Time passes by. Many of us muddle through time, day in and day out. Only the wise and the prophets talked about the art of utilizing time in order to exist. The Prophet Muhammad said:
“Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth before you become old; your health, before you fall sick; your wealth, before you become poor; your free time before you become preoccupied, and your life, before your death.”
Time, therefore, is the commodity of all endeavors. We all have 24 hours a day, and we choose how to use them. If you think you have wasted much time on miscellaneous activities last night, weekend, month, or even the years that have passed, then be hopeful that tomorrow inshaAllah you will have a balance of 24 hours. A new slate of opportunity. How will you make use of it?
Let’s take a case study of how an average professional spends his time through a weekday.
Ahmed is in his mid-20s and works as an engineer. He wakes up for Fajr at 6am, and then gets ready for work to leave home at 8am. The 45 minutes he takes to commute to and from work each day is his favorite time to scroll through his social media and stay up-to-date with the latest news. He spends 8 hours at work. He arrives home in the evening at 6pm, and then eats dinner with his family. He dabbles in and out of conversations with his parents or siblings, and at 7pm he begins watching his favorite show on Netflix -and that’s an hour or two depending on the persuasion of the “Next Episode” button. His social media presence is most alive at 9pm, during the minutes after his show and before his bedtime. He looks at the clock on his wall and thinks about getting to bed soon. At 10pm he takes a dive into YouTube, and sometimes reads an article or two. Ahmed loses his sense of time between shows, likes, and endless scrolls. By the time he regains his consciousness of time, everyone else has fallen asleep.
What Ahmed is unaware of, is that millions of dollars are spent on algorithms for social media and entertainment platforms to keep people engaged. They are all competing for our time, and in exchange, provide us with only instant gratification. Finally, Ahmed falls asleep at 11pm to wake up early again for Fajr the next day.
Shall we do the count? Before we do, let us take no interest in how Ahmed spends his 8 hours at work, including his lunch hour. But the rest are for us to dissect.
Ahmed arrives home at 6pm and goes to bed at 11 pm; 5 hours each day that passes by untamed. In order to bring about any change to his day, Ahmed must then assume that there is another day that starts at 6pm. A day within a day. He says he comes home tired, but we are only urging him to make use of 90 minutes out of the 5 hours. As for the rest, he can do with them as he pleases. Ahmed agrees, but asks what to do about the temptation to be on social media. Here are some tips:
- Create friction between your finger and the undesired applications on your phone. Don’t place social media applications on your home page; this will give your brain the chance to think twice before utilizing them.
- Most smart phones allow you to set screen time for each application. Set a daily time limit of one hour for all them.
- Fast from social media for a duration of 24 hours once a week, and utilize that time to appreciate the small things. Make a conscious effort to spend quality time with family or call an old friend.
Now shall we talk about the 90 minutes?
Now that Ahmed has generously vowed to account for 90 minutes of his day, I want to give back to him the days of his weekend.
هَلْ جَزَاءُ الْإِحْسَانِ إِلَّا الْإِحْسَانُ
“Is there any reward for good other than good?” [Surah Ar-Rahman; 60]
Therefore, let us deal with the daily 90 minutes between Monday and Friday. 90 minutes a day over 5 days gives you nearly 8 hours. Those 8 hours are your self-realization hours. They are your bread and butter. They are yours. Do with them what your natural inclination calls for; go to the gym, write poetry, write stories, get a start at memorizing the Quran, read, attempt a new language, start a business , volunteer at your local masjid or nonprofit, help organize fundraisers for humanitarian causes, or even start a conviction circle. Let these hours be sacred for you to protect with sword and shield.
I speak humbly from experience. For me, these 8 hours are my reading time. For example, in the past I used 2 months of 90 minutes a day reading on Islamic history, therefore, I read Lost Islamic History, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Islam Between East and West. I hadn’t planned on reading those particular books, but one led to the other. I could have also finished Lost Islamic History and chosen a few of the sources from its bibliography. My next topic was Art, and currently it’s Seerah; I started with Yasir Qadhi’s – Seerah series, then I plan to read Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings (for this subject such order is important). I have also used the 90 minutes attending reading groups, organizing weekly halaqas, and strategizing with my local masjid board on how to increase voter turnout during elections.
You’re probably assuming that I have figured out the formula of time management. I must tell you I don’t. It’s all a matter of process, and I took am still working on it.
So, whenever it is that you decide to start productively using time that can be spared, my personal experience has shown that it’s best not to ask questions or plan a year ahead. Just start as if you’re jumping inside a pool, and as the days pass, you will develop the appreciation of time passing by. You will acquire the muscle to make use of it. Also, start slow. Don’t listen to your blind motivation in the beginning; do little, but be consistent, for Allah loves this too. As The Prophet Muhammad said:
“The most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little.”
Eventually, making better use of those 90 minutes will become a habit, but when it does, don’t worship it. If you are sick or have a family obligation, take it as a reminder of your humanity. We are wingless creatures that strive for the stars, and some days we must fall on our faces. Brush off the dust and aim to do it again the next day.
One last note: be humble. Don’t be self-righteous, and begin to talk about how many books you’re reading or reps you’re reaching.
وَلَا تَمْشِ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَرَحًا ۖ إِنَّكَ لَن تَخْرِقَ الْأَرْضَ وَلَن تَبْلُغَ الْجِبَالَ طُولًا
“Walk not on the earth with arrogance. Verily, you can neither penetrate the earth, nor can you attain a stature like the mountains in height.” [Surah Al-Isra; 37]
It helps me breathe and reorient my priorities. Be still, keep your feet on the ground and vision aimed at the skies.
Ahmed, my old friend, now is your turn to begin to feel time— pass by.
 Bennett, Arnold. How to live on 24 Hours a day, George H. Doran Company 1910.