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.

Chapter 6: The Balance of Roles

As they work through their mission statements, many people awaken to the fact that they have been neglecting many important areas of their lives. They invest extensive time and energy into one area — such as their job, hobbies, or community service — all the while forgetting vital areas such as their health, family, or friends. Still others, aware of the various roles in their lives, feel they just can’t find enough time to equally balance them out. This inability to balance their many roles in life doesn’t stem from a lack of time, but instead is a result of a lack of understanding of what “role balancing” really means.

According to Covey, we are programmed at an early to view our roles as separate “compartments” of life. We attend different classes, have separate textbooks and when we get an A in Biology and a C in History we fail to notice the relationship between the two. In a similar vein we see our role at work as being completely separate from our role at home and definitely miss the boat when we try to find their relationship to our roles in personal development or community service.

Instead of viewing these roles as “either/or” — where we have to constantly run back and forth between our various “compartments” — we should take a more holistic viewpoint — allowing the roles to work synergistically in one related whole.

Take for example two of my roles — “personal development” and “husband”. If this week my goal in the “personal development” role is to exercise, and my goal in my “husband” role is to spend some quality time with my wife, I could combine the two and, say, go play tennis with my wife. By transcending the “either/or” mentality of choosing one role over another — thus creating a win-lose scenario (one role is worked on while another is neglected) — and instead seek to combine roles synergistically, you save tremendous amounts of time and create win/win opportunities.

Chapter 7: The Power of Goals

Setting and achieving goals is a common thread that runs throughout self-help literature. However, most of these “traditional” goal-setting methods incorporate only two of the four human endowments available to us: creative imagination and independent will.

We use our creative imagination to visualize ourselves beyond our present state and see ourselves achieving what it is that we desire. We use our independent will to carry out our plans of action and make the correct choices which lead us to accomplishing our goals. These two endowments are very powerful in their own right, but we are using only a small part of what’s available to us. Here are two other endowments which we can call upon:

  • Conscience
  • Self-awareness

Conscience is what aligns our goals to our mission, needs and principles. Using our concience to direct our goal setting helps us to answer three vital questions: What do we want? Why do we want it? and How will we achieve it? Led by conscience, we are doing the right thing for the right reason in the right way.

Self-awareness is the ear to the voice of conscience. It’s what allows us to make an accurate assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, thereby helping us to make realistic goals. We see where we really are in life — no illusions and no excuses. At the same time we recognize our need to stretch, not allowing us to cop out on the path of mediocrity.

Remember, using creative imagination and independent will in goal setting isn’t enough to create quality of life. Hitler used them to set and achieve goals. So did Ghandi. But Ghandi was also directed by conscience and self-awareness.

Covey recommends as you set goals to keep in mind these five characteristics of effective weekly goals:

  1. They’re driven by conscience.

    Effective goals are in harmony with our deepest selves. It’s something we feel, deep inside, that we need to do, and is in harmony with our mission and true principles.

  2. They’re often Quadrant II goals.

    By choosing Quadrant II goals, we are focusing on what’s important — not urgent — in our lives. Something too many of us often neglect.

  3. They reflect our four basic needs and capacities.

    Most of us pursue goals that are time-bound and tangible. This leads to imbalance and severely limits our quality of life. Effective goals are not only about what we want to have in the physical dimension, but should also include spiritual, social, and mental components as well.

  4. They’re in the Center of Focus.

    Each of us has a what Covey calls a Circle of Concern. This encompasses everything that we’re concerned about — the President’s foreign policy decisions, the graffiti on the walls of our neighborhood, our health, or the rising taxes.

    Within this circle is another circle called the Circle of Influence. This defines the area of concern where we can actually make a difference. We may not be able to influence the President’s foreign policy decisions but we can do something about the graffiti in our neighborhood and we can definitely do something about our health.

    But the most effective use of our time and energy is found in the Center of Focus — which is at the center of both the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence. This includes all the things we’re concerned about, which are within our ability to influence, and most importantly are aligned with our mission.

    Trying to operate in the Circle of Concern, we waste time and effort on things that we have no ability to change or affect. When we work within the Circle of Influence, we are able to do some good, but we may be doing it at the expense of something better. By setting goals within our Center of Focus, we maximize the use of our time and effort.

  5. They’re either determinations or concentrations.

    Finally, it helps to define your goals in terms of determinations — things you’re absolutely committed to do, no matter what — and concentrations, things you would like to focus your efforts around.

