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Tue 24 October 2017


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With her usual blend of part narrative, part operational manual, and always inspirational style, Heba Alshareef teaches us how to put our time in order.

Excuse me; may I have a moment of your time? How about ten moments? Okay, I promise no more than sixty moments. Have I lost you? Am I distracting you? Or are you still with me? Perhaps you know distraction well, easily letting it in when it comes knocking, but then you feel guilty that you gave in so easily and curse your lack of time management skills. Well, hopefully this won't be a distraction. It might even be that this article will save you lots of moments at the end of the day. Or week. Or month. Or even over a life time.

Yes, time management 101 is right here, but you've probably heard it all before. You've studied various strategies; you've tried to commit to following through with them. You endeavour to implement them at the beginning of each Monday, but by Tuesday, all the best intentions have fallen by the wayside of, well ... a chicken that's taking much longer to defrost than you'd anticipated, a toddler that just won't go to sleep as per scheduled nap time, and an assignment that, no matter how hard you want it too, cannot finish itself. Before you know it, it's almost midnight and you haven't done half the things on your to-do list. Tomorrow will be better, you think, the optimism still alive. But tomorrow rarely is, and tomorrows pass and pass and you wonder where the time has gone. You think that if only you could manage your time, you'd be able to fulfil your potential. You know you have a problem. If only ... Here's the thing: time management isn't the problem. And people who effectively manage their time and accomplish their goals don’t usually buy into "if only" fantasies.

When women come to me with questions or concerns about time, saying things like "There just aren't enough hours in my day to pursue my dreams," or "I have too much on my plate and I'm too busy to add things that really make me feel like I'm living up to my potential," I always tell them, "Stop.! Don't worry about time now. You have a bigger concern that you need to deal with first." And this is usually on a first meeting - I don't actually know their individual predicaments, but it's a universal truth that people will do what they have to do, if they feel they have to do it enough. And when they understand this and understand what needs to happen in order to harness the power of their time, women are amazed to see how much they actually do accomplish with the same amount of responsibilities they always had, and the same amount of time they always had. Many of these women want someone to tell them what to do or to help them create a schedule that they can stick to. Yet, when was the last time any of us actually stuck to a schedule? So, I'd take them on a different journey first. And then, if they've had a successful journey, I'll give them the strategies that are, in fact, literally one of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", as described by Steven Covey in his bestselling book. I'll give them to you too, but first things first.

The Journey

Consider this scenario: A young boy is pinned under a heavy object. If he doesn't get out soon, he'll die or otherwise be maimed for life. What does his mother do? Does she look at her schedule, trying to figure out if she should keep struggling to cut up a frozen chicken or should she finish staring at that assignment on her desk? Of course not! Without thinking, instinctively, the mother would drop everything else and lift that heavy object as if she were a weight lifter who'd just won an international accolade. This is the first rule. Purpose is king (or queen). If you have a strong enough purpose, time will not be an obstacle, by the will of Allah (SWT). Now, purpose is one part of the story. How does one foster purpose where there doesn't seem to be any? Consider this scenario: For as long as she can remember, Nadia (not her real name) had thought about doing humanitarian work in an impoverished nation. But life happens, and while Nadia was busy living hers this dream got placed on the backburner. Then Nadia comes to a point in her life when she is forced to re-evaluate everything that is important to her. She is keen to discover who she is and what really matters to her. She doesn't have a young son pinned under a heavy object, but she is seeking that same kind of purpose that will make her life's work one that will fulfil her and help her feel like her existence would be pleasing to her Creator. So, Nadia takes a trip to her homeland and finds the humanitarian work that will drive her "purpose filled" life in the form of a crammed orphanage teetering on the edge of extinction due to a lack of funds. Even after she leaves and gets back to the 'life of hers that is happening', she finds the time to continue on with her mission of ensuring that the orphanage not only survives, but thrives. Did I say "finds the time"? That's the wrong wording, because time, my dear sisters, is not something we find, but rather, something we make. Thus we come to the second rule. By learning what is important to us, we find that purpose, the knowledge of which drives us to the ends of the earth in order to fulfil it - and time management be done for. You won't need it. In fact, you might even have so much free time that you'll seek out more purpose filled goals to achieve. Where there is genuine purpose, there is sincere effort. Time becomes a gift that fulfils you and makes you feel like your life is worthwhile.

The Time Quadrants

You've gone on the journey; you've found your purpose and the things that matter to you. And now you could use the strategies that will channel your energy so that you are making the most of your time. To categorize the tasks in your life according to the time you take to achieve them, here are Steven Covey's 4 quadrants with their AKA (also known as) aliases:

  • QI - Important and Urgent : Demand
  • QII - Important but Not Urgent : Fulfilment
  • QIII - Not Important but Urgent: Delusion
  • QIV - Not Important and Not Urgent: Distraction

You will first have to take a look at your current schedule. If you aren't sure how your day is going down - take a few days and log it all. Ask yourself where the activities you're currently participating in belong in relation to the category. So, for example, are you really that tired, or is the extra time you spend napping some sort of distraction? Is it possible that your constant checking and replying to your emails a form of delusion? Are all your replies that urgent? What would really happen if you checked once a day instead of ten? These are the ones you may need to call the bluff on, the ones that fit into the quadrant labelled delusion. What are your must-do's? These are the things that if you didn't do them, all-chaos-would-break-loose-and-you'll-be-in-a-pile-of-rubbish type things. Make sure to find a way to do them in the most efficient manner as possible. Finally, in the fulfilment category, you'll find tasks that aren't urgent, but important. These are the things that will give you inner contentment and satisfaction, the things that will bring purpose to your life. Reading Qur'an, buying a gift for your mother, playing with your child, or visiting a sick friend are examples of tasks that have a place here. After you've analysed your schedule and fit your tasks into the appropriate areas, this is the process you need to follow in order to maximize.

your time:

1. Plan to do tasks which are important and urgent first. 2. Fit the urgent, but not important ones in next. But remember, to really analyse the things that fall into this category. 3. Put time aside when you will do the not urgent, but important tasks. 4. Know time wasters and go all "cut off their head" on them; resolve to eliminate these tasks from your schedule. By identifying the root cause of that which wastes our time, we can take back our hours and ultimately our productivity. We'll be able to finish what we start, and rid ourselves of the feelings of being overwhelmed and at a loss for time. We'll be able to quickly tell what actions would be most effective. We'll have more time to do the fulfilling things that are the backbone of our purpose, the journey of our life's time. And that frozen chicken can take as long as it wants, we'll open a can of tuna instead.

Heba Alshareef, a mother of five children, is the author of Release Your Inner Queen of Sheba! Procedure and Protocols to Lead Your Best Life. She has also documented 101 ways to creatively substitute tuna in your favorite recipes. "It really does taste just like chicken", she wants everyone to know. Visit her online at

This article was first published in SISTERS, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women. Visit the SISTERS website at to read more articles - and download a complimentary issue!


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