First Things First by Stephen Covey

The book’s opening pages got me hooked like never before. For once, it does not offer a new set of the clock for me to set my time on, but rather promises a compass to let me know where I’m headed instead of the age-old Faster, Harder, Smarter and More principles.  Sounds incredibly complex? Yes, and No. Yes because it is unlike the other books that offer you quick-fix solutions to your conundrums. And no, because by doing so, it ends up, well, offering another formula. Written in 1994 by Steven Covey, A. Roger Merril and Rebecca Merril, the book is still remembered for its classic time management quadrant.



Author : Stephen Covey
Originally Published :1996
Publication : Free Press
Pages : 384
Genre(s) : Non-Fiction, Self Help

Like the example of the new mother overwhelmed with the infant’s arrival, unable to find time for other tasks and for herself. But just as Stephen Covey advised his daughter, she ought to enjoy the motherhood more than anything else. There’s a season for everything, he says, so let your internal compass guide you rather than the clock on the wall. The proverbial clock is merely meant for scheduling while the internal compass shows you your true North, which is the purpose of life.

The book urges you to find out why we feel guilty for not having enough time to spend with family, to pursue our passions or to care for our own body. This book also brought to light the famous matrix which is known as the Eisenhower Matrix that the former US president used for his official work. This matrix plots the importance of tasks against the urgency of their completion.

Covey has categorized time management into three generations:

  1. The first generation of time management is based on simple reminders that allow you to go with the flow. Keeping a list so that you don’t forget is the best way for this.
  2. The second generation of time management comprises of planning and preparation, keeping calendars and appointments.
  3. The third generation is the most sophisticated where a person maintains lists and plans and prepares, but before all that, prioritizes his tasks and controls their completion and outcomes.

The book makes way for a fourth generation of time management- which is where the urgency index comes into the picture. The Urgency-Importance quadrant allows one to control the tasks based on their priority. This is especially applicable for leaders and those who need to take decisions constantly. The best part of this quadrant is that it allows you to move from one quadrant to the other, realizing you’re moving from urgency to importance on the way.

Something more

As is the way with Covey, he and the co-authors do not stop at aiding you with time management but go beyond that. There’s some great advice on developing creative imagination through visualization, nurturing independent will, and making and keeping promises. Now why for, you’d ask, is Covey delving into this allied territory? Well, didn’t he say that the fourth generation is all about the principles that you live on? Then these are some of the principles. And the gist of the fourth generation of time management is to keep the main thing, the main thing of the main thing (not my words, I swear. I understood them the first time I read it, though!). The authors provide you with a worksheet that lets you define your vision, your roles, creating a decision-maker framework for the week, and so on. They don’t to emphasize less on the human endowments that makes us ponder upon the why, how, who, and when for every task because that is how you will achieve the Principle-based goals.

Key takeaways

  1. The author makes it uncomplicated to manage time in a way you’d never achieve with To-do lists ever
  2. Focus is the key. Align the vision to the role and match the urgency to the importance. Just like a photographer uses different types of lenses to zoom out or zoom in based on the need of the situation, so also, we need to focus differently on the big picture and the immediate requirements.
  3. Setting weekly time tables, rather than daily ones, prioritizing based on principles and not on tasks gives you the freedom and the control to manage tasks better

Why I recommend this book

Because when there’s a whole truckload of literature available on how to create and adhere to lists for your workdays, this is a refreshing change that shows you how to do that. Read this book if you find that the to-do lists overwhelm you and that you’re left with no energy to deal with low priority but important tasks.

Read also to understand how getting beyond just planning requires plenty of self-assessment and putting principles ahead of urgency and priority. I loved the quadrant and have successfully implemented it in my daily schedule. It has not only enabled me to manage my lists better, it leaves me with a feeling of giving justice to things that matter and those being just the ones I have prioritized after all.

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