Welcome to our newest column MuslimBestLIfe where Siraaj will share his thoughts on Time Management, Personal and Home Organization, Fitness and Health, Developing Positive Habits and Discipline.
On its own, social media can be distracting, depending on the news of the day, the number of that-thing-someone-did-and-it-will-emotionally-move-you-when-know-why posts that show up, and posts listing 10-ways-to-accomplish-something-with-no-explanation-of-how.
But occasionally, there are those issues which don’t just distract momentarily in favor of the next piece of infotainment, oh no. There are those insidious social media events that get into your brain and suck the apparent willpower to focus on anything else except what’s occurring at the moment. You’re so plugged in with constant refreshes, status update notifications, and micro-celebrity he said/she said/shaykh said back-and-forth cross-talk, and for some reason, this one doesn’t disappear within an hour or two, it carries on for days.
Life isn’t so merciful in that it takes a time out while your attention catches its breath long enough to focus back on the rest of your responsibilities. It goes on without you, and the longer you stay plugged in somewhere else, the further behind real life leaves you. Some people find consolation in going from complete immersion to complete shutdown, but I believe there’s a better way, one in which you can have your cake and eat it too.
Step 1: Know Your Top Priorities
There are times when productivity for the day is going to be shot, you know it, and you may as well not fight it. Your full to-do list is definitely not getting completed today. However, that doesn’t mean the day is lost. You can still keep moving forward if on that list, you know which the most important items are on that list.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Which one or two tasks are most critical to complete today?
Tasks are the to-dos that you don’t do every day. These could involve project work, house repairs, doing your taxes, and so on. Even if nothing is critical then pick the most important.
Some people get into the, “But everything is important” mindset and consequently get nothing done due to analysis-paralysis. If everything is important, pick two at random because getting two items done is better than getting none done (because you know that’s where you’re likely heading).
2. Which one or two habits are critical to complete today?
The cornerstone of a successful person are the habits they’ve developed. Anything that derails you for a few days can potentially change and ruin those good habits, especially if they took time to develop. A habit is something you do every day, like brushing your teeth, as is reading Qur’an, praying, physical training, reading, and more (on the plus side, if any bad habits are being neglected, this might be a good opportunity to keep ignoring them until you no longer do them).
The habits I’m referring to are those which have a substantial positive impact on your life, but they’re not a necessary part of life, sometimes known as important-but-not-urgent. For example, if you read one juz of Qur’an daily, don’t neglect this. If you spend an hour daily with your kids in the evening, make sure you keep at it. If you train every day in the gym, don’t stop.
Within these habits, it may not be as critical to fully complete them, but to initiate and complete some part of it. If you’re hitting the gym, maybe you do 40% of the workout instead of all of it. If you’re brain is so wired you find it difficult to focus on Qur’an, try to at least get some significant portion completed
3. Which items are low-hanging fruit (e.g. easily completed in two minutes)?
Low hanging fruit is typically not critical, but can be quickly done. For example, on my job along with my technical work there will be non-technical paperwork which mentally, is a drag, but from a difficulty perspective doesn’t really cause much in the way of brain wave activity.
Step 2: Use Your Social Media Addiction and Low Productivity Guilt to Your Advantage
Once you know which items are most critical, consciously make the decision to reward yourself with your addiction only after you complete those items. So if you have an assignment at work to complete, tell yourself “I will complete this assignment and then go online.”
Between your guilt at not doing enough as the stick and your addiction to social media as the carrot, you may find yourself more productive, that you get work done faster so that you can get back to staring at the screen and drooling at more e-drama.
Step 3: Repeat Step #1 and #2 in Time Blocks
Once you understand Step #1 and Step #2, you can repeat them in chunks. So if you have a work life and a family life, and social media is taking up time with your work life, you can focus on getting the most important items done first, and then flip through your phone after.
You might then return home, repeat Step #1 and #2, and then go back online again. If your spouse happens to be the addicted one, or you’re addicted together because you follow the same issues together, then you should first both agree to what should be accomplished among yourselves and with the kids, and then return back to reloading for the latest in partisan one-ups-manship.
Important Note #1: Dealing with Tasks vs Dealing with People
There is a difference in dealing with things and dealing with people. When dealing with things, provided that time is not a necessary factor (like growing a plant), feel free to go through whatever work or tasks you have in mind as quickly as you wish. When it comes to dealing with people (family, co-workers, friends, etc), you should not try to deal with them efficiently, but effectively. If someone needs your time, it’s time to go back to the 90s where only losers like myself were having online debates with random nobodies in AOL chat rooms on PCs and the only cellular anything were pagers. In other words, turn off the cell phone (or at least the beep that comes with notifications) and give people your attention when they need it.
Important Note #2: My *insert relationship of person with you* is Addicted and It’s Ruining Everything? What Do I Do?
If they’re truly addicted, then you should submit the question to our “What’s the Matter?” question submissions area. This post isn’t dealing with people with true, clinical addictions, it’s just using the word as an exaggeration (as opposed to others who exaggerate every problem as being an addiction, but I digress). If it’s just a temporary fixation, nothing is getting done, and you’re a bit irritated by all this, then do the following:
In a dramatic voice (or in all caps if the only way you can talk to them is Facebook, Twitter, or Whatsapp), say to them, “OMG, there’s an article about YOU on MuslimMatters.org. I can’t believe they called you out like this!”
After this, send them the article. Hopefully they’ll get the hint ;)
Important Note #3: Partner Up
If you find yourself struggling to implement steps #1 and #2, having a friend or spouse who can keep you honest is important. Keep someone who can hold you accountable for a few hours on hand to keep you offline til you get your work done. If you have another addicted friend, you guys can work on keeping each other in check until your work is done.
Trying to fight a social media brain sucking storm is futile. A better option is to work with your addiction and use it as a means to channel productivity into your day, rather than fight a losing internal battle.