Is family one of the things you put first?

Is family one of the things you put first?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Reread

Habit Three:  Putting First Things First

In Habit Two of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People we defined what was important (Begin With The End In Mind). In the third habit we take those conceptual goals and begin to make them real by bringing time and effort bare.  Focusing your energy on tasks and activities that are not important steals time from what is really important. This makes it less likely we will be able to translate our goals into reality.

Urgency and Importance Matrix

Urgency and Importance Matrix

In Putting First Things First, Covey lays out the necessity of exercising our independent will (our decisions, our own motivation) to focus on the goals that are really important.  In this habit, Covey uses a 2x 2 matrix with importance on one axis and urgency on the other.  Quadrant one contains those items that are urgent and important and quadrant four contains items that are neither important nor urgent. Covey suggests that the activities that are important and not urgent are generally more aligned with our long term goals, while the activities that are urgent and important represent crises that are short term focused.  The quadrants that include activities that are not important do not connect with our goals, and even thought they might be comforting, completing actives in these quadrants does not comport with put first things first. To move consistently towards putting first things first, we need to focus on making as much time as possible for the important and not urgent.

Finding the time to focus on what is important becomes a self-management activity.  Covey’s mechanism for managing for higher order and weekly goals is very reminiscent of Kanban.  In order to manage our backlog of activity and tasks we need to understand and link our roles, goals and activities.  Activities can then be prioritized and scheduled.  On a daily basis we need to assess and adapt our plans.

Attacking what is really important begins by saying no to those activities that are not important to our goals.  Saying no means that we free up time to devote to what is important.  For example, on cold, rainy mornings it is very easy for me to decide to answer non-urgent emails rather than running.  Answering typical emails rather than running isn’t prioritizing my time.

Once you have tackled the important/not important dichotomy the next step is to reduce the tyranny of the urgent.  While we rarely have the option to say no to tasks that are urgent, we do have the option to plan, execute and delegate better so there are less important and urgent tasks on our to-do list.  Avoiding the short term crises where possible and saying no to activities that do not move us closer to our goals will give us back time to Put First Things First.