not your endless to-do list, not your phone, not your social media updates, or the worries about things out of your control.
Just take a deep breath and start paying attention to your surroundings, or else you are just letting your life fly by you.
Living a life of presence is really the only way to live a meaningful life. It is also the only way to reflect on your purpose on this Earth.
Allah tells us in the Qur’an, “Say, ‘Observe what is in the heavens and Earth’…” [Qur’an: Chapter 10, Verse 101]
How can we observe the miracles around us if we are not present?
2. Stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time
One of the most overrated things is multitasking. Some people even brag about being the king or queen of multitasking. If you are one of those people, let me break it to you as gently as possible. Studies reveal that multitasking not only kills your productivity, but it may even damage your brain. According to a research done at Stanford University, multitasking is less productive than doing one thing at a time, and that people who multitask have problems with focus, memory, and overall alertness.
Like most people, I used to think multitasking was actually a crucial skill. It is somehow engrained in us that if we can run several projects or manage to do many things simultaneously without losing our minds, we are considered super human.
What I have realized over the years is that multitasking takes away from the joy of focusing on the task at hand. This goes back to the concept of being present.
So, if you are texting and talking to your loved one who is sitting right across from you, you might think you are actually being productive. After all, you are spending time with your spouse or your parent or any loved one, and you are also getting some work done. Even though you might mean well, you are not being productive at all. You are merely stealing from the pleasure of focusing on what matters. You are letting two things battle for your attention. And you are hurting your relationships in the process.
From now on, figure out what your priorities are, maybe according to what is important or urgent, and focus on one thing at a time. If you are worried about efficiency, try grouping similar tasks together; for instance, doing all computer work in one session but tackling the individual tasks one after another.
3. Learn to say no without feeling guilty
Most people have a problem with saying “no”, whether it is an obligatory business invitation or a task that is pushed on them at work. You see, when you say yes to everything that comes your way, in a way you are saying “no” to things you truly care about.
For instance, if you feel obliged to accept every invitation, outing request, phone call, or anything else that may come up, you are trimming away the time that you could be spending on things of true value.
Narrated by Ibn `Abbas , the Prophet was reported to have said, “There are two blessings which many people lose: (They are) Health and free time for doing good.” [Bukhari]
Time is the most important commodity for humans, especially those who strive to become productive. So, learning to say no will free you mentally and physically. When you learn to say no without feeling guilty, you learn to say yes to what truly matters. So maybe you finally might be able to attend that Islamic class or have some family time, instead of yet another dinner party.
4. Delegate, delegate, delegate
Last but definitely not least, delegate tasks that someone else can do. Some may think this is being lazy. On the contrary, this is all about focusing on what you and only you can do and delegating the rest to another person who is capable of handling that.
This could mean teamwork, as in the case of having specific chores assigned to each individual in a household, or hiring help when needed while working on a project.
Accept the fact that you cannot do it all and realize that you should not be doing it all.
At the end of the day, focusing on what you do best will make you the most productive person that you have ever been, In sha Allah. Then instead of becoming mediocre at a bunch of things, you will become a master of the one thing you are great at.