Jabeen Rizvi, a newly qualified associate at international law firm Hogan Lovells shares some of her top tips for managing a busy legal job whilst observing Ramadan.
Many Muslims across the globe, including myself, are currently abstaining from food and drink between dawn till dusk. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan started, in many places, at the start April this year and will last for up to 30 days (depending on the sighting of the moon) and will conclude with the celebration of Eid-al-Fitr (the festival of fast-breaking).
Fasting in the Northern hemisphere during this time of the year when the days are getting longer is a challenge in its own right. But if like me you’re a City lawyer with a busy and demanding job, carrying out your day-to-day responsibilities on an empty stomach with plummeting energy levels can feel almost impossible. So, how can you continue performing at your optimum levels whilst fasting?
Below are some simple tips, which have really helped me so far. But please use these as a rough guide as I cannot profess to be an expert in any way!
The basics – sleep, drink and eat
Getting a decent night’s sleep and feeling properly rested will put you in the best possible position to start your working day. Whilst drinking as much water as possible between Iftar (the breaking of the fast) and Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) should help to reduce the risk of dehydration. Eating a balanced, nutritious and healthy meal at Iftar is also really important for sustained energy levels.
Also, as tempting as it might feel to skip Suhoor to avoid the need to wake up at silly o’clock, I’d strongly advise against this. As I’ve learnt from bitter experience, it’s pretty horrible waking up feeling impoverished and thirsty with a long day’s work ahead of you. Therefore, having a meal and drinking plenty of water immediately prior to starting your fast should keep those pesky hunger pangs at bay and also further reduce the potential dangers of dehydration.
Find a routine that suits you
Acknowledge how your productivity levels will be affected when fasting and carefully consider what work routine is likely to work best for you, based on factors that are in your control. Identify the times of day when you’re at your most and least productive and where possible plan your schedule accordingly.
Personally, as I’m more effective in the mornings I aim to complete my most complex and/or chunky tasks earlier in the day and leave less demanding tasks for the afternoon when my concentration levels are likely to drop.
It’s also worth thinking about whether it may be beneficial to temporarily change your hours and work more flexibly? If possible, you could start early and finish early or start slightly later and finish later. However, be aware that you may need to be more disciplined to maintain daily structure and routine (including taking regular breaks and finishing at your expected time).
For busy lawyers, Ramadan often feels like a game of Tetris. You’re trying to squeeze in as many meals/snacks during the 8-hour non-fasting window, whilst getting sufficient sleep, observing religious practices and doing a demanding job. It’s important, therefore, to find the right balance for you.
The key, though, is to monitor your energy levels and effectiveness, assess patterns and adjust accordingly. What worked at the start of Ramadan may no longer be most effective towards the end as the prolonged period of fasting starts taking its toll on your body and mind.
Manage time and expectations
Getting organised and managing expectations is key, especially if like me you’re a junior lawyer or trainee solicitor and have less control over what tasks you’re given and related deadlines. Prepare regular to-do-lists (weekly and daily), diarise each task and set reminders (and if appropriate realistic milestones). Remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint, so pace yourself. For some simple tricks on how to manage time effectively check out Husnara’s blog.
With Ramadan falling during British summer time this year, back-to-back hours of fasting and working during the weekdays will inevitably be challenging and indeed exhausting. Therefore, aim to get sufficient rest over the weekends to help you re-charge. Weekends can also be a good time for tying up loose ends, life admin, and preparing for your week ahead.
Incidentally, with regard to managing expectations it’s worth highlighting that in Bhatti and another v Pontiac Coils Europe Ltd, the employment tribunal held that comments made to an employee that criticised her for reduced work productivity levels because of fasting amounted to direct religious discrimination and harassment.
Take regular breaks
Working remotely whilst fasting can conserve much needed time and physical energy that would otherwise be spent commuting. As tempting as it may be to utilise this time and energy to just power through the day, it’s very important to schedule regular breaks into your routine. This could be a short walk (or other forms of gentle exercise to reduce lethargy), reading, praying or simply resting (including a power nap). It’s just best to try to avoid staying seated in the same place for too long throughout the day. Similarly, completely downing tools and switching off from work is just as important, even on days when you’re not fasting.
Communicate and educate
If you haven’t already done so, be brave and speak openly to your supervisor/ line manager, team or indeed HR about Ramadan and what fasting means for you, particularly on a practical level. Alert them to prayer and Iftar times as appropriate, and ensure you have sufficient time to break your fast.
Discuss any special arrangements you may need in place during the remainder of the holy month, including the potential to work flexibly and any concerns you have about attending events.
Also, if you’d like to take time off to celebrate Eid or during the last ten days of Ramadan (which are of particular importance for worship), flag this with your line manager / colleagues sooner rather than later, especially if it potentially clashes with an important deadline.
As well as communicating your needs, consider how you can use Ramadan to raise awareness of religious practices within your organisation. For instance, you may want to help produce materials explaining what Ramadan is and what this may mean for colleagues who are fasting to encourage open discussions about your faith. And why not invite some of your colleagues/team members to join you for Iftar?
Fasting can affect each of us in many different ways. Some of us might be quieter whilst most of us are likely to feel more tired at certain times of the day. Therefore, be mindful of how you may come across or be perceived by others, especially when attending client meetings / conference calls – both in terms of energy levels and your physical appearance. Without even realising it, when fasting there’s a real risk of creating a less favourable impression (e.g. by simply yawning) that may not accurately reflect what you’re like as a professional on a full stomach.
Observing Ramadan whilst working as a lawyer can be challenging, however, with the right mindset and approach it can be a less strenuous experience as you might otherwise expect!