One problem many of us face is that we want to do so much at once, and thus become overwhelmed in our thoughts trying to establish exactly what we should be doing and what our obligations are at a given point in time.
This leads us to focus on what we can’t accomplish more so than what we can accomplish. This can be well and good, and as Ibn Al-Jawzi said, a person can be rewarded for his intentions more than for his actions.
However, the point of intending is to be productive and extract something physical from that intention.
Part of being productive is to have a methodical approach as to when to focus on what. For example, if your worship and intentions for specific efforts are organized and you properly place your focus where and when it should be, you’ll find yourself accomplishing much more as a Muslim, no matter if you’re a teacher who teaches, a caller to Allah who motivates, or an ordinary worshipper who simply wants to get closer to your Lord.
Ibn Al-Qayyim wrote: “They say that the best worship is to do what will please the Lord at every time in accordance with what that particular time calls for.
“So, the best act of worship during the time of Jihad is Jihad, even if this leads to abandoning certain rituals such as night prayer, fasting, etc. In fact, this applies even if you are to not pray a complete obligatory prayer as you would in times of safety and calm.
“And the best thing to do when you have a guest, for example, is to see to his rights as a guest and to preoccupy yourself with that instead of the recommended rituals you would usually engage in at the time. Such is also the case in fulfilling the rights of your wife and family.
“The best thing to do during the early morning hours is to be preoccupied with prayer, Qur’an, du’a, remembrance of Allah, and asking His Forgiveness.
“The best thing to do when teaching a student or ignorant person is to completely turn your attention towards teaching him.
“The best thing to do during the call to prayer is to leave whatever rituals you are engaged in and to occupy yourself with repeating after the mu’addhin (one making the call).
“The best thing to do during the five prayers is to try your best in carrying them out in the best possible manner and to rush to perform them right away, and to go out to the mosque – even if it is far – is better.
“The best thing to do when someone needs help physically or financially is to engage yourself with helping that person, relieving his distress, and to place this as a priority over your private worship that you’d usually be engaged in.
“The best thing to do when reciting the Qur’an is to have your heart and mind present in order to reflect over and understand it as if Allah is personally addressing you with it. So, to have your heart present to understand and reflect over it and to have the zeal to implement its commands is greater than the attentiveness of the heart of one who has received a message from the ruler to that message.
“The best thing to do when having attendance at ‘Arafa is to exert yourself in being humble before Allah, making du’a, and remembering Him, instead of fasting.
“The best thing to do during the first 10 days of Dhul-Hijjah is to increase in worship, especially saying ‘Allahu Akbar,’ ‘La ilaha illa Allah,’ and ‘Alhamdulillah.’ This is better here than the Jihad that is not an individual obligation.
“The best thing to do during the last 10 nights of Ramadan is to stay in the mosque and to seclude oneself in it without mixing with others and being distracted by them.
“The best thing to do when you have a brother who is sick or dying is to visit him, attend his funeral, and to prefer this over your private worship or social activities.
“And the best thing to do when a disaster befalls you or when people hurt you is to fulfill the obligation of having patience while continuing to interact with them and not running away from them, since the believer who mixes with people and is patient despite their harm to him is better than the believer who doesn’t mix with them and isn’t harmed by them.
“And the best thing you can interact with them in is whatever is good, and this is better than to seclude yourself from them in such a case.
As for bad things, it is better to seclude yourself from them in such a case. However, if you know that mixing with in this case will help remove or reduce the bad, it is better to mix with them than to abandon them.
“So, the best thing to do in every time and situation is whatever will please Allah at that particular time and situation and to focus on the foremost obligation at that particular time and whatever it necessitates and requires…” (Madarij As-Salikin, 1/188)
While Ibnul Qayyim’s words above mention specific actions, it is the larger picture that is underscored. The attitude he is promoting here is to focus on what’s in front of you and needs to be done then and there, as this is the best way to please Allah in that particular situation.
If you employ this attitude in your day-to-day activities in general and your service to Allah and Islam in particular, you’ll find that you’ll get much more out of yourself.