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This week, Life Training Online is reviewing First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy, by Steven Covey, the twelfth of fifty-two books in the 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks series.

I apologize for the delay on this post. It’s quite extensive, but I felt it needed to be in order to give his book the due diligence it deserves. Enjoy…

Chapter 1: How Many People On Their Deathbed Wish They Spent More Time In the Office?

The problem with busy people is not that they lack getting things done. It’s just that they’re not getting the most important things done. Covey explains that the issue for those who produce a lot of output does not lie between the “good” and the “bad” but between the “good” and the “best.”

I find myself struggling with this very same thing. I spend far too much time letting the “good” things in my life get in the way of the “best” things. And this is where this book promises to help us — to help us learn to put first things first in our lives.

The Clock and the Compass

To help strengthen our understanding, Covey brings into play the analogy of the clock and the compass — two powerful tools that direct us. The clock represents things like our schedule, commitments, appointments, goals, activities — basically what we do with and how we manage our time. The compass on the other hand represents the visions and priorities we have, the principles we follow, and the direction we feel we should go. This tool dictates how we lead our lives.

The frustration happens when you notice a gap between the two — basically when what you do doesn’t contribute to what is most important in your life. With all the pressure to close this gap, many of us turn to our traditional time-management tools/methods. However, according to Covey, these tools leave much to be desired and a new generation time-management tool is required.

Chapter 2: The Urgency Addiction

The two driving forces that influence how we use our time are urgency and importance. One of these however, is the central paradigm that we tend to follow.

For example, think about how often urgency influences your decisions. The phone rings. Your boss swings by the desk wanting some memo. Someone IMs you, etc.

Urgency has enough power to become an addiction if you let it. In fact, some of us get quite good at putting out all these little fires that pop up in our lives that we begin to thrive on them. Sure they put stress in our lives, but they also give us excitement, leave us with a feeling of accomplishment and success, and by golly we get good at it. In my college years I used to pride myself in not studying the whole semester and then cramming like crazy to ace the final and yes, I got real good at it.

Urgency in its own right is not the problem. The problem is when urgency, not importance, becomes the dominant factor in our lives and the important things get left by the wayside.

To more effectively deal with the issues of urgency and importance, take a look at Covey’s Time Management Matrix below. We spend our time in one of these four ways:

Time Management Matrix

Quadrant I activities are those that are both urgent and important. These are those “fires” that need to be put out. Although we all need to spend some time in this quadrant, it’s when we spend too much time here that we risk stress issues and burnout. By learning to focus your time on Quadrant II activities — important things that are not urgent — you’ll be spending less time in Quadrant I.

Activities that are in Quadrant III can easily be mistaken for Quadrant I activities. But these activities — if they are important at all — are only important to someone else and should be avoided.

Quadrant IV is the quadrant of waste. We shouldn’t be spending any time here at all. Covey explains that these aren’t necessarily recreational things, because recreation is an essential Quadrant II activity. Examples of these activities include habitually watching “mindless” television shows or gossiping.

Chapter 3: To Live, to Love, to Learn to Leave a Legacy

After moving from an urgency paradigm to one of importance, you may have wondered what exactly these “first things” are and how can you put them first in your life? Covey describes in this chapter three fundamental ideas which allow us to answer this question:

  1. The fulfillment of the four human needs and capacities:

    The four needs that Covey is referring to here are represented by the title of this chapter, “to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.” The need to live equates to our physical needs such as food, clothing, shelter, economic well-being and so on. The need to love is our social need to interact with others. The need to learn represents our mental need to continually develop and grow. And finally, the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need for meaning, purpose, and contribution.

    Each one of these needs is essential to quality of life. When one or more are lacking in our lives they effect all the others.

  2. The reality of “true north” principles:

    Although it’s important to fulfill these four needs in our lives, equally important is how we fulfill them. Unless we value principles, values will not bring quality of life results. And “true north” principles, according to Covey, are the universal and timeless truths that can be found throughout all the wisdom literature of the ages. When you align with those principles, and bring each of your needs in balance with all the others, you’ll experience true fulfillment in life.

  3. The potentiality of the four human endowments:

    Human beings have four “endowments” which separate us from the animal world. These are: self-awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination.

    Self-awareness is “our capacity to stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, our motives, our history, our scripts, our actions, and our habits and tendencies.” Conscience is what connects us to true principles and is our internal guidance system. Independent will is what allows us to act, to choose our response instead of re-acting. And finally creative imagination is our ability to envision a future state, to create something in our mind, and visualize our potential.

Chapter 4: Quadrant II Organizing — The Process of Putting First Things First

Here’s where Covey gets into the nitty-gritty of his planning method. If you’re familiar with the Franklin Covey planners, these principles form the basis of them. There are essentially six steps to planning which should be done on a weekly basis:

  1. Connect With Your Vision and Mission
    Your mission represents those things that are most important in your life. The things that give your life meaning and ultimately determine what you want to do and who you want to become.
  2. Identify Your Roles
    Roles represent the many different hats that you wear in life. A parent, a manager, a husband/wife, a church member, a community volunteer etc. Covey recommends choosing at most seven roles and selecting those which work together to contribute to the fulfillment of your mission.
  3. Select Quadrant II Goals in Each Role
    Now that you’ve identified your main roles, ask yourself: “What is the most important thing I could do in each role this week to have the greatest positive impact?”
  4. Create a Decision-Making Framework for the Week
    This is where you make sure that those “important” actions are included in your week and is the foundation of putting “first things first.”
  5. Exercise Integrity in the Moment of Choice
    This is where you implement your framework from the previous step. It’s acting daily on what’s important and living your plan. If there must be changes, then those changes come only when conscious directs you to do so.
  6. Evaluate
    Here’s where we come full circle. At the end of the week, take out your planner and look back on what you’ve accomplished and where improvements can be made — applying those improvements to the planning of the next week.

Chapter 5: The Passion of Vision

In chapter 5, Covey delves deeply into the importance of creating and living an empowering mission statement. I love the analogy he gives. Basically, if we aren’t living a mission that is based on true principles and values, then we might be “climbing the ladder of success only to find that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.”

An effective and empowering mission statement should be one which transforms you and is based on principles of contribution and purpose that are higher than self. It should address and integrate all four fundamental human needs and capacities. It should be based on principles that produce quality of life. It should integrate seamlessly with all the significant roles you fill in life. And finally, it should inspire you.

First Things First is the twelfth of fifty-two books in Life Training – Online’s series 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks.


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