Saturday, June 26, 2010


This is the third in a series of occasional posts based on Stephen Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I've written about his first 'Habit' in my post on Deciding (2/19/10). I tackled his second 'Habit' in a post called Goals (5/4/10). One of the first things Stephen Covey makes clear is that his third Habit comes directly as a result of the first two.

First, you have to decide that you are going to be the person you want to be. Then, you have to decide what your goals, your personal mission, your vision, is. Once you have done those two things, then, if you really want to achieve your goals, you need to prioritize.

My friend Susan should be famous for this quote: "Sometimes what you decide not to do is as important as what you decide to do." I've often said that people can do anything (almost) that they want; they just can't do everything that they want.

Steven Covey entitles this Habit as "Put First Things First". (And, in fact, he has co-authored another book entitled, First Things First.) This means deciding what you are going to do and what you're not going to do. It means establishing priorities and keeping them in mind as you go through your day.

He claims that most activities are defined by whether they are urgent and whether they are important. Obviously, the things that are both urgent and important get our attention first, as well they should. But Covey points out that things that are urgent but not important also easily claim our attention. And sometimes, when we are overwhelmed or burnedout, we escape into activities that are neither urgent or important. What gets neglected are the things that are important but not urgent.

When we prioritize, we focus on what is important to us--urgent or not. Covey makes it clear that when we take care of the stuff that is important but not urgent, we can cut down on the amount of urgent and important things, mostly because we dealt with them before they became urgent. He also urges that we cut the things that aren't important out of our life--urgent or not.

How do we know what is important? It's back to Habit 2--is this something that will move us toward our goals?

A lot of this chapter is about organizers and Covey's version of important and urgent as 'Quadrants' but I think what is important here is to find a way to focus your life, to establish and follow through on your priorities. He suggests weekly planning. I now start each week with a to-do list based on my roles in life (which are defined by goals) with columns for daily activities, things for the week, and long-term--but you'll need to find something that will work for you. The hard part, and the most important part, is to really focus on what is important to you and to priorize that and let go of most of the rest.

Quote of the Day: "Returning once more to the computer metaphor, if Habit 1 says 'You're the programmer' and Habit 2 says 'Write the program,' then Habit 3 says 'Run the program,' 'Live the program.' And living it is primarily a function of ... our self-discipline, our integrity, and our committment--not to short-term goals and schedules or to the impulse of the moment, but to ... our own deepest values, which give meaning and context to our goals, our schedules, and our lives." - Stephen Covey

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