Put First Things First

Put first things first ­— a phrase that’s easier said than done. In this busy world, it’s very easy to lose sight of your goals.

And because it’s impossible to have just one task on your list, you need to keep your ducks in a row. So, how do you do this?

There are different tools to help you put things first. But perhaps the best method is the Eisenhower Matrix.

The matrix was later popularized by the late Stephen Covey in his best-selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Covey integrated ways to resolve professional and personal difficulties, thus the division of daily activities into four quadrants.

He incorporated this concept into what he called the third habit, which means to put things first.

Putting first things first encourages you to adopt a way of life where life should be celebrated without compromising your responsibilities.

What is the Third Habit

To fully understand the third habit, you need to revisit Stephen Covey’s first and second habits.

The first habit talks about being proactive. Going after what you want in life. Being responsible for your behavior, result and growth. Knowing that you are accountable for the things you do.

The second habit is, to begin with the end in mind. This means being able to envision the things you want in life. Like a building that needs a blueprint, you also need to contemplate on the things that you want to achieve.

Now, this is where the third habit comes in. Putting first things first perfectly complements Habit 1 (be proactive) and Habit 2 (begin with an end in mind).

So, what does Habit 3 mean? It means to act on your ideas, vision, and goals. Now that you have established a vision and taken responsibility for your life, it’s time to act.

However, the third habit is not focused on a single goal. On the contrary, it’s geared toward long-term goals that reap tremendous benefits.

Habit 3 is said to be the key to fulfillment. If you put more weight on the things that matter and make it a habit to live a life of value, you will have achieved greatness.

How to Put First Things First

The secret to weekly planning is to make priorities. It’s clear that working on your priorities with the bigger picture in mind (quadrant 2 tasks) contributes to your personal and professional growth. Everything else will follow.

A perfect example is the big rock-small rock principle. Imagine your life is a jar. If you put in the big rocks first, the smaller rocks will settle in the cracks, allowing them to fit into the jar. It’s pretty much like how urgent things work their way through major tasks in real life.

To illustrate, here’s a run through of a day with the “first things first” principle in mind. Note that this involves moving tasks from quadrant 1 to quadrant 2.

First, you determine the bigger goals you want to achieve in life. For example:

  • I want to be more focused
  • I want to improve my physical health
  • I want to become the best version of myself

After determining your goals, you start your day with the “big rocks” in mind. Following our example above, you will:

  • Practice meditation after waking up. Starting your day right will determine how the rest of your day will go. Meditation creates calmness and clarity, which makes you more productive.
  • After meditating, it’s time to do some exercises to improve your physical health. This is important for you to feel alert and active throughout the day.
  • To become the best version of yourself, you’d want to dress up accordingly and present yourself neatly. This boosts your confidence and self-esteem.

The simple example shows how the small rocks will adjust if you prioritize your big rocks first.

This means focusing on your Q2 tasks ­— tasks that are important but not urgent — rather than the urgent and important tasks (Q1).

The irony of this is when you don’t follow through on your Q2 tasks, they would eventually turn into Q1 tasks.

For instance, if you forget to exercise regularly, sooner or later you’ll feel unhealthy until an emergency situation will force you to try exercising again.

Unless you want a constant crisis in your life, you must make it a habit to move quadrant 1 tasks to quadrant 2 tasks. Such is the importance of prioritizing your tasks.