Life lessons (Part 2): Things to do

Continuing the “Life lessons” series (see previous entry in this series for details) one of the lessons from Richard Carlson’s book is:

“Remind yourself that when you die, your ‘In basket’ won’t be empty”

In short, the lesson is about how your “to do” list fits into your life. The author brings up the perception that many of us have: that our ‘to-do’ list is only temporary; and once we get through the list, we’ll be calm, relaxed, and happy – and can spend time with our loved ones, and do the things we love to do.

But the reality, as you’ve probably realised, is that this simply is not true. There’s always something else on the list. There’s always more stuff you need to “do”; more stuff to “take care of”, “handle”, “get out of the way.”

The author makes the point that the very nature of this ‘to-do list’ is that it’s meant to have uncompleted tasks on it…it’s NOT meant to be empty. A full ‘to-do list’ means your time is in demand – which is probably a good sign (unless, of course, most of the items on that list are non-beneficial things).

I’m very guilty of letting my ‘to do list’ stress me out, making me feel so constricted that I sometimes end up mistreating others because I can’t manage my frustration (which, by the way, is part of another post I hope to do – on Emotional Intelligence).

So anyway, the author’s solution to this endless ‘to-do list’ problem is that we need to realise that we should not let ourselves be consumed by the responsibilities / tasks we face. Our first priority should be our own inner calmness and happiness. If we obsess about ‘getting things done’ all the time, we’re always on the go, and we’ll never be calm, and we’ll never have a healthy balance or a good sense of well-being.

So, prioritise what’s really important, and for the things that are not so urgent or significant, don’t obsess about getting it done.

The extreme implementation of this advice is procrastination – which, of course, I’m not advocating.

What I’m saying is, we need to approach this ‘to-do list’ with the right perception: a balanced perspective that lets us see things for what they really are; rather than the obsessive “must get it all done” mode – or the lazy “I’ll do everything later” attitude.

The author closes with the advice that life isn’t about getting everything done. We should try to enjoy each step of the way. And at the end of your life, there will still be things on your ‘to-do list’ – but you won’t be worrying about them at that point.

To add an Islamic perspective: prioritise your tasks with consciousness of your Creator in mind. The most important things are those that are loved by Allah: the duties made obligatory on you (duties towards Allah, such as salaah; as well as duties towards your family and creation), and then everything else extra / non-obligatory which will earn His pleasure (e.g. doing your work with excellence, showing patience in the face of hardship, etc).

Those two categories pretty much cover everything in life – because Islam is a complete way of life which should permeate through everything we do.

So, in essence, my addition to the author’s lesson is to manage our to-do lists with taqwa. And, insha-Allah, it’ll make a world of difference in not only the way we manage those lists, but in the way we live our lives.

(Source: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” by Richard Carlson; and Personal reflection)

Life Lessons (Introduction and Part 1)

A few years ago, when I became an ‘adult’, I found that life as a grown up can be rather overwhelming. This realisation didn’t come about because I suddenly turned 18, or 21, or whatever age you think adulthood officially begins. Those milestones were already a few years behind me already.

I define adulthood as finally growing up and accepting the responsibilities an adult must face – stuff that’s beyond the realm of a child or adolescent (who, in many cases, is just wrapped up in their own concerns). For some, this stage of adulthood begins when they finish high school. For others, it happens some time during their tertiary education, or in the early years of their careers. For me, I didn’t have to face it in any of those stages, because life was made easy for me by my parents – who sheltered me and enabled me to live without much worry about most of those nasty stresses of ‘grownup life’.

So, what brought me into adulthood – in my mid-20s – was when I lived alone for the first time. The responsibilities of work had already been there, but now, there were other things to deal with all by myself – primarily, the running of a household.

Before then, I considered myself pretty laid back – not having many stresses in life. But when I moved into this stage, stress quickly set in, and I found myself being overwhelmed by all this stuff I had to do: things which I didn’t really want to do – but had to, otherwise I’d be living in utter chaos (which, to some degree, is what happened anyway).

At one point during this adventure in adulthood, I found a book which really spoke to me: the famous “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” by Richard Carlson. The book is comprised of short chapters – each being a tip on how to live a less stressful life.

And while some cynics may question the validity of taking guidance of some psychotherapist / motivational speaker – to me, we can learn something from everyone, because, as the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) reportedly said: “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Take it wherever you happen to find it.”

You can get advice from anyone. Some of it will be true or good advice, and some may be false or bad advice. The key is for you to filter what you take in – so that you take only the good, and discard that which is harmful or of no benefit.

In this category of posts – titled “Life Lessons” – I hope to share with you some of the things I’ve learnt from this book as well as other sources, including personal experience. With these posts, I hope to communicate advice that will help me, firstly, and you, the reader, to live a life of greater quality and less stress.

Whatever goodness comes from this, the credit goes to the Creator, Almighty Allah.

I invite you to take in the advice of this series in the spirit of progress and self-improvement, and if something works for you, please do share it with others.

Lesson 1: Pause to appreciate, before you begin your day
Before you leave home in the morning (preferably when you’re outside the house already), pause for a few moments, take a deep breath, and appreciate a few things. Some of these things could be the fact that you’ve lived to see another day; your surroundings; your home; your family; and everything you have – which so many others do not have. Most importantly, appreciate that Allah has given you another chance to do that which pleases Him – which will benefit you in this life and Eternity.

(Source: Personal reflection)