They say that failing to plan is ultimately planning to fail. Often, we find ourselves in a rut because we’re so busy planning things out and thinking about things, that we end up procrastinating and fall behind. We think we’re being productive, but in fact, we’re just avoiding starting our tasks because we don’t know where to start, or because we’re too afraid or lazy to accept that we have hard work ahead of us.

I always recommend to those I mentor/counsel that they set up a plan towards reaching their goals, and work towards it, recognizing that the plan isn’t written in stone but should be followed with as much precision as possible. That’s all good and well, but what happens when a person finds themselves stranded, going in circles with their planning because they’re completely uncertain as to what steps are needed to reach their goals?

I’ve been in that place before, and trust me, I know it’s as frustrating as frustration can be. There have been times when I would spend hours, days, and sometimes weeks, “planning” out and revising a schedule, and trying to stick to it. The most saddening part about that is that by the time I would have “completed” mapping out my schedule, priorities and responsibilities would have changed, and I would’ve fallen behind with every other aspect of my life. It was INCREDIBLY draining!

Now, to each their own, but my personal foolproof way to stopping that ridiculous cycle is to, as is with every other struggle I face, break it down to the basic core aspects of the matter. I slot things into my schedule step-by-step, following this process:

  1. What are the necessary things in my schedule that aren’t flexible? This could include prayer times, sleep time (the more I research the importance of getting 8 hours of sleep per night, the more I freak out – so sleep is a priority!), class times, work hours, running errands (like having to pick up/drop off someone somewhere at a certain time), meal times, and things like that. I include my workouts in this category, to ensure that I stick to them and take them as seriously as I do my meetings.
  2. What are some things I’d really like to include in my schedule? For me, this includes things like reading a certain amount of Quran every day, doing extra Nawafil or Sunnah (i.e. Salah Ad-Duha, Tahajjud, etc.) prayers, family time, meditating, doing a quick sweep of my bedroom and bathroom to ensure they’re clean, personal studying, learning a new language (I’m slowly working on Arabic right now :D), etc.
  3. Slot in meetings and other appointments weekly, but leave the rest of your schedule open and flexible, as much as possible. I like to leave things really flexible, so that I can concentrate on tasks instead of scheduled periods. I know this isn’t as easy for some because of the restraints of work hours and such, but it’s important to not let yourself get stressed out over deadlines, but rather, to look at them as challenges to overcome. Personally, I don’t look at whether or not I can get something done by a certain time or date, but instead, challenge myself in completing the tasks. For example, I wouldn’t tell myself that I have to complete 20 pages of editing in an hour. Rather, I would challenge myself to see how long it takes me to complete 20 pages of editing, and then would try to beat that the next time I edit, while still ensuring that I maintain the quality of my work. Does that make sense?

One of the greatest challenges I’ve personally faced has been working up the motivation to work on my tasks. This has been a MAJOR struggle for me because everything I do requires that I be disciplined in order for those tasks to be completed: studying online and through personal research, running my own businesses, taking care of my health, running on a disciplined schedule, etc.

During this process of figuring out my ideal way of accomplishing my goals, I found myself a new best friend: To-Do Lists. These things are life savers, and really motivating! The feeling of looking at a list, busting by butt on a particular task, and then crossing out on the list, may seem like a small and measly thing, but I assure you, the feeling is uplifting! Try it out. What’s there to lose? Some say working on the harder tasks first works best. Some say working on the easier tasks first works best. Personally, I just work on the things I feel like working on (on the condition there isn’t something that has a pre-set deadline from someone else, like a client). Find your own ideal.

Next, looking at everything on your list, you may feel overwhelmed. If that’s the case, take this piece of advice that I’ll pass on to you from an old Archie comic I read YEARS ago and have held onto since: “The best way to study is to JUST STUDY.” Take this advice and apply it to everything you do. Sometimes, it’s about just taking that leap, and learning along the way. Actually, most things in life are like that. Going to college/university, a lot of people walk in with a certain mindset and goal, and walk out completely changed with a completely new outlook on life, and on their academic and career goals. Getting in shape, you start by following a basic laid out plan, and then listen to your body and learn from trial and error to see what works best for you. Getting married, you go in trusting in God to guide you because you’ve tried to understand the other person as best you could, prayed and sought Guidance, felt the person had most of what you were looking for in a spouse (because, well, nobody’s perfect, but we can find perfection in imperfections :D), and then grew towards the path that was written for you and your significant other.

The examples go on, but the bottom line is, you have to JUST START. Life is too short to play it safe all the time, and to constantly question every single thought and thing that happens. I know, that’s easier said than done, because I’ve seen all the quotes, Facebook statuses, and tweets about how over-thinking ruins things and makes things more difficult than they are. So, it’s obvious that it’s common to start over-thinking. Shoot! I’m telling you this now, but I sometimes over-think as well! It’s natural. But, who says we have to succumb to it? Overcome your over-thinking! Take leaps of faith! Build up the courage and face your fears! What’s the worst that’ll happen? You’ll get knocked into a different direction with what you sought? Isn’t that great, considering Allah has a plan for you, and wants what’s best for you? Don’t be afraid of failure, my friends. Failure is the fuel of ambition, and ambition is the enemy of fear.