I hope to implement this myself, and pray that others find this helpful too. Ameen.
By Asma Malek
How often do you find yourself driving, knowing where you want to go, but unaware of how to get there, what route to take, or what direction you are headed in? Probably not very often.
Then why do we treat Ramadan in the same careless manner? We know that we want to improve ourselves throughout the month, but unless we take proper measures to ensure that we reach our goals by the end, we are letting a valuable opportunity slip by.
This holy month is a special time in which the rewards for both obligatory and voluntary deeds are multiplied exponentially as a mercy from Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) and so we aim to do as many of both as we can. However, it is, in fact, only a month and therefore it is important that we manage our time wisely. Many of us find ourselves making resolutions and setting goals, but give up by the middle of the month, or even sooner.
Taking the following measures can help us become better goal-setters both this Ramadan and in future months to come insha’Allah:
1. Before Ramadan list all of the things you want to accomplish. This should be done as a free-writing exercise, meaning that you should not worry about whether what you are writing makes sense or not, or even whether it is attainable. Simply put down all your thoughts on paper. Afterwards, go through the list and begin prioritizing, modifying and deleting. First cross off the ideas that are irrelevant or impractical. For example, trying to memorize the entire Qur’an if you have only a few surahs committed to memory currently, and will be busy with school or work during the month, is not realistic.
Sort the remaining items in order to importance to you and try to estimate how long it will take you to attain these. Of course, some goals, such as refraining from bad language, will not be time-bound and are not applicable, but others, such as recitation of the entire Qur’an within the month can be measured.
2. Now take these attainable goals and turn them into action plans by creating a daily to-do list. If your weekday schedule differs from your weekend schedule, you can create two; in fact, if you want to be really specific you can even make a schedule for each day of the week. Regardless of how many lists you create, they should be very specific. For example, if your goal is to have read the entire Qur’an within the month of Ramadan, try to read a set amount of verses at particular times in the day. Instead of writing “Read some Qur’an in the afternoon” write “Read 10 ayaat after dhuhr prayer.”
Adding a little specificity will help keep you on track, and will also ensure that you are committed to your goals. Once in a while you might be unable to follow the schedule because of some unexpected events, and so you should also have a “make-up” time when you can make up for the loss at another time during the same day. Remember, Allah loves those deeds that are consistent, even if they are small so try your best to take consistent actions towards your goal.
3. It is possible that your schedule might not work for you, but that is not an excuse for giving up completely; don’t abandon your schedule, just modify it.Using the previously given example, if you pray dhuhr during your lunch break at work and you cannot fit in reading 10 verses of the Qur’an during that time, you can shorten it to 5 verses and then read another 5 verses at another time during the day. In other words, make sure that you are going back and revising your daily plan if you find something that is not optimal. Instead of decreasing your deeds, though, simply readjust them and budget your time within the day more wisely. Keep the lists everywhere; on the fridge, your desk, the car, kitchen table, computer, etc. Forcing yourself to read it constantly can also help keep you on track and will serve as a constant reminder.
4. The simplest way to make sure that you keep up with your goals is to make it easy for yourself to attain them. If you want to wake up for Tahajjud, keep the prayer mat, clothing, and the coffeemaker close to your bed and sleep early at night. You will not be able to wake up if you are up late doing work on the computer, so reconfigure your work schedule if you have to and make adequate preparations for your goals. On the other hand, if you are trying not to do something, make it harder for yourself. To keep away from backbiting, simply keep away from company that facilitates or encourages this bad habit. To refrain from television and music, delete all the songs from your iPod and replace it with lectures.; listen to The Noble Qur’an. Of course it will take more than just these precautions to completely refrain from these actions (they need to be accompanied by du’a, sincere intentions, patience, fighting the nafs, and hard work), but taking certain steps will make it easier for you to be obedient and harder for you to relapse.
5. Reinforcements are also necessary for those of us who need a little bit more of a push, especially during the middle of Ramadan when everyone’s morale and zeal seems to whither. In order to keep yourself from backbiting or swearing, use the classic jar trick. Keep a box or jar within easy reach, or multiple ones if you want one at work, home, etc., and punish yourself by putting in a significant amount of money every time you break the rule. At the end of the month you can donate the money to a charity of your choice, but do not let the charity be an excuse to let the jar fill up! The purpose of this is to give you a visual representation of how serious your problem is.
6. The last step is something we take lightly, though it can have a significant impact on how efficient we are this Ramadan, and that is evaluation. Every night take out a couple of minutes to either write down or simply think about whether you are on track or not, and how you can improve. This way you know what you need to work on the next morning and can monitor if you are slowing down or not doing enough to attain your goals. There are always going to be days when you are not as energetic as you would like to be and are not as productive as you should be, but through evaluation you can help prevent this from becoming a trend and save your Ramadan from being a disappointment.
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