Phones

Your Time Management Problem is the Opposite of What You Think It Is

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The challenge with time management used to be figuring out how to be productive with your time. Traditionally, advice would be simplistic little gotchas like - read a book instead of watching a movie, or turning your daily commute into a university by listening to audiobooks. As knowledge work has increased, and access to information has multiplied, that advice evolved into one of optimization. Listen to an audiobook while driving to work, but change the playback setting to 2x, so now you can consume twice as much content.

Want to be productive while watching sports? Read an article on your phone during the commercial break. Stuck sitting at a wedding next to someone you don't know? Take out your phone and start deleting emails so you can inch ever so closer to that elusive goal of inbox-zero.

Now our lives are filled with queues waiting to eat up our time. 3 Seasons of Game of Thrones to catch up on (30 hours). Then there's the video series on YouTube you started last Ramadan that you only caught 13 episodes of so now it's saved in your watch later playlist (9 hours). There's the 20 Kindle books you bought, but haven't read. The app is there on your phone, optimized for productive reading as soon as you get around to it though. The 20 articles saved to 'read later' that you'll end up deleting, including the viral article on lifehacking [this one in paritcular is a must read] that's supposed to give you more time to watch those lifehacking videos.... you get the idea.

So again, we optimize. How do we squeeze more out of less. How do we get more done? Maybe we need to wake up at 4am. How are all these other people accomplishing so much? Then we start to study those people doing more than we are to reverse engineer a solution - solutions that worked for people whose life context is drastically different from our own.

This causes even more problems because we start to see the things that "eat up" our time as limitations. I'll be productive if I can quit my job... so let me spend our family's emergency fund on the latest online thingamajig promising to let me make 6 figures of passive income every year. I can't be productive if my kids are always bothering me... so let me sacrifice some time with them now because I'll definitely have more time later.

Our problem is one of learning how to deal with the overwhelm of everything we want/should/need to accomplish while also balancing the responsibilities we have. All within the same 24 hours everyone gets in a day.

Solving this is a two-step problem.

Step 1. What's the Big Picture?

By time, man is [deep] in loss, except for those who believe, do good deeds, urge one another to the truth, and urge one another to steadfastness. [103]

The big picture is understanding your priorities in life. Spiritual and family needs are at the top of that list.

The question then becomes not one of, for example, "how do I read 75 books this year instead of 50"? It becomes a deeper question: "Does this book serve my larger purpose in life?"

This requires a huge shift in perspective. Someone might feel stressed that they have a lot of goals they want to accomplish (starting a business, writing a book, going back to grad school, homeschooling their kids, etc.), but don't have time because the daily grind is simply too difficult.

Wake up. Pray. Eat breakfast. Rush the kids out the door to school. Fight traffic to work. Get stressed out at work all day where they're pushing me to constantly "do more with less". Get home. Relax for 5 minutes. Help the kids with homework. Do other after school activities. Try to eat dinner as a family. Spend another hour getting the kids to bed. Maybe go to the masjid. Maybe watch TV. Maybe watch really stupid videos people forwarded me on WhatsApp. Spend a few minutes with your wife/husband. Go to sleep exhausted. Wake up and start all over again.

Here's the issue with that. We have to stop looking at this as a GRIND. Spending time with your kids is an investment, and those daily interactions add up, multiply, and compound over time. It's a blessing even if it seems every morning escalates into a shouting match trying to get everyone out the door on time. You may not have your dream job, but your time spent at work still enables you to fulfill a large responsibility. So take advantage of it, and do it to the best of your ability.

Reframe the roles, responsibilities, and activities that may consume your time. Stop looking at them as things holding you back from something 'more productive' and realize that for this season of life, these are the activities that serve your greater purpose.

How many people have gone on to famed business success, fame, and millions, but lost their families in the process (see also: my video on How Will You Measure Your Life)? Is it worth it?

That is the macro level. The micro level is step two.

Step 2: What Is The Best Use of Your Time At A Given Moment?

