[Interview] Nur Fadhilah shares her top tips on staying productive, overcoming writer’s block, and stories of inspiration
Sometimes when I’m set to begin a task my mind races with other things and it can be hard to focus. What’s more with the distractions from technology to social media, it can be quite challenging to ensure and maintain the most productive, focussed and even spiritual state of mind.
So when I was introduced to the talented sister Nur Fadhilah Wahid and came across all her creative projects, not only was I impressed with her passion for life and learning, but also her great ability to consistently strive to stay focused, productive and inspired!
Nur is currently at university studying a bachelors degree in Communications (with a minor in Islamic knowledge). From articles on staying productive and focussed, to interesting stories and theories, she finds writing to be the most effective way of expressing her faith: “I read a lot, I think a lot, and I reflect a lot, and I guess writing just becomes a natural way for me to express my faith.”
Her passion for inspiring and helping others reach their potential in all aspects of life led her to conduct a ‘Deans List Podcast’ “to inspire students to achieve As in both Dean and Deen (faith).” These consist of interviews with top dean’s list students from various schools in the International Islamic University of Malaysia. In these interviews she digs out their stories, finds out what inspires them, what failures they have gone through, and more. Nur says: “One of my best interviews is with a sister from Kyrgyzstan, sis Bermet, who made me cry on air!” To find out why be sure to keep reading.
In my interview with the talented sister Nur she shares her useful tips, everything from overcoming writers block to finding inspiration. You don’t just have to be an (aspiring) writer, blogger, or radio producer to find this interview useful. Continue reading for inspiration on living a productive, healthy and spiritual lifestyle and more!
How do you stay productive & motivated during the day? What tips can you share?
“I live and breathe the simplest and yet most overlooked productivity tip: begin your day with a great morning routine.
The Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. said in a hadith that the blessings are in the mornings, and nothing can be further from the truth. By beginning your morning a certain way, you are essentially setting the tone of your entire day.
If you are finding it hard to wake up early, in this article, I share 5 tips I implement in my life so that I can begin my day right and be productive and motivated throughout the entire day.”
What’s the secret to balancing your time with your projects?
“I’ve only recently discovered that the secret to balancing time with my different projects is to say “no” to projects that matter less.
By saying “yes” to all the projects that came my way, I drove myself to exhaustion, took longer to complete my daily responsibilities, and lost my heart for each project somewhere along the way. My time for work slowly devoured my time for spiritual activities, relationships, and my personal time to indulge in creative pursuits.
“My smart phone is silent throughout the day, enabling me to concentrate on the task at hand or situation I am in without any disruptions to my focus – to be in flow and to be mindful.”
So how do I know which projects to say no to? I ask myself these questions, in order:
(i) How many projects do I have on my plate right now? Do I have enough time to take on another project without sacrificing my spiritual/relationships/creative pursuits?
(ii) Will doing the project benefit others, and thus make me happy?
(iii) How do I stand to benefit and grow by taking on this project? Will the experience / knowledge / financial gains be worth investing the time?
If my answer to any of the above question is a “no”, then I say “no” to the project. This way, I get to eliminate lots of projects that come my way, and focus only on those that matter. Balancing my time between projects thus becomes easy when I have only the important, most beneficial projects, to dedicate my time to.”
In today’s world we’re constantly distracted by technology. How do you stay focused?
“I think the biggest disruption to focus today is the many notifications that pop up throughout our entire day. Psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi said in his theory that people are happiest and most productive when they are in a state of flow – a state of concentration with the activity at hand and the situation.
According to author Nir Eyal in his book “Hooked”, notifications, by their nature, seek to disengage us from our daily flow, and pull us into their respective applications so that we will make it a habit to engage with the app instead.
In order to counter this, I did two things with my technological devices.
Firstly, I made my smart phone a dumb phone. I deleted all the applications that I know will suck me in (i.e. emails, games and social media), turned off all my notifications and icon badges, and in recent months, even got my phone off the 3G broadband plans.
As such, my smart phone is silent throughout the day, enabling me to concentrate on the task at hand or situation I am in without any disruptions to my focus – to be in flow and to be mindful. When I do need to get connected, I have to consciously make the effort to find a WIFI hotspot and manually use Safari, which would usually eliminate all but the urgent tasks at hand.
Secondly, I use two applications on my laptop to maintain my focus and ensure I do not spend time sucked into the black hole of the World Wide Web.
