First Things First

You are the manager of your life and to manage your life effectively you need to learn to put first things first.

You also a leader that needs to learn how to set priorities, deciding what those “first things” are.

Mr. E. M. Gray dedicated his life searching for that one thing that all successful people share. Guess what is it? While you’re thinking, I can tell you what it’s not: hard work; good luck; being extraordinary smart; being gifted in some way; human relations… the list goes on. Putting first things first – is what he found to be that one thing.

“True discipline means channeling our best hours into first order objectives”

Time Management

Over the years, time management tools and methods evolved from simple organizers and to do lists to more complex systems. Up to this date there are 4 generations of time management tools:

1st generation is when people recognized the power of effective time management. It was the very first attempt to get more control over people’s lives by utilizing such simple tools as notes and checklists.

2nd generation – calendars and appointment books.

3rd generation – is what mostly used nowadays and in addition to the tools that were used in two previous generations it identifies the importance of prioritization, setting values and goals. It prioritizes the activities based on the person’s values.

Time management approaches focus only on things  and time. They don’t take into account unexpected events that arise daily, making people too restricted, too controlling, too scheduled. When something happens in a given day and the person is getting thrown behind his schedule, it creates a lot stress, anxiety and feeling of failure.

4th generation instead of focusing on things and time, it focuses on managing ourselves, creating and improving relationships while accomplishing results.

Urgent & Important

Activities and problems that we face daily for the most part are urgent and important. They can be divided into 4 types:

I. Urgent & Important. This are the fires that arise during the day and require our immediate attention. If we focus every day on managing only this type of problems, we often find ourself stressed, anxious and burned out.

II. Not Urgent, but Important. This is were you should be spending most of your time and energy. Example of type II activities: reviewing & planning, exercising, meeting new people and building relationships, writing personal mission statement. Basically its the staff that we know is really important, but we can’t find the time or motivation for it. Activities of this type, if we did on a regular basis, would change our life. Also, the 80:20 rule applies here.

“Effective people are not problem-minded; they are opportunities-minded”

Peter Drucker

III. Urgent & Not Important.  People react to the urgent, but not important problems, setting aside the important staff. Focusing on this type of issues makes us feel like the victims of circumstances and out of control. We sacrifice our values and priorities, spending time here.

IV. Not Urgent & Not Important. Watching TV, constantly checking email, spending hours talking on the phone, scrolling through Instagram or Facebook newsfeed, basically time wasting.

To be effective we need to spend more time dealing with type II activities and learn how to set priorities and say no to the things that don’t matter. We need to learn how to put first things first. 

A lot of people use 3rd generation time management approach to stay effective. They prioritize their daily problems and activities in accordance with goals and values. This time management approach lacks creativity, realism, turning people into robots. When things do not go as planned, it results in frustration and feelings of failure. 3rd generation tools help ONLY to organize critical problems and busy work.

“The key is NOT to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”

Covey, 1996

You need to create your own time management tool that will organize your life in the context of the week. 

The tool should be:

  1. Balanced. It has to balance all the aspects of your life, like health, relationships, career, hobbies, experiences etc.
  2. Coherent. It has to have a place for your mission statement. It should use your mission and vision as a guidance for setting short and long-term goals.
  3. Flexible. It should serve you, not the other way around.
  4. People Factor. It should you to have flexibility to deal with people and unexpected things that arise daily.
  5. Portability. The tool should be easily portable and always by hand when needed. 

In order to develop the tool that will allow you to manage your time and energy effectively you need to:

  1. Identify your Roles. What are the key roles you performing in your life? You can be a husband, a son, an engineer at work, a cyclist or runner at the gym.
  2. Set the Goals. Each role you’re playing has to have a set of goals you want to accomplish in that part of your life. As a triathlete you may want to break your PR in marathon running or finish 1st in your age group at the Ironman race. As a professional, you may be striving to get promoted etc…
  3. Plan the Week. Look at the next weeks schedule and distribute your goals throughout the week. There should be logic thinking and convenient approach applied, as would make more sense to do certain things on certain days.
  4. Plan the Day. Your daily planning should be flexible, based on priorities, unanticipated events and relationships. 

Now you have your personal management tool that:

  • Creates balance between different roles of your life. You grow in all areas of your life that important to you, succeeding in all directions;
  • Gives your more freedom and greater context. By planning weekly, instead of planning daily you become more flexible and less stressed. You now see a broader picture and when unexpected arise you get more freedom to creatively address that issue;
  • It allows you to make quick decisions, sort the tasks by priorities and values that are important to you. By constantly having your core values and principles in check, you can sort out non-important things and free more time for the staff that matters. It also defines your life’s mission and aligns everything you do with it.

Your tool evolved from being just a To Do List to being your compass.

References:

COVEY, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: restoring the character ethic. New York, Free Press.