This is a constant assessment that needs to take place. Is your best use of time on a Sunday spent watching football? Maybe. Perhaps this is your way to unwind, relax, and get some entertainment. It could also be the 2nd day in a row where you did nothing but sit in front of a screen and ignored other commitments you had. It all requires context.

Would it be more productive to take a book to your kid's soccer game and read? Probably. But is it the best use of your time? Probably not. Your attention and focus needs to be on the game.

If you're stuck in a boring work meeting, should you check Facebook? Or maybe be super productive and read an Islamic article on your phone? It might seem like a good idea, but at that moment in time, your attention needs to be at work.

What about working out? Should you listen to Quran, music, a podcast, audiobook, or something else? It depends on your personal context. It might also be better to simply work out in silence and give your mind a break.

If you're stuck in the waiting room at the doctor's office, it could be a great time to catch up on emails and check Snapchat. If you're at the masjid 5 minutes early for Isha though, it's not a great time to check Snapchat.  That specific moment in time is one where supplications are answered.

Replying to text messages while eating lunch alone at work? Might be fine. Replying to text messages while eating with family? Maybe not.

Understand the demands on your time at any given moment, prioritize what is most important in that moment, and then focus relentlessly on that.

This is the example that the Prophet (s) laid out for us with his life. Aisha (r) was asked what he used to do in his house, and she said, "He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer, he would go for it. [Bukhari]"

Why Your Phone is Keeping You From Praying Fajr and How to Fix It

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The Hope.

I know I'm supposed to have a solid daily routine. No matter what I do, it doesn't work, and I'm stuck in a rut. Maybe I'm not meant to be a morning person. It seems like every single morning is an unbelievable exercise in willpower to try and wake up.

If I could wake up on time for fajr every day, read Qur'an, make dua, exercise, have a relaxed wholesome breakfast, and leave for work/school on time - it would transform my life.

It’s been said that the first hour is the rudder of the day. If I’m lazy or haphazard in my actions during the first hour after I wake up, I tend to have a fairly lazy and unfocused day. But if I strive to make that first hour optimally productive, the rest of the day tends to follow suit. -Steve Pavlina

The Reality.

9:00pm Time for a late snack, a cup of tea, and catching up on the DVR.

11:00pm Get ready for bed. Change, brush your teeth, turn off the lights.

11:30pm Snuggled into bed, reach over and plug your phone into the charger.

11:31pm Check email, Instagram, text messages, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter. Leave some comments, like some photos, reply to a few snaps. Read a few articles shared by friends on Facebook. Make bedtime official by sending out your Goodnight Snapchat.

11:45pm Still can't sleep. Watch random YouTube videos. Check email, Instagram, all over again. Check to see if anyone replied to your goodnight snapchat, and remind yourself not to post anything since you're "officially sleeping".

12:15am Still can't sleep. Put something dumb on Netflix and wait to pass out.

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530am Alarm goes off. And it kicks off a morning that looks kind of like this.

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7:00am Finally cognizant. You've managed to actually turn off the alarm instead of hitting snooze. Now you lie awake in your bed upset that you overslept and now have to rush to get to work. So what do you do? Check your email. See who liked and commented on your late night status on Facebook. Check the rest of your social channels and roll out of bed.

Why is it so hard to wake up? We've tried everything. Turn up the adhan app really loud? Check. Multiple alarm clocks? Check.  Put your alarm away from your bed? Yeah.

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To fix the problem of waking up, we have to get at the core of the problem - or at least nail down a couple of the biggest root causes.

“Hitting the snooze button in the morning doesn’t even make sense. It’s like saying, ‘I hate getting up in the morning so I do it over and over and over again.’” — Dimitri Martin

The greatest impediment to waking up, and hence establishing any kind of productive daily routine, is the phone. Check out this great breakdown of a late night routine by Buzzfeed.

The bottom line is we feel unrelaxed. There is no longer a preparation process for a good night's sleep - we just pass out.