The first and most recent app in my arsenal is RescueTime, which is an awesome application because it automatically calculates the time I spend on different applications, and websites I engage in whenever I am on my laptop. I can set goals on my usage, and RescueTime will run in the background tracking my data, alerting me when I reach my goal. For instance, since my goal is to spend less than an hour a day on social media, news, and blogs, RescueTime will tally all the times I spend on these sites and alert me once I reach my quota! At the end of each day, I am able to view a chart and breakdown of the apps and sites I visit, and readjust my habits accordingly. At the end of each week, RescueTime will even send me a weekly report on my Productivity score.
The second app that I use on my laptop to maintain focus is the SelfControl app (only for Mac. Windows alternative: Cold Turkey.) With one click, the app blocks all the different websites I’ve listed as unproductive for a specific time frame that I determine, and nothing I do will unblock those sites until the time is up (even uninstalling the app doesn’t work!). Sounds a little brutal, but extreme situations call for extreme measures ;)”
On your blog you share tips on improving yourself personally, academically and spiritually. Where do you find inspiration/ideas for your writing?
“The little intimate moments I have with God. Ever since I read the book “The Millennium Discourses” by Shaykh Etsko Schuitema, a particular paragraph remains stuck with me day in and day out, and has profoundly changed the way I looked at things.
Shaykh Schuitema in that paragraph wrote (more eloquently than I am right now) that every single moment we have are the next line to this epic story that Allah swt has written for us, and for every moment that we live, we should constantly remain in awe of the things He is showing and telling us, so that we are constantly in awe of Him.
So as far as I can, and as much as I can remember, I try my best to spend my moments trying to see and understand what He is telling me, and in that next line He has written is where I get inspiration from.
In this way, everything becomes an inspiration, a lesson, from the birds flying back to their nest, to even being stuck in the middle of the sea in a broken ferry (true story). Alhamdulillah :)”
Do you ever experience writers block, and if so how do you overcome that? What tips can you give to (aspiring) writers?
“I think every writer at one point of time or another will experience writers block, and the way to combat writers block differs from writer to writer. Personally, I believe that writers block comes from one of three things:
(i) not having the right intention,
(ii) not having enough motivation, or
(iii) not being in the right state of mind to write.
Whenever I face writers block, I make an effort to identify the root cause of the block. If it is due to having the wrong intentions, I address the block by realigning my intentions, making some selawat, and kick-start my work again with a renewed Bismillah. If it is due to not having enough motivation, I postpone my writing and take fifteen minutes to read a motivational book or watch an inspiring video, which usually gets me all pumped up to write again. And if it is due to not being in the right state of mine (i.e. cluttered with other work), I acknowledge my worries and reschedule my time such that I do the work that’s bothering me first instead.
“Everything becomes an inspiration, a lesson, from the birds flying back to their nest, to even being stuck in the middle of the sea in a broken ferry (true story).”
Another tip on overcoming writers block is to just begin writing on any topic, even if it is irrelevant to the specific writing task you have at hand. I have with me at all times a notebook (an app called SimpleNote, but physical notebooks work too!) that I use to capture any ideas or thoughts that come across my mind. Sometimes when I face writers block, I would look through the notebook, and begin to write whichever idea or thought I feel like. This usually removes the writers block, and in my state of flow, I can now tackle the original writing task at hand.
For aspiring writers, I would say that the best thing I ever did to develop my writing is to set up a blog or website where I publish my writing regularly, bad grammar and all. I personally believe that the stories writers share are more important than their grammar (though having readable articles make the stories far more interesting and understandable), and people resonate and connect through stories.
By putting your work up online, you are doing three things:
(i) forcing yourself to write better because you now have an audience
(ii) putting your work up for critique and feedback (free editors, yay!)
(iii) gradually networking and building your connections
All these will help in developing your writing in the long run.”
I was wondering if you could share a bit more about the interview (Deans List Podcast) with the sister from Kyrgyzstan, who made you cry on air.
“In my Tracklist for the Dean’s List Podcast series, I interview Dean’s List students from different schools in my University, from Law to Economics to Human Sciences, in order to learn from them. One of the best interviews I’ve done is with sister Bermet from Kyrgyzstan, and it was the only interview I did live on air that made me cry.
One of my core beliefs is that discovering the purpose of life, discovering YOUR purpose in life, makes the difference between a life of mediocrity and a life of excellence and fulfilment.
I cried during the interview because I was both grateful for being given the awareness that I was put on this journey to discover my purpose and fulfil it, and also because the interview reminded me how urgently we have to strive to fulfil our purpose due to our limited time in this world.
May Allah SWT make our affairs easy for us, and let us die in the best of states, inshaAllah!”
You mention that like others you strive to become a better Muslimah/better person. What kind of challenges have you personally experienced and how did you overcome them?
