The Main Thing Is To Keep The Main Thing The Main Thing

As time management books go “First Things First” by Stephen Covey, Rebecca & Roger Merrill stands apart from every other book that I read in this category. Someone once said that you don’t manage time you manage your life. Time transcends us mere mortals. The best we can do is to manage ourselves.

Unlike time management principles I have gone through before such as the ABCD method of prioritization, the 80/20 Pareto principle, etc. Steve Covey and co. go deeper…questioning the very results that we wish to achieve efficiently using time management principles.  In other words it asks us to consider whether the ladder we strive to climb is leaning against the right wall.

Doing more things faster is no substitute for doing the right things – From the book “First Things First

The most important time management skill this book teaches is…

Pay attention to the important things in your life. Don’t be at the mercy of the urgent.

Paying attention to urgency is seductive but also addictive. It deceives us into thinking we had a productive day by checking off several things on our ‘To Do List’ only to leave us in the dumps at the end of the year doing some soul searching on why we lack passion, what our life amounts to etc.

They acknowledge that some of the urgent things can also be important but most were at one point just important not urgent. Consider the regular maintenance of your car. If the ‘Check Engine’ light gets displayed on your car’s dashboard you know that it is something important that needs looking into. But at first this problem does not in any way prevent the car from being driven around. So off you go ignoring the message until the day you discover that the problem with the catalytic converter festered and spread to the second catalytic converter leading to a bigger problem.

The authors present a helpful visual to guide and focus our thinking on the important things in our life. They divide our activities into four quadrants.

Time Quadrants

Quadrants I and III are where we are stuck most of the time because we fall victim to the urgent. Quadrant II is where we need to spend most of our time if we were to follow the advice of the authors. Certain quadrant I activities are inevitable and cannot be avoided. For example a crisis like a cardiac arrest whose resolution is both urgent and important. However it is very possible to reduce the number of activities in quadrant I by increasing quadrant II activities like preparation, planning, prevention etc.

Quadrant III activities that fall into the category of urgent but not important include being invited to irrelevant meetings, some interruptions such as a colleague wanting to chat about the latest foot ball game etc.

Quadrant IV activities fall into the category of not important and not urgent and include busy work, time wasters, trivia and escapism. Activities that are truly recreational in nature i.e engage your full attention and leave you rested and relaxed actually belong to quadrant II and should not be confused with quadrant IV. Quadrant IV activities should be avoided. They are destructive in nature.

Beware of false rationalization that prevents us from focusing on the important things in life. I make time to workout regularly ,attend Toastmasters meetings and a few networking opportunities. I skip my lunch hours, come in early or leave late to accommodate these but there are the usual folks who complain they don’t have the time for all these.  People who incidentally read 1000 page plus novels or go for long drawn out lunches.

There is always time for important things in life.

The important question that we need to address next is how do we determine what is truly important to us. Skipping this step means we end up practicing the old fashioned time management skills of possibly doing the wrong things efficiently.

The authors recommend a mission statement to guide us and give depth, direction and purpose to our everyday moments. The promise of a mission statement is to provide us with vision that is borne out of our true inner needs. Not one that sounds right or pleases someone else. Done right a mission statement connects us to a deep reservoir of passion within ourselves. Done right a mission statement literally sets us on fire.

In the next post I will dwell more on how to decide on the truly important things in your life. Stuff that is important to you not stuff that others decide is important to you.


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#1 How To Live More Intentionally on 04.16.12 at 7:08 pm

[...] Is more than mindless goal setting and busyness. It is about focusing on the really important things in our life instead of the urgent. It is about attaining a deep and gratifying sense of fulfillment [...]

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