February 13, 2019

First Things First: A Productivity Method

Last week, we examined David Allen’s Getting Things Done as a productivity method. This week, we take a look at First Things First, a tenet of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a classic among business and productivity gurus. But we’ll warn you: It’s a heavy lift, with ambiguous terminology such as “Circle of Influence,” “Circle of Concern” and “Synergize!” It takes a great deal of patience to get through the book.
 
But buried within the 7 habits – #3, to be exact – is a productivity method that many people abide by. It’s called “First Things First.”

‘First Things First’ in a Nutshell

Quadrants in Stephen Covey's First Things FirstThe concept behind “First Things First” is simple: You perform tasks based on the importance and urgency of each one. To do this, you sort your tasks into one of four quadrants:
  • Important & Urgent – Crises, customer service emergencies, important sales calls
  • Important & Not Urgent – Things we know we need to do but will probably put off until later.
  • Not Important & Urgent – Phone call interruptions, meetings – things that other people may see as urgent but clog up your time.
  • Not Important & Not Urgent – These are the leisure activities we tend to do – surf the Internet, work on hobbies, watch TV.
Of course, Quadrant 1 is the most important, and we should first concentrate on getting those things done. However, Covey warns that too many people get wrapped up in Quadrant 3 when they can either delegate or say “no” to those tasks.
Quadrant 2 is what you should be working on. You need to devote at least 10% of your day to tasks in this quadrant; 30% would be better.

Eisenhower Matrix

This method is remarkably similar to the Eisenhower Method, a system that President Dwight D. Eisenhower used when making decisions:
Eisenhower Matrix

Eisenhower said of his method, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

According to Covey, the key to this method is to remain proactive, not reactive. “To live a more balanced existence, you have to recognize that not doing everything that comes along is okay,” he said. “There’s no need to overextend yourself. All it takes is realizing that it’s all right to say no when necessary and then focus on your highest priorities.”

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