بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
By Unaiza Ahsan
Fatima was trying to get her homework assignment finished. She had multiple tabs open on her browser. She would occasionally write a few words in her assignment document, and then switch over to check her Facebook and Twitter. Then she would resume her work. She was also in the process of crafting a witty reply to that one comment online which had to be replied to within minutes because it had already received 35 ‘likes’.
The fact is that if Fatima switched off everything else, and worked on the assignment alone, she would be able to complete it in 40 % less time  than when attempting to complete it with distractions. This means that if she could complete the assignment in 2 hours by working on it alone, it will now take her an additional 48 minutes (~ 3 hours) to complete it.
This is a huge loss in productivity. In today’s world of instant internet access, real-time updates from social media websites, hand-held devices, and the like, it has become too easy to believe that multi-tasking is the golden ticket to increased productivity.
If we examine the Seerah of the Messenger of Allah (sa), we find no instances of multi-tasking. He used to focus intently on the task at hand, be it Salah, spending time with family, devising military strategies or teaching his Companions about Islam. He recognized that believers must sincerely fulfil their responsibility in the best manner possible, and this can only be done if a task is performed with full focus and the right intention.
Here are several ways in which Muslims can begin to develop focus in their actions and achieve increased productivity:
- Make the right intention before starting any task. It is important to do so because our ultimate goal is gaining the pleasure of Allah (st) through whatever we are trying to achieve. Even homework and exam prep can be done with the intention of pleasing Allah by working hard and excelling in our field.
- Start small. You cannot swallow a ‘shawarma’ (a sandwich or wrap) all at once. You have to take small bites. Similarly, it is helpful to break down a task into smaller sub-tasks and concentrate on, at the most, two sub-tasks at a time.
- Improve your Salah. One of the best ways to develop focus is through concentration in Salah. Allah (st) reminds us in the Qur’an:
- Be firm. If you have to check your email, do not open any other tab on your laptop or hand-held device. If your goal is to get your homework finished, surround yourself with homework-related items (books, etc.) and if you find yourself getting impatient for social media updates, see the next point.
- Take a break. It is highly effective to work for 50 minute-blocks and then take a 10 minute break. So your next social media consumption is only (at the most) 50 minutes away. The work you will get done in these 50 minutes without distractions will go a long way in increasing your productivity and getting things done on time.
- Put the phone in another room while you work. It is an effective technique to curtail those urges to pick up the phone and scroll through unending news feeds. (You can put it on emergency mode to ensure you don’t miss urgent calls.)
- Disconnect from the internet while doing work that does not require an internet connection. There are some tasks (such as writing articles) where one can easily do without the internet. If the article requires research, you can easily open related content in multiple tabs and then switch it off.
“Successful indeed are the believers. Those who offer their Salah (prayers) with all solemnity and full submissiveness.” (Qur’an: 23:1-2)
Ibn Abbas (ra) said: ‘You will gain nothing from your prayer except what you focus on.’ [Taken from Madaarij As-Salikeen]
The above are a few guidelines to help you overcome the menace of multi-tasking and steer you towards uni-tasking. Insha’Allah if you persevere and fix your Salah, many distractions will automatically seem trivial and working with deep focus will become second nature to you.
Unaiza Ahsan is a graduate student at Georgia Tech
 A recent Harvard Business Review post said multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10% drop in IQ (Bergman, 2010).
© IIPH 2015