First Things First: review and brief summary

I listened to First Things First by Stephen R. Covey in the abridged audio version. I will probably be buying the actual book soon.

This is by the same author as Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I greatly enjoyed even though I did not finish. Now would be a good time to break that out and finish it… I made good use of the first three Habits, I think, and I wanted to give myself some time to implement them and observe any changes.

I greatly enjoyed First Things First because it puts perspective on “time management” and neatly addresses what I have always found lacking in most time management (and indeed most “self help”) literature and lessons.

Summary follows. Ganked without permission. If you like these ideas, please buy the book.


“First things first”
Traditional time management stresses control of time, resources, and on efficiency
Often working faster, harder, smarter leaves us frustrated and feeling unfulfilled
This work focuses on how to put first things first
Closing the gap between what is deeply important to us, and how we spend our time

“The clock and the compass”
Maria: frustrated at not being able to do anything else besides spending time with her newborn baby
Realization that she was expecting too many things of herself, and those expectations were under her control
Almost all of us feel torn, by the various demands on us in our different roles
The enemy of the best, is the good
Contrast between the tools: the clock and the compass
Clock: represents time, daily commitments, demands on us
Compass: represents vision, values, principles, mission
Sometimes we become aware of the gap because of a crisis
We regret lost opportunities when it’s too late
Without a crisis, we seek quick fixes, band aids

Break with traditional time management
Traditional: achievement, efficiency, control
Relationships seen as transactions, we give something and get something in exchange
Time management is management, not leadership
You manage things, resources, but you lead people (such as yourself)
Leadership: Am I doing the right things? Management: Am I doing things right?

“The urgency addiction”
Urgency vs. importance
Adrenalin rush of a crisis can give us a rush and become “urgency additiction”
The important things in life are often not urgent
They don’t act on us, we must act on them.
Quadrant I. Urgent and important. Dealing with a crisis
Quadrant II. Important, but not urgent. “Quadrant of quality”. Training, development, planning, preparation.
Quadrant III. Urgent, not important. “Quadrant of deception”. Urgency mistaken for importance. Things that are important to others, not to us.
Quadrant IV. Neither urgent nor important. Escape from being tossed between I and III. Quadrant of waste. Couch potato.
Think of one activity, that if you did it superbly well and consistently, that it would have significant positive impact on your life (personal or work)
Those activities are in Quadrant II. They don’t act on us, we must act on them.

“What are the first things, and how do we put them first”
3 fundamental ideas that empower us
1. Fulfillment of human needs and capacities
2. True north principles
3. Capacity of four human endowments

1. Fulfillment of human needs and capacities
“To live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy”
To live: Physical survival and well-being
To love: Emotional, being intimate with others, having meaningful relationships
To learn: Mental, to enhance ourselves, grow, and build skills
To leave a legacy: Spiritual, to have a sense of meaning, purpose
We often see these as conflicting, separate compartments. They aren’t. They are interrelated.
Synergy between them is essential

2. True north principles
Quality of life is dependent on how well we align ourselves with external principles, natural laws
They are not subjective, democratic. They are timeless laws of cause and effect.
Not talking about: values, practices, religion
Talking about “The law of the farm”
Natural laws govern the work and cause and effect
Did you ever “cram” your way through a course? Did you get the degree but not the education?
Imagine “cramming” on the farm, playing around all summer and spending all night planting, watering, cultivating, and getting a harvest overnight
Can you “cram” on developing character, integrity? No
Same with physical health, or relationships: shortcuts don’t work
Short term fixes, shortcuts, are often based on appearance, or manipulation

3. Capacity of four human endowments
These are: Self awareness, Conscience, Creative imagination, Independent will
The space between stimulus and response, and create human freedom and empowerment
Allows us to align our lives with true north principles
1. Self awareness allows us to observe ourselves and
2. Conscience, deep moral sense, connection to wisdom and principles
3. Independent will, to rewrite our scripts, to act on principle instead of reacting to emotion or circumstance
4. Creative imagination, vision of a future state, solve problems in new ways, see ourselves better than we are now
Suggestions for enhancing these:
Keep a personal journal: self awareness, examination of conscience, analyze, process, write it down
Educate your conscience by learning, listening and responding to it. Read, observe experiences, take time to be still and listen for the “inner voice”

