First Things First

“Wheres there no gardener, there’s no garden”

- First Things First, page 77

First Things First is a follow up to Stephen Covey’s best seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In First Things First the authors drill down into the concepts of personal time management—not around matters of urgency but around values and principles, i.e. “first things”. We have to cultivate and nurture all areas of our life over time. You don’t expect a bumper crop after neglect of a crop. By the same token, you can’t fix your relationships by not communicating with your partner, and you won’t become healthy by going to the gym for one week. We must move away from a reactive, quick fix culture and become conscious of our own destinies, by allowing our choices to be governed by principles and not short cuts; you must take care of the farm.

The Golden Egg

Golden Egg: The biggest takeaway from the book

Fourth Generation Time Management

"More than an evolution, we need a revolution. We need to move beyond time management to life leadership—to a fourth generation based on paradigms that will create quality-of-life results"
- First Things First, page 31

We are constantly bombarded by ugent choices in the modern, fast-paced landscape. Sometimes we don’t like these choices and we begin to neglect what we feel is of paramount importance to our lives, creating guilt and frustration. The authors review time management literature around the concepts of the clock and the compass, in addition to the three generations of time management. The clock is our commitments, appointments, schedules, goals and activities. The compass is our vision, values, principles, mission, direction and what we feel is important to our lives. The struggles begin when there are misalignments between our clocks and compasses. The three generations of time management are:

  • First generation: Reminders and to-do lists. First things are what is in front of you and what you’re keeping track of.
  • Second generation: Scheduling, calendars, appointments, planning and preparation for future events.
  • Third generation: Value clarification, setting long term goals and prioritizing your activities daily.

The authors suggest a fourth generation which includes the first three generations, but eliminates their weaknesses. These weaknesses include a reliance on urgency and a lack of understanding of the expectations around a good quality of life. This concept is not easy to grasp and means implementing a paradigm shift in thinking. This means moving from a position of responding to urgency, to concentrating on what is important. These are universal things like living a responsible life, loving fully, learning and leaving a legacy. Knowing what is important to you rather than being reactive around urgency is the key.

The authors provide a time management matrix that is divided into four quadrants around importance and urgency. This gives the reader an easier means of grasping the concepts around urgency and importance.

Quadrant 1—Urgent and important: Crisis (i.e. a medical emergency). It can be problematic if action is left in quadrant one too long.

Quadrant 2—Important, not urgent: The quadrant of quality and personal leadership, long range planning, reading, empowering others and relationship development.

Quadrant 3—Urgent but not important: Creates an illusion of being important, such as interruptions and phone calls.

Quadrant 4—Not urgent or important: Trivia, social media, youtube videos about funny cats, etc.

In order to move from urgency to importance (to quadrant 2) we must learn to identify our “first things” in life.

Gem #1

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

To Live, To Love, To Learn, To Leave a Legacy

"What we are talking about are the true north realities upon which quality of life is based."
- First things First, page 54

In order to determine the first things the authors suggest three underlying principles:

  • The fulfillment of four human needs: These needs are fundamental to human fulfillment and include Maslow’s hierarchy of live (physical), love (social), learn (mental) and legacy (meaning and purpose). If any of these needs are unmet, quality of life is greatly reduced, resulting in frustration and a constant sense of urgency. When all four needs are met there is fulfillment and joy, and we can address the things that are truly important.
  • True north: This is a metaphor for the concept of lasting principles across time and civilizations that remain true to this day: including integrity, humility, courage, justice, service, and reciprocity.
  • Unique human endowments: These include self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These endowments allow us to decide between stimulus and response, a power to choose, respond and ultimately change if we want to.

The authors suggest the following strategies to develop human endowments:

  • Keep a personal journal, a high level quadrant 2 activity.
  • Educate yourself by learning, listening and responding and reading.
  • Make and keep promises to yourself and others
  • Mediate and listen to your inner voice
  • Develop creative imagination through visualisation.

The bottom line is that the power to create a great quality life is not within any digital planner or technique, it is within us. It is the power of our inner compass that allows us to act with integrity and clarity when moments of choice occur.

Implementation of shifting focus from urgency to importance involves six steps based on principles and endowments;

  • Create an inner vision and mission statement based around what is important and empowering.
  • Itemize your roles in life, i.e. father, employee, mentor, and identify where and how you can spend quality time in each role.
  • Set weekly goals in each role to have the most positive impact.
  • Schedule priorities for the week and wait for the right time.
  • Preview the day based around the integrity of the moment, which means being able to adapt and change depending on circumstances.
  • Evaluate, weekly cycle of checking successes and failures.

Gem #2

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Characteristics of Becoming Principle Centred

"Becoming principle centred is just that: becoming. It’s not arriving; it’s a lifetime quest."
- First Things First, page 291

The results of becoming principle centred are profound, you will:

  • Become more flexible and spontaneous
  • Have richer more rewarding relationships
  • Be more synergistic
  • Continually learn
  • Become contribution focused
  • Produce extraordinary results
  • Have a healthy psychological immune system
  • Create your own limits
  • Lead to more balanced lives
  • Become more confident and secure
  • Better able to walk your talk
  • Focus on their circle of influence, the area where you can make a difference
  • Cultivate a rich inner life
  • Radiate positive energy
  • Enjoy life more

These benefits will increase quality of life, allow you to focus more on important tasks (not just the urgent ones), and make you more effective both in work and in your personal life.

First Things First is a classic that still stands up well in the genre of management books. To get the most out of this book you have to become involved in a deep way and be willing to examine your life, your scripts, vision, missions, and motives: your “first things.” Exercises and charts throughout the book are useful tools to implement and understand concepts. It is a large book and can’t be digested in one sitting and perhaps is best read in parts. The concepts are profound and life changing. Any leader that wants to move from time management to personal management should read this book: it will give you the means of choosing the correct course to achieve a life of fulfillment.

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Peter Taylor

ABOUT Peter Taylor

I have owned and managed a veterinary based business on the west coast of Australia for 18 years. No one at Veterinary school gives us any clues about running a business and it is only in the last few years that I have started to study business and management...
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