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First Things First

7 Habits book cover

First Things First – Are You an Effective Manager of Your…Self?

“The human will is an amazing thing… But as we examine this endowment in the context of effective self-management, we realize it’s usually not the dramatic, the visible, the once-in-a-lifetime, up-by-the-bootstraps effort that brings enduring success. Empowerment comes from learning how to use this great endowment in the decisions we make every day.”

– Stephen Covey, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

How is your prioritizing these days?

To be honest, when it comes to tackling the many daily tasks that need to get done in a day, I have been struggling over the past few months to juggle it all.

Part of this struggle comes from the practical reality that the world is opening up again, which is great…but this also means more visitors, more social engagements, more travel, more planning, and more external demands on my time – personally and professionally.

The other part of my struggle stems from the simple fact that I have been determined (ego-alert!) to keep up the same level of work and writing output that I was maintaining during the height of the Covid-caused isolation – despite adding significantly more activities and social interactions to my plate.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on WHY what had been working so beautifully for a year was no longer working. Click To Tweet

I seemed to be spending far more time deleting items on my daily task list (delete, delete, delete! as my mom used to say) than I did in getting much in the way of important (to me) work done.

I began to feel rather overwhelmed and wasn’t particularly enjoying doing my work tasks (that I used to love to do) – partly because I felt rushed.

And so, for a little guidance in the prioritizing department, I returned to one of my all-time favourite books: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” by Stephen R. Covey. There’s a very good reason the book has sold over 15 million copies. It is chock-full of wisdom.

And the number one thing that jumped out at me, when I picked up the (heavily highlighted) book yet again was this simple but potent advice:

Put First Things First

Or, put another way:

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

– Goethe

“Effective management,” explains Covey, “is putting first things first. While leadership decides what “first things” are, it is management that puts them first, day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Management is discipline, carrying it out.”

“Discipline,” Covey goes on to explain, “derives from disciple – disciple to a philosophy, disciple to a set of principles, disciple to a set of values, disciple to an overriding purpose, to a superordinate goal or a person who represents that goal. In other words, if you are an effective manager of your self, your discipline comes from within…you are a disciple, a follower, of your own deep values and their source.”

Ahhh…bing, bing, bing! went the little lights in my brain. For me, discipline is not the challenge (if anything, I am too disciplined with my daily work routine…ego-alert!). Rather, it might be time to revisit my core values.

Since I was clearly trying to accomplish too much in a day (which my body has been telling me rather loudly of late in the form of upper arm pain), perhaps I had veered off course from the bigger “What am I doing with my life and why does it matter?” and had become more focused on the “What do I need to get done today and how fast can I do it?”

In “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Covey has high praise for E.M. Gray’s essay entitled, “The Common Denominator of Success.” E.M. Gray spent his life searching for the one denominator that all successful people share. He found it wasn’t hard work, good luck, or astute human relations – although all those were important.

Rather, the ONE factor that seemed to transcend all the rest was: putting first things first. Gray’s research revealed that the successful person has the habit of doing things that not-so-successful people don’t like to do. Successful people don’t necessarily like doing these things either but (this is the kicker): “Their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”

That subordination, explains Covey, “requires a purpose, a mission, a Habit 2 clear sense of direction and value, a burning “yes!” inside that makes it possible to say “no” to other things.”

In other words…

When we have taken the time to figure out what our core values are – what we are doing here and why – then it becomes significantly easier to determine what really needs to get done in our day. Click To Tweet

I think most of us are well aware of this, myself included.

But re-reading parts of Covey’s book made me realize that when the outside world shifted yet again and things started to open up in the summer, I hadn’t taken the time to re-visit my core values before saying yes or no to external (and internal) requests on my time.

It’s no wonder I have been struggling to prioritize what needs to get done in a day. I was trying to do the same amount of work in significantly less time.

It certainly appears the world is going to continue to shift and change, on almost a daily basis now. There’s not much I can do about that.

But what I can do, on a far more regular basis, is take a moment to remember what I am doing here and why it matters (to me and others)…and then plan my daily task list accordingly. And if that means adopting my mom’s mantra of “delete, delete, delete,” more often than not, then so be it 😊

How about you?

Are you crystal clear on your core values and purpose? Are you able to put first things first? Click To Tweet

Related Blogs by Maryanne

Ego Vs Soul – A Few Tips on How to Tell the Difference

What’s Important Now? Revisited

Maryanne Pope is the author of “A Widow’s Awakening.” She also writes screenplays, playscripts and blogs. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a Director with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive her blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” please subscribe here.

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2 thoughts on “First Things First”

  1. I read Covey’s book many moons ago and enjoyed it very much. For me, the one thing I’ve always remembered from Covey is the Law of the Farm. As he says, “In agriculture, we can easily see and agree that natural laws and principles govern the work and determine the harvest. But in social and corporate cultures, we somehow think we can dismiss natural processes, cheat the system, and still win the day.

    Basically, you have to put in the work and the time to reap the harvest and you can’t expect a harvest if you’ve neglected to put in the time and effort.

    Although, now that I think about it, I think I’ll change the metaphor to the garden instead of the farm. I like the idea of gardens. They are a more personal thing and today – corporate farming – has to some degree altered the image of the farm in our minds.

    So, I’m going to call it – The Lesson of the Garden – from now on. Because the garden is, I think, more relatable. And maybe it’s partly because I recently read Braiding Sweetgrass – Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Braiding Sweetgrass is a wonderful book all about reciprocity to other people and nature.

  2. Hi James! Thanks so much for your excellent feedback. I don’t recall the “Law of the Farm” but I love how you explained it. And yes, for me the garden is a more applicable and personal analogy. We reap what we sow. Thanks for the important reminder of that message! I am just about finishing reading “Braiding Sweetgrass” and have absolutely loved it. Reciprocity is the key word indeed.

    Take care, thanks for reading my blog & posting a comment and all the best to you & your family this holiday season!

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