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How to Master the 3rd Habit of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Put First Things First — Mastering the 3rd Habit

If you have mastered the first two habits described by Stephen Covey, now it’s time to move on to the third habit — Put First Things First. This habit is about setting your priorities and accomplishing the first and second habits, namely, Be Proactive and Begin with the End in Mind.

It shows you how to achieve spending more time in the Quadrant II, which includes activities that are important, tasks that help you live a balanced life and prevent the burden of urgent tasks.

The first challenge that Stephen Covey teaches about the third habit is to answer the following two questions:

  1. What single thing that you should be doing regularly to make a big change in your life?
  2. What thing in your professional or personal life would lead to similar results?

Before moving on to the online resources, try giving these two questions a thought, even if you are not ready to provide the answers.

Ready?

The Four Quadrants of Time Management

Understanding the paradigm of time management promoted by Stephen Covey is vital if you want to master the 7 habits. I suggest keeping this image or any other representation of the four time quadrants in a place where you can see it:

You can find out what the time quadrants are and how they can help from this short video:

Videos On the Third Habit

For those of you who have not read the book yet, here is Stephen Covey talking about identifying your priorities and organizing your life around them so you spend more time living in the Quadrant II:

You may feel like the information presented by Covey in this video is very dense and requires time and meditation to settle. To makes things slower, check this animation that presents the third habit in a more relaxed and accessible manner:

What is the Connection Between the First Two Habits and the Third?

When studying the 7 habits, it’s always important to see them as whole rather than separate principles. The 7 habits are interdependent, especially the first three are closely related to each other as they help you achieve personal victory and independence.

Reading about the third habit is an excellent occasion to review the first two and understand how the three are intimately linked to each other:

  • Habit 1 teaches you that you are master of your life, you are in charge, and you are responsible for what happens to you.
  • Habit 2 appeals to your imagination and encourages you to see with the eyes of the mind — what is not yet possible. It helps you to create a vision of what you could become.
  • Habit 3 is putting into practice what you have learned until now by implementing an effective management of your own personality. It will help you spend more time in Quadrant II and understand why dealing with priorities first of all helps us achieve better results and maintain the balance between productivity and production capacity.

How Can the Third Habit Change My Life?

Let’s go for a real life example. For instance, you may be tempted to spend time browsing the Internet tonight and end up going to bed tired and bored. This kind of activity belongs to Quadrant IV – where unimportant and not urgent activities are found.

The harm you cause on yourself for the long term by staying in Quadrant IV can be bigger.

Wasting time instead of doing something good for your body and your mind, like going to the gym or reading a good book, will result in deteriorated health and reduced production capacity.

This means that at some point you will be pushed to Quadrant I, where urgent and important activities are included. You may have to deal with an acute health problem or you may end up lacking energy so much that you will postpone your work until it becomes urgent and you have to deal with it now.

Software to Help You Focus on Your Priorities

Have you ever tried getting an accurate picture of what occupies your time throughout the day? An interesting exercise I’ve been doing is using an app to find out exactly what my daily computer and Internet usage habits are.

RescueTime

RescueTime delivers a comprehensive analysis of your digital life and identifies those habits that ruin your effectiveness. You just need to install the app and it will run in the background on your computer and mobile devices.

It tracks time spent on applications and websites and then produces detailed reports about your daily activity. Now you will know for sure if you are interrupting your work 50 times a day to check your social media accounts or you are spending a long time on websites providing low-quality entertainment.

Pomodoro Timer

After identifying those interruptions in your daily workflow or important activities, you can apply a very simple yet effective method for eliminating them – the Pomodoro Timer.

There are many apps based on this Italian time management method, but in order to familiarize yourself with it, you can try this simple website that doesn’t require you to install any piece of software to your computer.

In short, the idea is to break down your work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, and separate them by short breaks. During the 25 minute intervals, you will ignore any possible interruption – an excellent exercise for getting that stay-in-Quadrant II mentality.

Going back to the two questions formulated by Stephen Covey, you may find it easier to provide some good answers.

Week Plan

RescueTime and the Pomodoro Timer are great productivity tools. The former is perfect for tracking your productivity at work while the latter keeps you focused on specific tasks.

But if you want to take things to the next level — from productivity to effectiveness, then you need more than just a productivity app. You need Week Plan.

Week Plan is a priority planner that helps you do the right things — the things that truly matter. It lets you prioritize tasks according to urgency and importance while allowing you to set high-impact tasks (HITs).

But Week Plan is not just a productivity Swiss Army Knife, it also has a vision planner, goal tracker, journal, roles management, calendars, and more. Check out the full features:

  • Quadrant View Prioritization Tool (Eisenhower Matrix)
  • Schedule High Impact Tasks (HITs)
  • Roles Management
  • Goals Tracking
  • Weekly/ Monthly Calendar
  • Journaling
  • Coaching Emails
  • Time Tracking
  • Pomodoro Timer
  • Google Calendar/ Outlook Integration
  • File Attachments
  • iOS and Android Apps
  • And More!

Check out Week Plan here.

There you have it. Good luck in mastering the 3rd habit of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People methodology.