Today we continue discussing Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People. We enjoyed the book so much that we wanted to use our blog as an opportunity to share each habit, breaking them down one by one in hopes that you too can benefit from these concepts.

We’re now on to step three: Put First Things First

Well what on earth does that mean?

At first glance, this statement might not make much sense. However, it’s a very simple notion once explained. First, let’s define “first things.”

First things are the types of things you find to have the most value. That doesn’t mean that they’re the most valuable things to an entire society, or likewise they cost a fortune. Value in this sense simply means the things that have the most worth to you, like family and friends.

The third step should make much more sense now, but how do you go about incorporating this approach into your daily lifestyle?

Mr. Covey suggests first organizing your tasks into a two-by-two matrix of “important” and “non-important” categories, and then likewise labeling each as “urgent” or “non-urgent.” Here’s an example of what this would look like:





I. Items listed here are very important and also urgent. Ex: Crises, deadline-driven projects, pressing problems

II. Items listed here are important, but are not urgent. Ex: Planning, reviewing, building relationships, new opportunities



III. Items listed here are not so important, but they are urgent. Ex: Some calls, some reports, interruptions, some meetings

IV. Items listed here are neither important nor urgent. Ex: Busywork, some calls, trivia, time wasters, some email

Often times we’re told to say “Yes” as much as possible, and that’s okay. But it’s also okay to say no to those non-important, non-urgent matters if you have much more pressing issues to take care of. Saying yes to everything will surely overextend you and could burn you out.

You must find a balance.

The quickest and most efficient way to find balance is by putting first things first.  By first establishing what your personal first things are (including your purpose, values, and roles in addition to priorities), you’ll be able to manage your time and energy more resourcefully.

Is there a best section? Absolutely!

The best results are realized from spending time in Quadrant II. This grouping includes ideas such as prevention, production capabilities, building relationships, recognizing new opportunities, planning, recreation and much more.

By planning and crafting prevention plans, you will be able to solve urgent and important matters in a more timely fashion. Take a fire for example. If the building is on fire, that’s important and urgent. You must get everyone out of the building. If you spent time in Quadrant II and planned escape routes and emergency action plans, then hypothetically getting everyone out of the building should be much easier.

If you’ve worked in Quadrant II for prevention, then you’ve already reduced the chances of the building catching on fire.

Likewise, it’s not a crisis per se, but it’s important to strategically plan for the future—earning referrals and new clients, building relationships, generating profits, expanding into new markets, and more. This all occurs in Quadrant II. Lastly, setting aside time to write the next chapter of your novel, Wednesday night softball, or other hobbies may not be urgent, but they’re important because they help us recharge. And that helps us put our best foot forward.

If you focus on Quadrant II, you are more likely to have a clear vision, proper perspective, balance, discipline, and control. Thus, you’ll have fewer crises.

Be sure to check out Part I (Be Proactive) and Part II (Begin with the End in Mind) if you haven’t already.