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Putting First Things First

Stephen Covey wrote a classic book on personal development entitled “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In this article, we consider Habit 3, Putting First Things First.

Picture a one-gallon glass jar filled to the brim with several large rocks, lots of gravel, sand and water. Now envision dumping the full contents of that jar into a pan. Your task is to fit 100% of the contents back into the jar. The only way you can get it all back in is to put the big rocks in first, followed by the gravel, then the sand and finally the water. The order is critical. If you try to put the sand or the gravel in first, the big rocks just won’t fit.

Here’s the lesson. The space in the jar represents the limited amount of time you have to fill with activity. The big rocks represent what is most important. To accomplish what is most important (the big rocks), you need to put those priorities into your schedule (the jar) first. Please note that these “big rock” priorities are not the most urgent items in your life. That is why without intentional planning, they will get pushed out by smaller things. The purpose of weekly planning is to be sure that you put the most important tasks in your schedule first and allow the other lower priorities to fill in.

For this to be effective, you must be clear on what is most important. Covey expresses this challenge with a tool he calls the time management matrix. The matrix provides four quadrants for all your tasks as follows I – Urgent Important, II – Not-Urgent Important, III Urgent Not-Important and IV – Not-Urgent Not-Important. To move through life proactively and fulfill our mission and vision, we must learn to prioritize and execute the most important things. Quadrant II (Not Urgent Important) is the quadrant where we increase our production capacity, build relationships, recognize new opportunities, plan, and renew. The key to placing the “big rocks” of quadrant II in the jar is by proactively prioritizing those activities by regular planning. Your commitment to the plan requires you to say NO to people pleasing and time-wasting activities.

Think about it. If you consistently accomplish the 10 most important things in your life every week, you will complete 520 priority tasks every year. What difference would that make in your relationships and success?

The only remaining question is will you begin proactively planning and executing what is most important?

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