How to practice Habit #3, First Things First, from Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
By Jim Pate
Everybody has tasks s/he does not like. Recognizing when these tasks are so important they have become ‘the first thing’ and doing them first is what disciplined people do; however, being disciplined is also about not doing tasks when they do not have priority.
Covey thinks we should discipline ourselves. Does being disciplined make the tasks more fun? No! Only with a clear direction in mind will we find the strength to do the things we do not like and create time for those things we actually want to do.
Climbing the right ladder is the first step. Once we are on the right ladder, the right technique might help us move faster. Habit number three is about how to climb once we know for certain we are climbing the right ladder.
Urgent vs. Important
You should question yourself regularly whether the matter you are turning your attention to is urgent or important, or maybe both. Urgent matters are usually visible, they press on you. They are calling for action. You should wonder if the matter is urgent to you, or to other people. And if it is urgent to other people, do you want to put time and effort into it?
Important matters are directed to your goals and values. Goals and values are less visible and hence less pressing. That is why you need more pro-activity to get closer to your goals. It is about
preparation and being prepared. It is about looking for opportunity instead of solving problems.
According to Covey, the first generations of time management tools (notes, checklists, calendars and prioritization) are focused on those things that are urgent. These tools probably give you the feeling of being too scheduled and not having time left for unexpected opportunities, or to be spontaneous. Planning should not be about time management. This is why Covey focuses on enhancing and preserving relationships and on accomplishing results and not so much on simply finishing tasks.
Making Tasks Less Urgent
Realize that whenever you say ‘yes’ to one thing, you will no longer have time for something else. Time is the most valuable and least replaceable of all resources.
Things that appear urgent will most likely trigger a ‘yes’, if you are asked to help out. It is useful to understand that saying ‘no’, is also a very legit option.
Covey suggests that you become more aware of your internal drive, values and goals.This makes it easier to say ‘yes’ to the actions that are based on them. This way, our values and goals are less often overruled by (non-important) urgent matters.
Here you find the six guidelines to make the important – and not the urgent – a bigger part of your everyday life.
1. Coherence: Keep a list in your planner naming your short and long-term goals, and the roles you have.
2. Balance: Your roles and goals, your health, family and development should be balanced in your schedule.
3. Focus: Organize on a weekly basis, so you can check if all roles are included in your week. You can still shift some during your day or as the days pass. Weekly planning provides a better overview.
4. Subordinate schedules to people: When people and relationship come into play, you need to realize their importance over the scheduled activities.
5. Flexibility: “Your planning tool should be your servant, never your master,” says Covey. Plan as it suits you and how you are, not as you think you should.
6. Portable: Keep your schedule with you most of the time. You might want to check the schedule, or the goals on it. Or to compare what you planned with new opportunities.
How to Start
• Define your roles. Think about your different roles during the upcoming week.
• Select your goals. Which goals do you want to accomplish within each of the roles you defined? Write down one or two as part of your schedule.
• Schedule your week. Start with filling those hours which can only be spent during office hours, or on Saturdays.
• Adapt daily. With your schedule written down, daily planning becomes daily adapting. Take a few minutes each morning to reconsider your current schedule.
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