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Rearranging my work for Ramadan helped me avoid burnout year-round. I learned I don't have to be always available.

Anmol Irfan wearing sunglasses and smiling at the camera.
Anmol Irfan realized that the way she organized her schedule during Ramadan could carry over to the rest of the year, too.Courtesy Anmol Irfan
  • Ever since I left college, I've found myself getting burnt out during Ramadan.

  • Last year, I did things differently and how to reorganize my schedule the rest of the year, too.

  • Now, I have more time for activities outside of work and feel less pressure to always be available.

As for so many other Muslims around the world, every year, Ramadan — the month of fasting and night worship — is the spiritual pinnacle of my year. Ever since I was a child, it was something my family looked forward to, a point in the year when we made new spiritual resolutions and tried to be better in every way.

When I was younger, Ramadan mostly meant being able to stay up later than usual, competing with my siblings on who'd prayed the most, and listening to my mother telling us Islamic stories. I loved spending time together, listening to my mother talk and sharing our thoughts and duas, or prayers.

The love and joy I felt then is something that I have always carried with me. However, over the last few years, as I graduated from college and started working, I struggled to manage the same amount of worship I did previously with new work and personal responsibilities.

I found it hard to keep up with work during Ramadan

As I entered my adult years and started my career, I found myself feeling stressed about needing to work and yet also wanting to do all the extra worship I usually did. I felt like I'd fail myself as a working woman if I took time off, despite the fact that I'm a freelancer and am in control of deciding how much work to take on. Instead, I forced myself to try to do it all in an effort to prove that I could balance both work and worship. I ended up burned out, going through the motions in both my career and spiritual life.

Finally, last year, I decided it was time to do things a different way. When the last Ramadan came around, I was already doing a part-time Quran course three days a week that was continuing throughout Ramadan. The additional commitment, which I was balancing with my work as a freelancer, made me decide to sit and plan how I wanted to schedule everything during Ramadan.

I decided to take charge of my schedule

As a freelancer, I already manage my own schedule, but with the additional things I wanted to schedule during Ramadan, I set limited working hours for myself along with dedicated hours for worship where I would put my phone on silent. To account for these limited working hours during the month of Ramadan, I worked a lot harder ahead of time to make up for both lost income during that month, and I also spent some time finishing up any loose ends with regard to ongoing assignments.

During Ramadan, my schedule changed a bit, as well. In addition to limited working hours, the hours I worked changed. After my suhoor meal — the predawn meal we eat to start off our fast — I would do some Quran recitation for about half an hour.

This left me three hours to work on my writing before I had to leave for my Quran class. After I came home from class, I would then pray, do some more Quran recitation, and nap. I would wake up about an hour before Iftar time, which is when we break our fast in the evening. I would go to sleep after my taraweeh prayers — night prayers — around midnight or so, and then wake up by 4:15 a.m. to eat again in the morning before fasting again.

Anmol Irfan smiling and sitting outside on a rock. It's fall, and there are orange leaves.
During Ramadan last year, Anmol Irfan scheduled her day so she was only working three hours each day.Courtesy Anmol Irfan

Until now, I'd never thought I could only dedicate around three hours a day to work, because I'd internalized this idea of having to always be working to be successful. I thought that if I wasn't giving all my time to work I wouldn't be able to establish myself successfully in my field as a journalist. As someone in my early 20s who came of age during an era of hustle culture, I thought I always needed to be available to succeed, both in terms of making enough money and proving to myself — and everyone else — that I could prioritize my work.

Surprisingly, last Ramadan, I actually felt my efficiency increase, as I was more focused during those limited hours — as well as calmer outside them — because I got almost the same amount of work done as I normally would and I was also able to do other activities outside of work.

I realized I could do things differently the rest of the year, too

It helped me realize that if I could manage a decent workload while also taking time out for other things that mattered during this one month, there was no reason I had to work in such a way that I was burning myself out for the rest of the year. So last year, instead of treating Ramadan as merely a link to spiritual resolutions, I linked it to resolutions and practice for my work life as well.

While I didn't work only three hours a day for the rest of the year, Ramadan helped me navigate how I could block out my working hours and schedule my work in a way that still left me time to find fulfillment in exercise, reading, and faith.

Starting Ramadan this year, I've realized that there were times I slipped up from my newfound balance since the last Ramadan, where I would fall back into old habits of making sure I was always available over email and not making enough time for activities outside work.

I've also realized that despite that, I can use this Ramadan as another renewal, both for my spirituality and my mental health. I've always found peace and clarity in my faith, and it's taught me lessons outside religion as well. My renewed connection with my spirituality has helped me prioritize my work and my mental health by allowing me to set boundaries where I can manage both together, and it's made me enjoy my work a lot more.

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