Independent will: How to strengthen our own willpower
Make and keep promises
Start small. Build slowly until your sense of honor is greater than your moods
Example: guy who could never keep commitments and his life was out of control
Started with a simple decision, to get up at the time he said he would every day for a week
Making and keeping promises to himself enhanced his ability to make and keep promises to others

Creative imagination: use visualization
Set aside time to be alone, visualize yourself in a circumstance that would normally make you uncomfortable or fearful.
See yourself acting in a way that is consistent with your principles

The main thing, is to keep the main thing the “main thing”
Step 1. Connect with your vision and mission
Consider the big picture: what moments are most valuable
If you don’t have a personal mission statement, you may get an idea of your mission by spending time thinking about…
What is important, what kind of person do I want to be
What are the principles you value
What is important to you
What do you most want to feel
Visualization: Victor Frankel, living in concentration camps
Discovery: Those more likely to survive were the ones who felt they had something more to do in life, and that had a vision of the future, and sense of meaning
Children with future-focused vision and roles perform better
Live out of our imagination, not just our memory

Example of Ghandi: Saw how he could help Indians create self-worth and become self-directed
Power of that vision transcended his own flaws
Visualize ourselves facing challenges and acting on our principles

Step 2. Identify our roles
Much of our pain comes from succeeding in one role at the expense of another
Balance doesn’t just mean dividing time equally, it means they goals are harmonious and complementary
Role in your family: Husband, Brother, Father
Role in work: management, administration, marketing, planning, etc.
Role in community or among friends
Personal development role: Sharpen the saw, like daily reading or exercise
Not to break your life down into boxes, but to create views and perspectives which provide different ways to examine our lives
Paradigm is one of importance, interdepedence, relatedness, balance

Frequent conflict: work and personal life
Relationships become neglected because of another single-minded goal
We are programmed to go faster, to dash between roles and touch bases with each one
We should instead focus on synergy
Compartmentalization is the problem, not the solution
Living ecosystem: Each part affects each other part
Example: exercise while spending time with a family member
Example: training someone by taking them along when inspecting a factory
Doing well in one role gives character and competence which empower the other roles
The roles are the “channels” in which we live, love, learn, and leave a legacy

Step 3. Select quadrant II goals in each role
What is the most important thing I can do in this role, this week, to have the greatest positive impact?
Look at the week, use your compass instead of the clock
You may not decide to set goals in every role this week.
Your compass gives you the power to do this.
Goals are powerful, but without principles they are “busy” work
The right thing, for the right reason, done in the right way

Step 4. Create a decision-making framework for the week
Constantly trying to find time for “first things”
Daily planning programs provide a myopic view of life, one without context
Example: Filling a jar with rocks. Is it full? Yes. Then filled the empty spaces with gravel, then with sand, then with water.
Lesson? “There’s always gaps and room to fit things in?” No. “If we had not put the big rocks in first, would we have gotten them in at all?
Goethe: Things that matter most must never be put at the mercy of the things that matter least.

Step 5: Exercise integrity at the moment of choice
Put first things first, even at the moment of unexpected opportunities, needs and challenges
Integrity (integratedness) – we must exercise it
Every decision is a moment.
Selection of roles, goals, or in the execution. Decisions are where the “rubber meets the road”

Step 6: Evaluation
Q II. would be incomplete without closing the loop.
Evaluate the success of the previous week:
What goals did I achieve
What challenges did I encounter, what decisions did I make?
In making these decisions, did I put first things first?
Did I fulfill the goals of the roles that I selected?
Creating an upward spiral of growth
Becoming principle-centered is a continuous goal
Focus on contributing, we are fulfilled by giving back

Author expresses a sense of reverence for contributions of others and for the principles themselves
Reverence for the divine: the source of principle and conscience
The spark of divinity within each of us is manifested by principle-centered lives of service, contribution, integrity
Bryant S. Hinkley: “Service is the virtue that distinguishes the great of all times in which they will be remembered by. It places a mark of nobility upon its disciples. It is the dividing line between the two great groups of the world: those who help, those who hinder; those who lift, and those who lean; those who contribute, and those who only consume. How much better it is to give than to receive. Service in any form is comely and beautiful. To give encouragement, to impart sympathy, to show interest, to banish fear, to build self-confidence, and awaken hope in the hearts of others… in short, to love them and to show it, is to render the most precious service.”

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