Productivity is a sought-after skill in any setting, be it personal, academic, or professional. The topic is so popular that countless self-help books about productivity are published every year. According to Goodreads, touted as “the world's largest site for readers and book recommendations,” there are over ten thousand titles on productivity alone in the online literary catalog. The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines being productive as having the quality or power of producing, especially in abundance; being effective in bringing things about; and yielding results, benefits, or profits. There are numerous self-proclaimed productivity gurus and influencers with social media followers in the millions. However, the king of productivity and the most influential man in history was and remains Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah, peace and blessings be upon him. And parents can learn alot about work-life balance from his example and teachings.
Some of these lessons have been repackaged in the self-help literature in print today. In his book, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, author, renowned scholar, and astrophysicist Michael H. Hart rated Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, as number one. Hart, who is not Muslim, based these rankings on certain categories and the lasting impression that historical figures leave behind. He defended his research from critics, stating: “My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world's most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level.”
Hart asserted that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, held roles outside of just spiritual leadership. Among his many responsibilities, he was a statesman, a businessman, a teacher, a husband, and a father, and he was productive in all aspects of his life. His enduring legacy came from his productivity and his efficiency in leading his family and his followers. Allah also reminds us in the Quran:
“Indeed, in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example for whoever has hope in Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah often.”
(Surah Al-Azhab, 33:21)
As Muslims, we strive to emulate the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, who embodied good character and productivity. Let us use his example to identify some skills that are necessary for a person to be productive.
1. Be focused and live with purpose.
To be productive, a person must live with purpose. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, had a mission to which he was fully committed. Allah says in the Quran,
“…We have sent you a messenger from among yourselves—reciting to you Our revelations, purifying you, teaching you the Book and wisdom, and teaching you what you never knew.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:151)
From this verse, we gather that the job of the Prophet and Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, was to convey the words of Allah to his followers, set an example for them to follow to put those revelations into practice, and to be a teacher and guide.
Julie Morgenstern, organizing consultant and author of Time to Parent, said in an interview for Oprah Daily, that one simple way of staying productive is to set an intention before each activity. Even when you are moving from one activity to another, it is crucial to refocus and think about your intention first. This is also a Prophetic practice. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said that:
“Actions are according to their intentions and a person will be rewarded according to what he or she intends.”
Likewise, as Muslims, we are taught to begin our deeds with Bismillah, in the name of Allah, a reminder that our aim is to please our Creator in every lawful action. If we keep this in mind, we will strive for excellence in everything we do.
2. Manage time wisely.
Time management is so important that Allah swears by the time in the Quran. Allah offers a stern warning to mankind when He says,
“By the Time. The human being is in loss, except those who believe, and do good works, and encourage truth, and recommend patience.”
(Surah Al-Asr, 103:1-3)
Ibn Kathir reported that Al-Shafi’i, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
“If the people were to reflect upon Surat Al-Asr, it would be enough for them.”
(Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 103:1)
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, taught his followers to use their time wisely. He advised:
“Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death.”
All five of the blessings mentioned in this hadith have to do with time. We only have a limited amount of time on this Earth and a quarter to a fourth of our day is spent in sleep. Therefore, we must learn to manage every minute we spend on any task to ensure that we are productive each day.
3. Be consistent.
Being productive does not necessarily equate to completing a million projects in one day. Consistency fuels productivity. If a person can accomplish one task regularly and efficiently, it speaks volumes. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.”
(Sunan Ibn Majah)
Productivity consultant, speaker, and author Laura Stack, known as “The Productivity Pro,” is an advocate for mindful consistency or “productivity using repetition and consistent processes overseen by thoughtful consideration.” According to Stack, there are four ways that mindful consistency ensures and boosts productivity:
- It makes your goals achievable.
- It creates momentum by establishing the power of routine.
- It engrains your habits into your personality.
- It amplifies skills through practice.
Of course, we already know this because Islam is about consistency. The five pillars of Islam embody consistency in its purest form. In our worship, we pray five times daily and fast one month out of the year as the minimum obligation. We repeat the shahada regularly, the first pillar of Islam, as part of these prayers. We also give part of our savings in charity at least once a year. And, once in a lifetime, we perform a pilgrimage to Makkah (if we are able). Thus, we establish goals, a healthy routine, and practice our faith daily and consistently in every aspect of our lives.