“My biggest challenge would be to peel off the many labels and wrong conclusions I have about myself, accumulated throughout the years.
I believe that each of us has a core within us, a true self that is pristine and clear, unmarred by any external influences. However, due to all the things we expose ourselves to since young (either consciously or subconsciously), our core self finds itself covered with layers upon layers of beliefs about ourselves or the world, which may or may not be true. And the more false beliefs we allow to cover our core, the more we find ourselves blinded from who we truly are. And when we don’t know who we truly are, when we don’t know our core, how can we be who we have been made to be?
“One of my core beliefs is that discovering the purpose of life, discovering YOUR purpose in life, makes the difference between a life of mediocrity and a life of excellence and fulfilment.”
For instance, one of the false layers of beliefs I have alhamdulillah successfully peeled off from my true core is the belief that I can never be as good a Muslimah as anyone else due to my troubled past (i.e. I spent over 20 years of my life not practicing being a Muslim). When I first entered the Islamic University I am currently in, I found myself greatly disheartened by the fact that many of the Muslimaat I came to know memorized the Qur’an, never missed a prayer in their life, could quote verses from the Qur’an on the fly, and had akhlaak that made mine look ignorant. I was disheartened because I saw this mountain of things I had to catch up on (e.g. I could barely read the Qur’an, what more quote it!), and I believed that I could never reach the level they are at.
For months I became depressed, and was constantly angry and disappointed at myself for wasting so many years of my life in frivolity. One day, my naquibah brought me aside, pointed out how silly I was in my belief, and helped me peel it off. She shared with me different stories of how some companions were the worst people when ignorant, but became the torch of the Ummah after their conversion. It made me realize that the past has gone and nothing can change what happened then. What matters is our today, for our today shapes our tomorrow. I am still not a huffaz of the Qur’an, but Alhamdulillah, my Qur’an reading skill has vastly improved, and I know that I am becoming a better Muslimah each day, biidhnillah.”
What do you feel are your biggest achievements so far? What would you like to achieve in the future?
“My biggest achievement would be being in the Dean’s List since my first semester, alhamdulillah.
Since I was in secondary school, I was always at the bottom of my class, and I was probably the only one who was asked to drop a Maths subject because I was failing at both my Maths subjects. My grades were mediocre, and when my classmates got themselves into first-tier junior colleges, I found myself at a neighbourhood junior college. There, again, I skipped classes, slept in class when I did attend, and failed my examinations pretty regularly. When I received my A Levels results, I did so badly that no university in Singapore would accept my applications.
Four years after, alhamdulillah He placed me in the Islamic university I am in, and since the first day I peeled off the layer of belief I had that I was stupid, a slacker, and a terrible student. I told myself since day one that I am intelligent, that I would always sit in the first row, that I would submit all my assignments and strive hard to give the best I could in all my subjects.
Alhamdulillah, looking back (I’m in my final year now), I acknowledge that I have come so far academically from who I used to be.
In the future, I hope to continue honing my skills as motivational writer and speaker, and to continue inspiring students and people to consciously peel of the many false layers they have of themselves to finally find their true core, inshaAllah!
I am currently doing this through my weekly letters to hundreds of subscribers, and within the next few months, my first book on the challenges of change should be ready for publishing, inshaAllah!”
Has freelancing been more challenging than a regular job?
“Financially, yes, because you never know whether or not you’ll make enough in the upcoming month as it depends on the number of clients you have. With a regular job, you know that if everything goes as per normal, inshaAllah you will get your payslip at the end of the month. That being said, with freelancing, sometimes you can also have months where you can earn an entire month’s pay in one week’s worth of work!
Other challenges in freelancing include finding the discipline to work on your own (since you have no one looking over your shoulders and checking on you), dealing with tough clients who want to “use” you, and having to constantly learn new skills and techniques to keep myself up-to-date. However, these challenges are what I call positive challenges, because going through them makes me a better person, alhamdulillah.”
Last but not least, what do you think about Sufi Comics?
“I think the work that you guys do is awesome! I love your graphic style, but most of all, I love the fact that you make the deepest of quotes or lessons easy to understand. One of my favourite SufiComic is this comic, which I reblogged many years ago. I love it because at the point of time when I first read, it helped me to overcome some problems I had by reminding me to let go and view the problem as a positive challenge given by Allah swt instead. Thanks SufiComics!”
Check out Nur’s blog and subscribe to her weekly inspirational letters here
Follow Nur on Twitter: @nfadhilahwahid
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Read our past interviews with inspirational artists, writers and more here
Stay tuned for our next post on #SufiComicsRumi where we reveal a surprise!
Images courtesy of Nur Fadhilah Wahid