So you have a bright and wonderful idea; you’re going to change the world, or perhaps start a bit smaller. But how do you see your idea through to success, as opposed to letting it dwindle away as an ephemeral vision in your mind, or giving up altogether half way through?
We have all been there. We have been inspired to, say, learn the Arabic language, start a fundraiser, write a book, start a business, complete a dissertation or even plan and execute a huge family dinner! And we’re all looking for the best way to go about it.
So if you’ve been meaning to get started on a new project, below are 10 fundamental elements that you can implement to see any of your projects through to positive results and success, In sha Allah:
1. Trust in Allah
Our Creator always takes the top spot. Once you have chosen to embark on a certain path, place your trust in Allah that he will see you through. Believe in yourself firmly with this principle of tawakkul (total reliance on God while doing your part, of course).
Allah says in the holy Qur’an:
“If Allah should aid you, no one can overcome you; but if He should forsake you, who is there that can aid you after Him? And upon Allah let the believers rely.” [Qu'ran: Chapter 3, Verse 160].
“And you do not will except that Allah Wills. Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.” [Qu'ran: Chapter 76, Verse 30].
2. Purify Your Intentions
Guard your motivations behind an act. Remember that there is no harm or benefit except with Allah’s permission, so prevent yourself from falling into vain pursuits and ostentation.
Stop and really ponder over your intentions behind taking on a project, particularly a devotional act such as memorising Qur’an, seeking Islamic knowledge or raising funds for charity. Are you sure you are not doing it for praise from others, or for any other worldly gain?
If your intentions are pure, your reward is certainly with Allah . If you seek reward from others, that is the only reward you will get. Unfortunately, seeking reward from others leads to disappointment and low self-esteem. Furthermore, if you do not reach your goals, you will not fear the criticism of others if your pursuit was purely for the sake of Allah to begin with.
What may be considered a non-devotional pursuit, such as starting a business or hosting an event, may also earn you rewards just by having the right intentions. Perhaps you intend to seek Allah’s pleasure by benefiting the community, or earning to spend on your family and give in charity.
A hadith narrated by ‘Umar bin al Khattab attests to that fact. He narrates that the Messenger of Allah said:
“The deeds are considered by the intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intention. So whoever emigrated for Allah and His Messenger, his emigration will be for Allah and His Messenger; and whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration would be for what he emigrated for” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Real life application: When founding Sweet Apple Publishers, I had a very strong and clear vision of representing Muslim children and families in a positive light in children’s books. My primary intention was to teach good values to children of all backgrounds and to provide insight into Muslim families to the wider world in a very warm and fun way.
My other intention was related to my earnings. At the time, I was doing sufficiently well working as a secondary school science teacher and was not in need of money but rather wished to give a lot in charity, intending to do work for the community. I also loved the idea of doing this in secret.
However, I continue to struggle in terms of intentions, especially the charity aspect! I often come across causes that I feel very passionate about and wish to raise funds for. I also happen to have many great ideas on how to raise money for that cause, linked to my business. But any situation where I am donating part or all of the profits to a charity and announcing it publicly forces me to stop and check my intentions. On the one hand, I would be able to raise much more if I announced it and got public involvement, but on the other hand I would be gaining publicity doing so, which may blur my intentions. I never want to be in a position where I am questioning whether I am marketing the business or simply increasing the amount I can possibly donate? I really battle with this, and more often than not prefer to do as much as I can in secret with a clear conscience.
3. Do Your Research
Delving into something blindly is never a good idea. Know what you’re getting yourself into. So, research is pivotal to managing any project successfully.
This applies to projects large and small; such as market research for a business idea or researching pathways or institutes in terms of course structure, timing, fees, location etc., when aiming to gain knowledge in an area of interest.
With sufficient research you will save yourself valuable time and money; and you will gain a wealth of information, ideas and a realistic framework for your project, In sha Allah.
Real life application: Speaking from experience, I myself did not spend enough time in the research phase when I published my first book. My time was devoted to my family as a single mother and to my job as a teacher. Furthermore, I was so excited about getting my story into the hands of those little people, that I rushed it.
For the last year or so, I have stopped teaching and focused more on publishing. I have learnt so much and have had the opportunity to research exhaustively. I love the fact that I learn new things every day through what I do, and now am in a position to look back and recognise that I did not research enough at first.
4. Embark on Passionate Pursuits
Completing your project successfully will require dedication, commitment and drive, especially when things seem hopeless. Your chances of success are greatly enhanced if you are pursuing an authentic passion. Often the rigour with which we begin a project diminishes until we lose interest, but only if we were not passionate enough about that particular endeavour to begin with.
Moreover, the likelihood of doing something with ihsan (excellence) increases if we are passionate about it.
There is a hadith on the authority of Abu Ya’laa Shaddad bin Aws . He narrates that the Messenger of Allah said:
“Verily Allah has prescribed ihsan in all things…” [Sahih Muslim].
Often, a combination of passions brings about great results. You might combine your passion for IT and teaching Qur’an to create apps to benefit Muslim children, for instance. Or perhaps combine your passion for baking with that of charity work to offer to bake cakes to sell at fundraisers.
Real life application: Personally, I combined my passion for writing and children to do what I do today. As a little girl, I wrote all the time and was praised for my poetry, which I have kept to this day. The entrepreneurial journey is not an easy one, though it may seem very cool and romantic from the outside. There are extremely tough times, decisions and obstacles. If I did not feel so very passionately about the dearth of the types of books Sweet Apple published, I may have packed up shop already!