When we wake up it's no different.

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There is no morning routine. There is no attainment of blessings (barakah).

The Prophet (s) supplicated, "O Allah, bless my nation in their early mornings (i.e., what they do early in the morning)." Hasan said, "When he sent out a raiding party or an army, he would send them at the beginning of the day." He said, "Sakhr was a man engaged in trade, and he used to send his goods out at the beginning of the day, and his wealth grew and increased." [Ibn Maajah]

While we would all love to attain this, it seems as if we are at a roadblock. Particularly if you have been using your phone in this manner for years, the bad habit can be difficult to break.

Our default state is one of mindlessness.  There is a constant stream of overstimulation - we work our brains to check email even when we try to relax. There is no such thing as unwinding. Not when what we consider unwinding actually includes processing more information. This is multiplied by the rising complexity of technology. Requests are coming at us faster and more relentlessly than ever. We are not meant to operate like a computer or a robot that is at optimized performance for such long periods of time.

In short, we've made a trade-off. The benefit of connection and information has made us overlook how it affects our mental cognition. A consequence of which is our ability to sleep and wake up. It is a trade-off we haven't properly assessed.

The Solution

We previously covered how dua is the greatest casualty of a socially networked life. Here's how to recapture it.

Consider the example of khushoo' (concentration) during prayer. To properly accomplish it requires preparation. It means making wudu properly, clearing your head, relaxing, making dua, and then entering prayer.

Waking up for fajr on time is a lot of the same. The process starts way before the alarm clock goes off. The solution is to nail the going-to-bed-routine.

Here's the action plan. Figure out what time you need to go to sleep, and how long you need to wind down. Let's assume you want to be asleep by 10:30pm and need 90 minutes to wind down.

Set your alarm for 9pm. This is the secret. Most of us don't need an alarm to wake us up, we need an alarm to remind us to go to bed. Once your alarm goes off, start winding down.

You've no doubt heard about not using screens an hour before bedtime - it is tough. But it works. Once your alarm goes off, let yourself do a final check of email and social outlets. Get changed, brush your teeth, and turn off any ceiling lights.

Put your phone across the room and have your alarm set for the morning. Place it as close to the bathroom as possible. This helps you wake up, and it also keeps you from checking your phone mindlessly again before bedtime.

Lie down in bed and read a physical book. Make sure that it is a fiction book. This is essential because non-fiction will make your brain go into motion and start thinking of things. Let the fiction be a way of relaxing and unwinding.

You should start feeling tired fairly quickly, turn off the lamp, and start making the dua and dhikr for going to sleep. Make sure to include this dhikr mentioned by Fatimah (ra),

The Prophet (s) said, "Shall I tell you a thing which is better than what you asked me for? When you go to your beds, say: 'Allahu Akbar (i.e. Allah is Greater)' for 34 times, and 'Alhamdu Lillah (i.e. all the praises are for Allah)' for 33 times, and Subhan Allah (i.e. Glorified be Allah) for 33 times. This is better for you than what you have requested [a servant to assist with chores]" [Bukhari].

When the alarm goes off in the morning, go straight to the bathroom and get yourself ready to pray. Plan out the night before what you are going to do in the morning. If, for example, you plan on going to the gym, then make sure you have your gym clothes already laid out. Your planning at night is much better than the morning, so have a gameplan ready.

Once you wake up and pray, have a set routine that you must do no matter what. It might be making some dua after you pray. It might be reading Qur'an. It might simply be going for a walk. Whatever it is, make it non-negotiable in the sense that you will not check your phone until that routine is done.

This creates the space and margin in your mind to start and each day on the right foot.

How does technology affect your ability to sleep and wake up on time? Leave a comment below! 