If a Muslim were to only perform the minimum, he would be a productive worshipper. A Bedouin once came to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, to ask about the compulsory acts of worship. When the Prophet informed him of those, he said he would only practice the mandatory requirements, without adding anything voluntary. The Prophet said:
"If he is saying the truth, he will succeed (or he will be granted Paradise).”
4. Establish a plan.
As the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Planning is an essential part of productivity. And this is especially true for parents. It is setting goals, even if they are small as discussed previously. It also entails identifying and prioritizing tasks, staying organized, and being flexible. There were many instances during the lifetime of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, where perfect planning was crucial to the success of his prophetic mission.
One famous example was when the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, meticulously planned his escape from Makkah. He first made sure that most Muslim families were able to leave the city unharmed. Once everyone made it safely to Madinah, he focused on his own journey. Prophet Muhammad approached his friend and companion, Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, to let him know that he would be his travel partner. He took further steps to ensure that he and Abu Bakr would have sustenance, a safe route, a guide, and other necessities. Despite the Quraish enemies pursuing them, they stuck to their plan and put their trust in Allah. Abu Bakr reported:
“While we were in the cave fleeing to Medina, I said to the Prophet, ‘If one of them were to look down, they would see us under their feet!’ The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘O Abu Bakr, what do you think of two with whom Allah is the third?’”
Eventually both arrived in Madinah without harm thanks to Allah’s aid and the careful planning of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. This migration would change the course of history forever.
5. Use the proper tools.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, knew how to get the most out of his time and worship using the right formulas. He said to his companions:
“Is one of you unable to earn one thousand good deeds each day? Let him glorify Allah one hundred times. Thus, it will be recorded for him as one thousand good deeds, or one thousand bad deeds will be erased.”
He, peace and blessings be upon him, knew this to be the case because according to another hadith:
“Every deed of the son of Adam is multiplied from ten to seven hundred times. Allah the Exalted says: Except for fasting, for it is done for my sake and I will reward it.”
Not only did he advise his companions, but he also implemented this advice and encouraged his family to do the same. In one instance, he found his wife Juwairiyah bint Al-Harith, may Allah be pleased with her, busy in prayer one morning. He left their dwelling for some time, and she reported:
“He came back in the forenoon and found me sitting there. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘Are you still in the same position as I left you?’ I replied in the affirmative. Thereupon the Prophet said, ‘I recited four words three times after I had left you. If these are to be weighed against all you have recited since morning, these will be heavier. These are: Subhan-Allahi wa bihamdihi, `adada khalqihi, wa rida nafsihi, wa zinatah arshihi, wa midada kalimatihi [Allah is free from imperfection and I begin with His praise, as many times as the number of His creatures, in accordance with His Good Pleasure, equal to the weight of His Throne and equal to the ink that may be used in recording the words (for His Praise)].’"
Juwairiyah spent her whole morning in reflection and supplication, nevertheless the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, told her to work smarter, not harder. He explained how she could get the most rewards using minimal effort, by repeating a superior supplication three times.
6. Create a strong network and be accountable.
A productive person also knows how to maximize relationships. When it comes to productivity, it is helpful to have someone who holds you accountable and to develop a support network. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was able to achieve so much because he had the best support network – his companions. He assigned special tasks for them like calling people to Islam, leading expeditions, delivering messages to leaders, teaching new believers, acting as governors, and more.
Accountability is essential for job performance. For employees, the person who holds them accountable may be a manager or supervisor. For teachers, it is the principal. But there is a higher level of accountability for us as humans. That is we are held accountable for our actions by Allah. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was no exception. After delivering his farewell sermon, he asked the people who were gathered, “Have I not delivered the message?” When they replied in the affirmative, he said:
“Be my witness, O Allah, that I have conveyed Your message to your people.”
When people know they have a responsibility to fulfill and they will be answering for this in front of an authority figure, they will strive to be productive in achieving their goals.
Every human being has the ability of being productive members of society. It is not necessary to overburden yourself with task after task. Instead, simply plan ahead, identify goals, and take steps to achieve them. Just as the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, demonstrated, use the right tools, establish a support network, and hold yourself accountable. Seek guidance from Allah and from the most productive man who existed, about whom Allah said:
“And you are truly ˹a man˺ of outstanding character.”
(Surah Al-Qalam, 68:4)
Read more about the productivity of the Prophet in his Seerah and books of ahadith. Another great resource can be found at productivemuslim.com.
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.