An outstanding career, a bigger house, the latest car or electronic gadget – our ambitions are often tied to these common standards of a successful life. In the workplace, the idealistic notion of working more and exceeding expectations also permeates the modern culture of work. At home, the idea that we have busy extracurricular schedules, stringent exercise routines or picture perfect management of the household is often the prevailing expectation.
However, do these materialistic ideals really make us productive?
For the pursuit of happiness in our lives, are we losing sight of more important, meaningful objectives?
Searching for productivity on Google will bring up hundreds and thousands of self-help articles and checklists telling you what you can do to improve your daily productivity levels, how to set goals and how to achieve them. On the surface, these endless lists and guides may work for you. However, on a deeper level, strategies that improve your overall productivity in life should be based on principles that can give your life meaning and purpose. Islam, being a universal religion which is able to provide a practical approach to living faith, there are many principles that can improve our productivity and progress our lives.
Having A Meaningful Objective in Life
Having a goal in mind has been shown to improve productivity. But these days, everyone seems to be adopting contemporary life goals in order to lead more productive lives.
The ultimate objective to progress in life is achieved through improving our self-development. Reforming ourselves to improve our values and consciousness – this is what real productivity is. Developing our values and personal growth is probably one of the deepest of human needs. When we commit to improving this objective in life, we don’t limit ourselves or become trapped within consumerist driven standards. Measuring our productivity based on value-driven, conscious progress will ultimately lead to a successful life. Whether you apply this principle to your professional or personal productivity, or even your physical or mental productivity, the end-result is one that helps you achieve success that is meaningful.
When it comes to improving ourselves in order to lead more productive lives, being open to acknowledging our shortcomings is essential.
Research shows that perfectionists who display a ‘strong’ image are actually counterproductive in pursuing progress, because knowing your weaknesses improves self-esteem and makes you responsible. It is essential to adopt humility and attribute every quality to God, which requires that we free ourselves from arrogance or pride. Arrogance always hinders progress, as the Promised Messiah, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community profoundly explains:
“Arrogance should not be adopted in any way at all, not with regard to knowledge, not with regard to wealth, not with regard to high rank, not due to caste, ancestry, and lineage; for it is mostly due to these things that arrogance develops.”
When we are humble, we also develop a willingness to change and accept that there is always room for improvement. This is ultimately essential for anyone to progress and be more productive in life. Understanding that continuous, incremental improvement adds up to substantial change over time is a naturally proven strategy for better productivity. When we adopt humility and are open to learn and grow, we are also more mindful of our failures. In order to be more productive, we are not afraid to make mistakes, but rather consider them as opportunities for learning.
To be productive always requires that we are ready to make an effort.
Taking small, but consistent steps to improve our development is ultimately the pinnacle to achieving progress. In this regard, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) eloquently explains:
“Replace a bad habit/deed with a good habit/deed.”
Countless research has shown that we must always maintain a balanced approach, that multitasking or doing more than what we are capable of leads to less productivity. This impractical approach also causes undue stress, anxiety and burnout. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has summarised this principle by stating: “The most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little.”
Taking action to improve ourselves, requires that we are able to recognise our weaknesses and acknowledge them, to then turn them into our strengths. This also requires that we must acknowledge that each and every individual has their own capacities; not everyone can excel in every facet of life.
Similarly, one can’t be more productive when trying to copy someone else’s strengths. We each have our own capacities, skills, and values and should not be comparing ourselves to others. Almighty God reminds us in the Holy Quran that none of our actions will be unaccounted for. We must always be willing to take action, bring about change and undertake every effort we can to lead more progressive and productive lives. Although we must all be aiming for higher objectives, they must be based on our personal strengths and weaknesses.
After understanding and implementing the first three principles, the final strategy to lead meaningful and productive lives depends on observing prayer.
The modern-day definitions of spirituality include concepts such as reflection or meditation, however true spirituality is much more than just ritualistic observances. Fundamentally, every individual naturally does ‘pray’, the only difference is that someone who believes in God knows exactly who they are asking support from, and those that don’t, are blindly trying to find a source of Grace without acknowledging that source.
Searching for spirituality through prayer is this, ultimately searching for a means to an end. We all understand that everything in this world works on a ‘cause and effect’ principle, so to achieve productivity as our ‘effect’ or end goal, we must choose the correct ‘cause’ or principles. Prayer helps us achieve those correct principles in order to achieve productivity.
By continuously praying and reflecting we are constantly reminded of the ‘bigger picture’, our goals, and objectives in life, and acknowledging that nothing is possible unless God wills it. It enables us to be grateful and promotes optimism, helping us develop a more positive outlook in life. This subsequently enables a positive mindset that leads to growth, self-development and reformation. By being grateful, we become more appreciative and this in turn leads to the pleasure of God, who states in the Holy Quran:
‘…If you are grateful, I will, surely, bestow more favours on you…’