Society

Procrastination – A Scorching Fire in the Soul: Part 2

In part 1 of this article we looked at the findings of Piers Steel in his study on procrastination. Based on those findings, we said that if we do the following we are not likely to procrastinate:
• choose to remove and stand firm against distractions
• understand the importance of doing something RIGHT HERE AND NOW in order to avoid frittering away our vital empowerment; avoiding mental cluttering and the cacophony of inner conflict that transmutes into repressed urgency the moment I give in to procrastination
• perceive our doing it in a timely manner as a very valuable thing in and of itself
• believe that we can take action and/or do the job confidently and get it done

Then we are more likely to seize the moment, nurturing each motivation through to its fulfillment and each task to its completion. This lays an excellent foundation for overcoming the habit of procrastination. We can also look at a number of additional practical steps we can take to help us in this endeavor.

Practice focus and concentration
Albert Einstein was one of the most influential scientists and intellectuals of our time. After his death, the details of a method he used to increase his focus and concentration was found among his papers. It is an exercise that enables one to train the mind to stay completely focused on the task at hand. Many people feel that whenever they try to concentrate, even to read, their minds wander and they fail to complete the task. Try the following exercise based on the one that Einstein created and use it to increase your focus and concentration.
1. You need a watch or a clock, a piece of paper and a pen
2. Write across the top of your paper, “I won’t be distracted by anything.”
3. Choose something to read and begin reading. Read for three minutes
4. When you experience a distraction, put your finger on the text where you stopped and put a check mark under the written statement “I won’t be distracted by anything.”
5. Say to yourself, “I won’t be distracted by anything” and continue reading where you left off
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 each time you get distracted
7. At the end of three minutes, stop reading and count the number of check marks on your paper. This will tell you the number of times you were distracted

Repeat the exercise as often as you like. You can do it multiple times in one day or a few times each day. Begin reading wherever you left off. As you continue to practice this, you will be distracted fewer times and have fewer check marks. Aim to have no distraction check marks at the end of three minutes. Once you reach that goal you can increase your reading to 5 minutes, then 7 minutes, and so on.

Learn to love being organized and orderly
Being organized and orderly is only possible when you make a habit of doing things when they need to be done rather than putting them off until some future date. Studies have shown that organized individuals generally feel in control of their lives, they are proactive, and they have articulated goals. When trying to overcome a procrastination habit, it helps to make sure that the goals that you set are attainable goals. Also helpful is to envision the process of working toward the goal as a series of small steps that you will take, whether the end goal is to clean out all your closets or to complete an essay for school.

The idea of making small, continuous progress is very Islamic. Consider the following hadith:

“The most beloved to Allah is the action that is continuous and consistent, even if it is very small.”

Breaking down the goal into small, easy to handle parts, keeps you moving forward. This ensures consistency rather than on again, off again motivation. For example, if you decide to organize all your closets, you could plan to do one closet each week. For each closet you could plan the following steps:

1. Remove all items from the space and put each in one of three piles – save, sell or give away, trash.
2. Take the trash pile to the trash bin, garbage can, or dumpster. Bag up the sell or give away items and put them by your front door or in the trunk of your car, ready to go.
3. Go through the save pile and put each item on a shelf, in a labeled organizing box or labeled envelope, using whatever system works for you.

Each step, on its own, is not overwhelming and all three steps could be done in one day or over three days, whatever works for you. Since you keep your goals small and as a series of steps, you are less likely to get overwhelmed. You can even practice focus and concentration just as you did with the reading for three minutes. Consider each step as a challenge to stay on task without distraction until the task is complete.

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Design a focus/organization/getting-it-done routine
Create a routine of approach to any task, and use that routine to practice focus and concentration, organization, and getting the task done. A routine is like the tea ceremony mentioned in part 1 of this article. Remember the tea ceremony? It “uses a common everyday experience – drinking tea – and approaches it as a ritual that can bring awareness of the smallest details, like how to hold the tea cup, observing the sights, smells, and sounds in the tea-making process, how to clean the utensils, and doing these simple things with a mindset aimed at excellence. The attention to detail and appreciation of the beauty found in the most ordinary and everyday experience, helps the participant in the tea ceremony to value the seemingly commonplace facets of his or her daily living. It is finding peace and harmony in mindfulness (being entirely present and profoundly aware) and the enjoyment of simplicity.”

This is the mindset you aim for in designing your focus/organization/getting-it-done routine.

You might, for example, decide that every Saturday morning you will pay bills. This has been an ongoing issue
for you as you dislike the task. Too often you pay a bill late and incur a late fee. So you decide to design a
focus/organization/getting-it-done routine in the following way:
1. Friday evening before sleeping, put out all the bills on the table. Review the four benefits of doing a task that needs to be done so this will be fortified in your mind when you go to sleep:
• choose to remove and stand firm against distractions
• understand the importance of doing something RIGHT HERE AND NOW in order to avoid frittering away our vital empowerment; avoiding mental cluttering and the cacophony of inner conflict that transmutes into repressed urgency the moment I give in to procrastination
• perceive our doing it in a timely manner as a very valuable thing in and of itself
• believe that we can take action and/or do the job confidently and get it done

2. Saturday morning at 9 a.m. drink a cup of green tea which contains theanine, an amino acid that is calming and aids concentration.
3. While drinking the tea, reflect on the paying of bills as an exercise in focus and concentration and aim to complete paying the bills in one hour without the mind wandering or getting distracted.
4. Sit down at the table and repeat once more the four benefits.
5. Proceed to do the bills and get them done.
6. Celebrate success.

You can celebrate by marveling at how many steps you have taken toward self-mastery.

Not only have you fortified your thinking and your doing with the right understanding about taking care of things when they need to be done,

you have strengthened your capacity for focus and concentration,

you have increased your sense of organization and being in control of your life,

and you have practiced a self-chosen and creative routine, a focus/organization/getting-it-done routine.
And like the participant in the tea ceremony, you have paid attention to the seemingly tedious details of paying your bills but all the while appreciating the beauty found in the most ordinary and everyday experience.

You have come to value this mundane and commonplace necessity of your daily living by seeing it as part of your quest for self-mastery. That is where you find the beauty!

You have found a sense of peace and harmony in being mindful (being entirely present and profoundly aware of what you are doing and why) and thriving in the enjoyment of simplicity.

Best of all, for this moment in time you have put out the scorching fire of procrastination and your soul feels cool and calm and refreshed!

Leslie SchafferAuthor Leslie Schaffer embraced Islam in 1979. She and Br.Kamal Shaarawy provide counseling for Muslim individuals, couples, and families. A full collection of their writings can be found on SalaamHearts.com

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