3 Major Parenting Social Media Mistakes

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We normally classify "parents" as late adopters of technology, and therefore usually out of touch. For example, a few years ago, most parents were freaked out about Facebook and had no idea what it was. Now they are active users on this platform - more so than the younger generation. Due to this lag, we often do not look at their actions as critically as we do with new adopters. Think about the fear and hype around Snapchat now versus the general acceptance of Facebook. But that younger generation, the digital natives who have grown up with technology, are now becoming parents themselves. In some ways this is unchartered territory. Anyone who is a parent knows that by default they often end up parenting the same way they were parented. They might think or hope they are different, but are more similar than they would like to admit.

The social media challenge is that there is no benchmark. Instagram for our parents was dropping off a roll of film to get developed after a vacation,sticking the photos into an album, and then storing that inside a cabinet. Their 'mommy blogs' were phone calls with friends or discussions at dinner parties. If they needed to vent about their kids, they did so relatively privately.

As with all things, social media hasn't created new parenting mistakes. It has simply magnified (sometimes exponentially) what was already there. Here are three of the major mistakes parents make in the social networking age.

1. Complaining about your kids on social media.

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This should be more obvious than it is. We all cringe at the thought of our parents belittling us or talking down to us. How about when they do it in public to others? Or post it online for everyone to see - even years later?

The irony is that social media enables communication. Parents will post negative things about their children not thinking much of it. Perhaps it's venting, or maybe even something harmless. Kids do not necessarily see it like that. The more they feel slighted in this manner, the less they will communicate with their parents in the future. How can they open up when there is a fear in the back of their minds of getting embarrassed by their own parents online?

Although my children are young (under the age of 10), they are aware that we sometimes post pictures of them or things they have said. In each case though, my wife and I seek their permission before posting a photo or something they have said so they are fully aware of what is going on. There are times where they'll request something to be posted so they can see what their aunts and uncles think about it, and there have been times where they have asked us not to post certain things that we may have wanted to, and we were happy to comply.

Every parent gets frustrated with their kids sometimes and needs to vent. For many, social media is the default place to do this. That behavior needs to change - the price is simply too high. And if you see other parents venting about their kids, you need to either advise them (kindly), or mute/unfriend so that you are not constantly exposed to that kind of negativity.

2. Comparing yourself to other parents and your kids to other kids.

Comparing your kids to other kids is natural as a parent. You want to have some kind of benchmark to see how your child is developing as compared to your friends' kids.

All of us remember how much we hated even the idea that our parents may be comparing us to our friends. Even in our youth we understood that everyone's circumstances were different and it was unfair. Yet somehow, as parents, we do this. It's natural.

The problem with social media is the ease by which this is done. We see one kid making a website, and wonder why can't our kids do that? One kid makes millions with a YouTube channel and suddenly we wonder if our own kids are going to grow up in talentless mediocrity. This, of course, is a natural incubator for jealousy and envy.

There is a flip side to this as well, and that is using social media to 'one up' other parents. Similar to our tendency to document and hoard our experiences, we sometimes take to social media to boost our own parenting ego. The author Jon Acuff articulated this well in an article entitled, How to Look Good on the Internet:

I might not have vocalized it, but what was really going on in my head was this: “I bet some people think I’m never home. I post photos of my travels, but not a lot of my home life so it probably feels out of balance. If I share this photo of the American Girl Doll store, maybe people will think I’m a good dad.”

That thought in itself is ridiculous, but here’s where it gets super stupid.

I was ignoring my kids to write a caption for a photo I was sharing in order to convince people I was a good dad.

In summary, I was being a bad dad in real life in order to look like a good dad on social media.

3. Making them feel less important than your phone.

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This is the most subtle, and potentially the most destructive. It is not outright ignoring your child for the phone (although that happens as well). It is the "hold on, give me two minutes" to finish a tweet while your child is vying for your attention that is the problem.

Simply put, they have to feel more valued than the other relationships you are maintaining. Don't lose sight of the most important connections to maintain the less important ones.

This is not to say there is no room for social media in parenting. It just requires the same basic rules as, well, parenting. That means open and honest communication with your kids, and showing them with action that they are the priority. It can also mean doing cute parent things in an innovative way.

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