    With determinations, your integrity is on the line. Unless directed by conscience, you commit to following through. By fulfilling these determinations, you make major deposits into your own personal Emotional Bank Account.

    Concentrations on the other hand, do not risk your integrity. These are things you are focusing on and desire to move toward. If you don’t do them, you may lose the invested time and energy, but you don’t make withdrawals from your own Emotional Bank Account

Chapter 8: The Perspective of the Week

Covey starts this chapter off with an analogy of the different lenses professional photographers use and how they relate to our planning — a wide-angle lens for the big picture, a normal lens to capture what we normally see with our eyes, and the micro lens for close-up work.

Most time-management methods focus on daily planning — the use of the micro lens. It seems like a pretty solid form of planning because with the rise and fall of the sun, we have a perfect unit of time to go by. But the problem with daily planning is that it leads to us prioritizing crisis. We’re focusing and seeing only what’s in front of us — the pressing, proximate, and urgent things.

Looking at just the big picture — the wide-angle lens — is not the ideal either. We can’t have our heads constantly in the clouds never translating our vision into action. We lose touch with reality and eventually lose credibility with ourselves and others.

So, how can we resolve this issue and keep things in perspective and focus? We do this through weekly planning — the normal lens. The week represents “a complete path in the fabric of life.” It is close enough to be relevant, but at the same time distant enough to provide perspective and context.

Covey suggests to set aside a time in the week — preferably in a place that’s conducive to introspection and contemplation — and map out your plan for the coming week ahead. In our planning each week, we should include the following:

  • Balanced Renewal

    Be sure to plan a time in the week for re-creation and renewal. In the Judeo-Christian world for example, they honor the Sabbath — one day out of the seven devoted to reflection and recommitment. Also, dedicating 30 min out of every day for personal renewal through exercise or meditation will keep your saw sharp and your mind clear.

  • Synergy among our Goals

    This is where we look to find opportunities to balance our roles in achieveing our goals (see Chapter 6). This creates synergy and we’re better able to leverage the time we have.

  • Schedule you Priorities

    Covey makes the point that, unlike daily planning where you prioritize what’s on the schedule, weekly planning involves scheduling your priorities. You don’t fill every time slot with scheduled activity, but rather put the most important things down first, only then adding whatever else it is that we need to add.

Chapter 9: Integrity in the Moment of Choice

In this chapter, Covey instructs us on how to develop integrity in the moment of choice. Life doesn’t always go according to our weekly plan. Sometimes things will come up which force us to reevaluate our plan and choose between equally good and important things. What do we do then?

That’s where integrity in the moment of choice comes into play. Integrity is defined as soundness, wholeness or completeness. As we go about our daily lives, we build our integrity in our choices by learning and interacting with our conscience. This happens through a three-fold process:

  1. Ask with Intent:

    Here’s where we essentially become principle centered. We basically ask our concience to guide us in our decisions. Questions like, “Is this in my Center of Focus?” or “What’s the best use of my time right now?” help us to clarify what the best choice for us to make in the moment really is.

  2. Listen without Excuse

    When we begin to feel the first whispering of concience, we either follow it or try to rationalize why we should make some other choice. If we choose the second option, it will only lead to disharmony and tension. Only by acting in harmony with the voice of conscience, will we feel peace and ultimately quality of life.

  3. Act with Courage

    Emerson said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but that our ability to do has increased.” Asking our conscience for direction and listening without excuse takes courage. Fortunately, the more that we do it, the easier it becomes unti we are living a principle-centered life.

People who live by and listen to conscience are not easily swayed by society’s or the media’s current. They’re not addicted to the “cotton-candy” satisfaction of urgency addiction. They do, however, experience deep and lasting fulfillment in their lives — despite difficulties and challenges. People know deep down inside what it is that they should be doing. The challenge is to develop one’s character and ear to listen and live by it. This is what Covey means by acting with integrity in the moment of choice.

Chapter 10: Learning from Living

The value of weekly planning and living is not just centralized around what we did in it; it’s also found in what we have learned from it and most importantly what we become as a result of it.

Since the week is part of the greater whole, it helps to evaluate what we’ve done. It’s interesting because as we plan for the upcoming week and act out our plan, evaluation is not only the last step of that plan but also the first. It’s the first step in the cycle of evaluate -> organize -> and act. Covey says that “as we organize, act, evaluate…organize, act, evaluate…and organize, act, and evaluate again, our weeks become repeating cycles of learning and growth.”

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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