Losing productivity? Revise your plans continuously


It's 5 am; you’re sitting with your planner in a quiet room, planning your day:

  • 6 am: shower
  • 30 am: breakfast
  • 7 am: leave the house
  • 30 am: reach work
  • 00 am: prepare for big presentation
  • 00 am: meet client and deliver presentation
  • ...and so on.

Everything looks great on paper, and then reality hits: You took longer than expected in the shower. Breakfast was late. There was an accident on the highway, and your commute time took an hour instead of 30 minutes. And now you can’t seem to find those files you need to prepare for your presentation.

What do you do? Do you break down? Swear at everyone and everything? Fume over how everything is going wrong for you? Or do you revise your plan to make the best of the situation you’re facing?

If you came late out of the shower, perhaps you can skip breakfast at home and have it at work instead. If there’s a traffic jam on the highway, maybe call ahead to ask for the meeting to be delayed by half an hour (or for your part to be pushed to the last item on the agenda). If you can’t find your files, check the previous draft you mailed your colleagues and work with that.

This ability to continuously revise and re-revise your plans of the day is a powerful skill to help you stay productive. However, this skill can only be developed when you have the right attitude. A mindset that’s taught in the Islamic tradition is believing that nothing happens without reason, that there is wisdom you may or may not be aware of, and there’s always good in whatever situation we are in, even if we do not see that good when the situation arises.

So when you left your house late that morning, perhaps you were saved from that very car accident blocking the entire highway. Those files you couldn’t find? Maybe they contained a significant error in them that would have got you fired, and by working with a previous draft, you’ll be able to avoid the error altogether.

There’s an Arabic phrase that I go by which complements this mindset, and which I recommend to my coaching clients and partners: “fiha khair” (“there’s goodness in this”).

If you recite this statement whenever things don’t go as planned, and you realistically revise your plans to fit the new situations as they arise, you’ll be able to stay consistently productive despite the challenges that are thrown at you day and night.

Life is not perfect. And as much as you want to control it and fit it into neat boxes, it’ll constantly feel like plugging square pegs into circular holes.

So, to borrow a phrase from David Allen, the father of modern-day productivity, the next best thing is to have “a mind like water” that ebbs and flows naturally with the day.

Start your day with your plan, but don’t get too attached to it. When things go your way, thank God and show gratitude by making most of the time you have; when things don’t go your way, thank God and remember, “fiha khair”.

Mohammed Faris is an international coach, author, and speaker who helps executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs rebalance their lives spiritually, physically and socially to achieve peak performance and live meaningful lives. He’s the founder of ProductiveMuslim.com and author of The Productive Muslim: Where Faith Meets Productivity.

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