If you’ve watched our 7 Habits in 3 Minutes Video then you know that the third habit is First Things First, which can be summarized as Organize and Execute Around the Most Important Priorities. If you didn’t know or remember that, then go take 3 minutes and watch the video. Repetition helps you strengthen the neural pathways that lead to better recall. Go ahead, we’ll wait for you.
Covey said that First Things First was the habit on which people wanted the most additional instruction, so he co-wrote an entire book with Roger and Rebecca Merrill, appropriately titled First Things First.
One of the key ideas of First Things First is that we can divide all of our daily activities into 4 quadrants around the axes of urgency and importance as illustrated in the graphic to the right. It’s wisest to focus our attention on things that are important. However, most people are addicted to the tasks that are urgent. We spend much of our time in quadrant 1, urgent and important.
What is the attraction of the urgent quadrant? Some of us are addicted to the adrenaline rush or the stress of crises. We are drawn to do anything urgent, just to stay in motion. It gives us an artificial sense of self-worth, power, control, security, and accomplishment. Many of us have not yet exercised the discipline to focus on what’s most important in our lives.
The most effective people work in quadrant 2 60%-80% of the time, by prioritizing work demands according to their importance and non-urgency. Not everything you do has to be acted upon immediately. Use thinking time effectively to focus, plan and prioritize your work demands. You will feel less stressed and, in turn, be more effective.
The urgency addiction is hard to break and we won’t reach the 60% quadrant 2 functioning level overnight, but if we start with an awareness of the problem and a resolve to improve, we’ll gradually move towards a more effective and happier life.