What Ramadan can teach project professionals
Project managers Abdul Wahab Ghumra and Aqeel Bashir say there are many things that project professionals of all faiths can learn from Ramadan, such as communication and sharing.
Abdul Wahab Ghumra
Muslims believe Ramadan to be a very special month, for it was in this month that the Angel Gabriel came down to the Prophet Muhammad with the Quran, the final revelation from God. The aim of every Muslim during this month is therefore to become closer to God, through self-discipline, patience and determination.
Ramadan changes the mindset for those who practice this month. Instead of focusing on ourselves, we are actively encouraged to engage in more charitable activities for those less fortunate. We are taught to be more considerate towards others, and we feel empathy for the millions of people around the world who have little or no food. This experience ultimately leads to gratitude and promotes a positive mindset.
I personally try and implement some of what I learn this month into my role as a project manager.
Through the patience I develop during this month, I am able to better manage diverging opinions and therefore I am better equipped to navigate my team through the various obstacles faced on the project.
Another important lesson during Ramadan is time management. My daily routine usually consists of getting up early in the morning (typically 3am) to have a pre-dawn meal and perform prayers, after which I go to sleep until I start work. After my working day, I may have a short nap or engage in reading and studying the Qur’an. After sunset I eat my main meal, followed by more prayers before going to bed around 12am. This change in my daily pattern certainly requires self-determination and discipline, but also effective time management. Bringing this to the workplace, I ensure meetings are purposeful, on-time and take no longer than required. I have found this attitude and mindset to make me more effective during my working day.
During these difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Ramadan has been very different. Mosques, which act as great community hubs, are closed and the additional prayers – typically held with hundreds in attendance – now take place at home. However, up and down the country, we have seen a strong community spirit shine through, which has been evident by communities pulling together to help those who are vulnerable. While this is a challenging time for many, Ramadan teaches us to have a positive mindset, to look to the things that you have and not at those things which you do not have.
With this in mind, it is my hope that the message of Ramadan can help others, whether Muslim or not, to get through these uncertain and challenging times.
This year, Ramadan is nothing like we have experienced before. Every year I am asked ‘how do you cope with not eating or drinking for 18 hours a day?’ The answer is, it’s never easy, it’s quite complex.
But contrary to popular belief, Ramadan is not only about abstaining from food and water. It’s about gathering the mental strength to know you cannot eat until sunset, regardless of the temptation around you. I find this is similar to the situation project professionals are facing is the current circumstances, where there has been significant impact to our programmes, personal lives and careers. It is important to be patient and know this will pass.
There are many other things that project professionals of all faiths can learn from Ramadan, such as communication and sharing. It is customary to break the fast with dates, and share meals with neighbours, the local community, family and friends. In contrast, this year, parcels are being left on doorsteps and even short conversations with the postman have changed. Communication is a key skill for project professionals. How we engage and develop relationships with our stakeholders to get their buy-in plays a vital role in any project’s success. Today, keeping in touch with our friends, family and colleagues is more important than ever, to prevent feeling isolated.
Agility and planning are other areas where parallels can be drawn. During Ramadan – in life and work – no two days are the same. Some days fasting is easy, others not as much. At some points I have found myself analysing my food intake, for example planning to eat wholemeal pasta to help get through the day or eating smaller meals through the night. Undoubtedly, a certain degree of planning can be achieved, but inevitably I know I will be hungry. In the same fashion, we invest huge amounts of time and cost into planning for risks and adverse outcomes at work, but sometimes we have to accept that the unknown can happen and that change is inevitable.
Finally, it is important to note the importance of individuality, structure and productivity. Every individual engages with Ramadan differently. Some are accustomed to maintaining a structure, while others will adapt through the weeks. Personally, I find myself most productive in the morning and that hasn’t changed for me. I use what would have been lunch and dinner breaks for some light exercise. With most of us working from home, we should maximise this opportunity for individuals to find structures that work for them. For line managers, it’s important to recognise and appreciate that everyone will have a different structure to their day.
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