ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Seven Habits, A Practical Summary: Habit 3 - First Things First

Updated on July 26, 2012

Time Management Is So Complicated!

We can't manage time - making it go slower or faster. But, with a lot of learning, we can manage ourselves, guiding what we do with our time.
We can't manage time - making it go slower or faster. But, with a lot of learning, we can manage ourselves, guiding what we do with our time. | Source

The Failed To Do Lists of Life

Everyone, I think, has tried to make a to do list, and failed. No one has studied why to-do list systems fail as deeply as Stephen Covey. In Habit 3: Put First Things First of the 7 Habits, he identifies three early generations of time management tools that do not work:

  1. Checklists and notes are often incomplete, hard to organize, easy to lose, and impossible to prioritize.
  2. A calendar and appointment book are essential for appointments, but they do not organize our own work.
  3. Both a prioritized to do list and an appointment book together are a lot better. But they still keep us focused on what we have to get done today, not what we want to do with our lives.

To create a better system for managing goals, tasks, and appointments, Covey then builds a better mousetrap: a system of weekly planning. When we think in weeks, we can link the lifetime and longer-term goals from our Vision and Mission (Created in Habit 2) to our work of the week. We actually make progress towards our life goals, instead of just putting out fires.

Stephen Covey's tools add one more crucial element - they distinguish urgent from important. Urgent means it has to get done soon. Important means that getting it done really matters. Covey realized that there are two independent questions to be asked about each task:

  • Is it urgent? (yes/no)
  • Is it important? (yes/no)

Realizing that these two questions are independent of one another gives rise to the Table #1: The Four Quadrants: Urgent and Important.

Table #1: The Four Quadrants: Urgent vs. Important

Is It Urgent
Is It Important?
Q1: Urgent & Important: Putting Out Fires
Q2: Important, not Urgent: Working towards our life goals
Q3: Urgent, but not Important: Dealing with interruptions and hassles
Q4: Not Urgent, Not Important: Wasting Time

We can evaluate each task we do. Ask "Is it urgent?" and select the appropriate column. Ask "Ist it important?" to select the appropriate row. We can evaluate ourselves honestly and see whether we are living to make our dreams real; always putting ou

Our Roles and Our Goals

There is a problem in everyone's life that has no answer: Is an important thing for home life more important than something for work? The truth is that any time two roles conflict, there is no easy answer. There are, however, ways to think about the problem.

Covey teaches us to sort out our roles, and recognize an important goal for each role. This, combined with an understanding of the four quadrants (urgent vs. important), gives us a tool to make difficult decisions when our boss wants us to do one thing, and our loved ones want us to do something else. The whole system is too long to explain here. Let me just say that Habit 3, Putting First Things First, is well worth putting into practice. Living the first three habits means living a fulfilling life.

In creating Habit 3, Covey fulfills a famous dictum from Albert Einstein, "the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." All scheduling methods before 7 Habits were too simple, and the richness and value of our lives were lost in this simplification. Living Habits one through three means living true to ourselves:

  • Proactivity: Committing to our own responsibility for living our truth
  • Begin With the End in Mind: Discovering our truth, creating our priorities
  • Putting first things first: "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. And this can best be done in the context of the week" not the day (7 Habits, p. 171).

Slip-Sliding Away? Or Reaching Our Goals?

Many of us feel, when we are looking at our lives, like the man Paul Simon sings about, "the nearer our destination, the more we're slip-sliding away, slip-sliding away." That includes me.

Part of me thinks that, after 17 years, I'm nowhere near good enough at keeping a weekly schedule and getting things done. And, technically, that's true. I know many ways I could do better. But, at the same time, I live the Habits, and I've internalized them deeply. And it shows up. Friends find that I keep my commitments, offer a lot of support, listen well, and think clearly. Readers find my work on HubPages and are inspired, encouraged, and given clear, helpful advice. Most of my time is given to giving, mostly through writing, which is how I've always dreamed of living. Much of my time is invested in self-improvement - becoming a better writer, a better listener, and a clearer channel for the Love and Wisdom that is available within us all, and that the world so much needs.

I have many goals that I have not achieved. Some require more money than I have. The most important ones - like world peace - require cooperation from other people. But I can say that the vast majority of time is invested in working effectively towards those goals.

And a lot of the credit for that goes to a man who I only met through reading his book. Thank you, Dr. Covey.

But what about those goals that come only by working with others? How do we get better at leading, listening, and serving. For that, we turn to the Habits of Interdependence:


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)