5. Set Achievable Goals
You may have heard this one before! Goal-setting is used widely: in schools and businesses, by top athletes and weight-loss programmes.
Goals are important because they keep you focused on your specific objectives. Goals can motivate you to achieve as you track your progress. They help you push yourself harder if need be or help you feel confident that you are progressing well.
So what is an achievable goal? For instance, do not be determined to climb Mount Snowdon to the summit for charity next week if you get puffed out just walking down the road. Instead, you could set yourself an achievable goal of, say, walking for 30 minutes every day for three weeks.
Alongside this goal, which you have a great chance of achieving, set a more aggressive goal: for example, climbing the mountain to the summit. You may have a lesser chance of completing it but it will increase your performance.
Goals can be set for any task you undertake.
Real life application: I now use goal-setting in all aspects of my life. From my Arabic studies and memorisation of Qur’an, to business-related issues. I have learnt how important this is and how it gears me towards my objectives.
In contrast, back when I published the first book, I did not use the above guidelines to set goals. Instead, I had a very ambitious and at-the-time unattainable notion of going mainstream and international straight away. Both, Alhamdulillah, have now been achieved.
6. Be Different and Stick to it
There is never only one way to do something. Give yourself a positive edge by taking on your task differently to the norm. Think outside the box!
Don’t shy away from personalising your project to suit your personality, your ambitions, goals or learning style. You don’t have to work with existing ideas or formats for doing things. Invent your own! It’s more fun, trust me.
Real life application: This is the way I like to do things. Alhamdulillah, I think it shows in the books we publish, which have been called ‘revolutionary’ by reviewers. This also applies to the way I think about everything related to publishing and marketing, including the way we sell our books. Even as a teacher, I tried different ways to communicate information, and it worked!
7. Constantly Seek Assistance from Allah
You might get to the point where you are ready to give up, thinking that it is too hard. Maybe somebody made a punitive remark or perhaps something didn’t turn out the way you had hoped. Stop and seek assistance from Allah .
The following hadith is so empowering it will lift any heart and put you back on track:
Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet said:
“Allah the Almighty said: I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assemble better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed”[Al Buhkari, Muslim, at-Tirmidhi and Ibn-Majah].
A great dua to make during tough times is: “O Allah! There is nothing easy except what You make easy, and You make the difficult easy if it be Your Will.”
I shared the above because I make this dua frequently throughout the day, and it brings me peace and reassurance. It reminds me that nothing I do, none of my efforts, are of any good if Allah does not will for what I am trying to achieve to translate into reality.
8. Build Personal Relationships
Most projects will depend on or be influenced by the people involved, other than yourself. It is essential to build good relationships with these people, to benefit from each others’ expertise and experiences. Good personal relationships can make or break your project. You will find that if you are sincere, people will go to great lengths to help you achieve your goals.
In an era of ever increasing digitisation of culture and communication, a personal touch can go a long way. Take time out to network with people, and communicate with people face-to-face, or at least by picking up the phone and starting conversations, then just listen and learn…
Real life application: A year ago, I set out on an Arabic journey, and Ma sha Allah, I made strong bonds with people at the institute I studied at. These relationships not only helped me achieve and surpass my goals, but frequently enrich me in other ways, including the running of my business! I always take a genuine interest in people and this is perceived and in turn mirrored towards me, at a personal and professional level, Alhamdulillah.
9. Ask for Help
Do not be afraid to ask for help. Admit that you are not a superhuman with the knowledge, strength and skills to take on any task single-handedly.
Asking for help indicates your willingness to learn and shows that you value people around you. Asking for help whether you feel you need it or not will safeguard you against arrogance and inspire a sense of humility which is pleasing to Allah .
Iyad ibn Himar reported that, while the Prophet was delivering an address he said:
“Allah revealed to me that we should be humble amongst ourselves and none should show pride upon the others…” [Sahih Muslim].
Real life application: You will find that with the help of friends and family you are able to meet and surpass your goals. I am not afraid to admit that I do seek out friends in those hopelessly despondent moments. Sometimes help comes from a professional angle and at other times in the form of a reassuring hug. Needless to say, when it comes to areas out of my expertise I employ the right person for the job, or turn to people who, out of good will, wish to help me.
10. Take Breaks!
Go on, you deserve it!
Depending on the length of your project, you need to tear yourself away from it for some hours or days. Perhaps most suitably at the I-want-to-give-up stage!
Do not live and breathe the project 24 hours a day. Continue with your routine exercise, spend time with your family and take time out for your favourite activities. Often, great ideas come to us at a time when we are totally focused on something else. We may even get an opportunity to apply what was learnt as we take time off, which is a great form of consolidation.
Real life application: As I mentioned, directing a company as a single mother is not the easiest of tasks! I ensure I give myself enough time to breathe daily, even when my fingers are itching to continue working! I work out, read, or play boardgames with the kids. More importantly, I give myself something to look forward to every couple of months, such as day trips with my friends, or (less frequently) travelling.
You will find that not only will you be more productive when you refocus on your task after taking time to refresh, but you will also feel less stressed, more creative, have improved mental acuity and make better decisions.
So there you have it! These are the 10 key elements that have seen my many projects through to success Alhamdulillah! I hope they serve you just the same. I’d love to hear your personal tips and hacks for successful projects, so go ahead and share them through a comment below.
About the Author:
Zanib Mian is the Founding Director of Sweet Apple Publishers. She believes Muslim children of every ethnicity should see themselves in fun, fantastic and most importantly—well made books—that teach good morals and values. She is currently developing a programme to empower women to start their own small businesses from home. www.sweetapplebooks.com