IF YOU EVER left a project to the last second or begun studying only the night before a big exam in school, then you know the desperate feelings that can accompany procrastination. Even those who claim to work well under pressure usually realize that they could have done a much better job by pacing themselves and taking more time to complete their studies or project. But when it’s already 3 a.m., and your term paper is due in another five hours, there is little time to think about what you should have done —it is already too late.
From day to day, the pressure of deadlines, and the consequences of missing them, force us to perform. For example, if we don’t pay our bills, we know that we will be without water and electricity the next month. Failing to maintain the car properly can have disastrous results on the road. And showing up late for an interview almost guarantees that we won’t get the job.
By making it a habit to delay important tasks, we often just scrape by and never give our best. In school, it’s often all about the marks we get. But can we feel satisfied with a passing grade knowing that we haven’t put forth much effort?
The way we deal with life’s deadlines is closely related to our treatment of the bigger one we all have in common: the moment of one’s death, the time known only to Allah. Since the time we are in the womb, Allah sets this deadline for us; and our greatest test in life revolve around how we decide to use the time we’ve been allotted.
Avoid the Soldiers of Satan
Ibn Al-Jawzi, one of the early scholars said,
Beware of procrastinating. It is the greatest of the soldiers of Satan.
Indeed, procrastination eats away our time, making us neglect our duties and postpone good deeds. It can damage relationships and lead to laziness in all aspects of life. It is no surprise, then, that many procrastinators have difficulty establishing regular acts of worship, such as salah, either delaying prayers until their time has almost expired, or failing to pray altogether.
Viewed as the enemy it is, it is easy to see why we have to fight procrastination with everything we have, learning to use our time wisely and to engage in the activities that will benefit the Ummah and strengthen our ties with Allah.
Taking lessons from experts in project management, we can learn to manage our time effectively by setting goals and breaking large jobs into smaller phases. This way, we avoid vague statements such as “Someday, I will start reading Qur’an.” Instead, we can commit to reading at least one page per day at a specified time, thereby establishing a good habit that is easy to keep up with and which enriches our lives.
Handled in the same manner, writing a twenty-page term paper is no longer a daunting task and can be completed in twenty days or even less. You see, once we get started with something, it often becomes impossible to put it down or stop working on it. Procrastination affects us by making the start of a project seem unbearable, but this unpleasant sensation is often just an illusion.
We can see this clearly when it is time to wake up for fajr prayer. Without faith, determination and a clear presence of mind, it can be a terrible struggle to abandon a warm cozy bed for ablution and Prayer. But once we actually do it, everything changes, and we feel relief at having begun our day under Allah’s protection.
Writing down the things we need to accomplish every day can help us respect time and use it appropriately, whether it is for household work and chores, acts of worship or anything else. Regarding salah, one girl striving to manage her time better describes the daily Prayers as “appointments” with Allah that cannot be missed. Taking one appointment at a time has helped her in conquering her desire to sleep through fajr and to make it on time for the rest of her prayers as well.
It is an interesting fact of life that busy people tend to get more things done than do people who have fewer responsibilities. Busy people know that their time is limited; therefore they do not feel at liberty to waste it.
According to the nature of Islam, Muslims are by definition busy people. So long as there are problems such as hunger, ignorance, poverty, oppression and war, the Muslim cannot and should not relax. So long as there are children to be raised, friends to be comforted, relationships to be nurtured and communities to be built, Muslims have to stay active. Our lives can be used in a number of useful and important ways, but we have to be willing to take the first steps and make some sacrifices for our cause.
Allah tells us:
And whoever desires the Hereafter and exerts the effort due to it while being a believer – those are the ones whose effort is appreciated [by Allah]. [Surat Al-Isra’, 17:19]
In this verse, we see that it requires both faith and hard work to earn Allah’s pleasure. As we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, we have to take advantage of our youth, good health and freedom to do as much as we can in the time we have available. What’s more, our good deeds are magnified during these periods of relative ease, when it is more difficult to give up the pleasures of this life.
Allah says in the Quran:
Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord… [Surah Al-Imran, 3:133]
He also says:
So strive as in a race in all virtues… [Surat Al-Nisa’, 5:48]
And He describes the believers as those “who hasten in every good work.” [Surat Al-Mu’minun, 23:61]
All of this reminds us that procrastination prevents us from living up to our potential and is not a characteristic of the believing Muslim, who aspires to make use of his or her time in the best possible manner.