Habit 3: Put First Things First
“It is easy to say “no!” when there’s a deeper “yes!” burning inside.” ~Stephen Covey
As we continue our journey through the “7 Habits”, we will build upon our discussion of being proactive and making choices. We have also talked about envisioning, setting and working towards our ultimate goals. Part of this process involves finding a balance in managing our life’s values, roles, and priorities. We put first things first by managing our time through focusing on the priorities we envisioned in habit #2.
What does “putting first things first” mean?
We all know what it means to prioritize. However, different pressures and circumstances can easily distract us from where we prefer or intend to spend our time. We finally schedule some time to work on a project or on our hobby, and then our long lost friend wants to get together. We haven’t seen them in quite some time, and if we don’t say yes to their invitation, it may be a long time until we see them again because we have so much going on. These conflicts are common, and while there is no right decision, it can be difficult to say no when another’s emotions might be involved.
However, life is about balance. We can’t always say no to ourselves and yes to someone else’s priorities. The answer lies somewhere in focusing on our highest priorities. If our highest priority is to work on that novel we’ve been wanting to write, then friends may have to wait. If our highest priority is building and maintaining friendships, then hobbies will be put aside. It sounds simple, but in the moment when life is hectic and emotions are complex, reminding ourselves of our highest priorities, the ones we want to look back on having accomplished at the end of our lives, can help us not overextend ourselves in directions that will not get us there.
How does that apply to my personal and professional development?
If our professional growth is one of those “first things”, we need to take inventory of who and what will get us to where we want to go. Our primary goals and principles should guide us into focusing on what is important, and not necessarily urgent. Some “urgent” matters can wait and some important matters are not urgent. However, if your kitchen is on fire – that is urgent and important so feel free to take care of that first!
Thinking about the things that are important but not urgent is a focus on the long term. Exercising – there’s little immediate gain, but in the long run there is a huge benefit. Going back to school, or any type of professional education, is a huge investment of time and money. It’s not urgent, but its importance lies in the long term gain of becoming more effective in our profession.
What can I do?
We need to put the big rocks in the jar first. We all have an empty jar that represents our time. If we put all the unimportant things in first, there will be no room for the important ones. If we put the big, important values and goals in first, the other things somehow find a way to fit in around them. A continual reassessment of our values will help us on a daily or weekly basis manage our time and activities.
Part of this process can involve setting boundaries. Not letting others determine how we spend our time is an important step. This could be with family, colleagues, or clients. Others will let their needs (perhaps unwittingly) crowd out ours. By making a schedule or plan for our day, week, etc…and sticking to it, we can include other’s needs at times that make the most sense for us and our goals.
Focusing on our ultimate goals will help us find a time and place for everything and everyone else. As we feel more fulfilled by pursuing the things that matter most to us, everything else will naturally become part of our support system and something to be enjoyed rather than a hindrance to our destination. And the things that don’t really matter will naturally find their place or fade away.
See “First Things First” illustrated in the video attached here: