First Things First

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Simon and Schuster, 1995 - Business & Economics - 373 pages
7 Reviews
First Things First is a revolutionary guide to managing your time by learning how to balance your life. Traditional time management suggests that working harder, smarter, and faster will help you gain control over your life, and that increased control will bring peace and fulfillment. But in the first real breakthrough in time management in years, the authors of First Things First apply the insights of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to our daily problems of struggling with the ever-increasing demands of work and home life.
Rather than focusing on time and things, First Things First emphasizes relationships and results. And instead of efficiency, this new approach emphasizes effectiveness. It tells us:
* Why we feel a gap between how we spend our time and what's deeply important to us
* How focusing on efficiency and control increases the gap instead of closing it
* How to determine if what you're doing is really important -- or only urgent
* How to overcome the tremendous gravity of habit
* How to put people ahead of schedules
* How to lead your life, not just manage your time
Offering a principle-centered approach and the wisdom and insight that made The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People a #1 bestseller, First Things First empowers listeners to define what is truly important; to accomplish worthwhile goals; and to lead rich, rewarding, and balanced lives.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - dbeveridge - LibraryThing

Excellent discussion of a terrifically useful concept. Finding a way to move from what's urgent to what's important. Like all such books, it goes on too much, but get the key idea and it's (barely) worth slogging through the inevitable self-congratulatory/evangelical dross. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - dk5eo - LibraryThing

FIRST THINGS FIRST by Stephen R. Covey and A. Roger Merrill In the first real breakthrough in time management techniques in years, Stephen R. Covey and A. Roger Merrill apply the insights of The ... Read full review


Section Four
How Many People on Their Deathbed Wish Theyd Spent
Whats the cost? 21618
Working effectively with others
The Urgency Addiction
To Live to Love to Learn to Leave a Legacy
The Perspective of the Week
Integrity In the Moment of Choice
Learning from Living
Section Three
First Things First Together
Empowerment from the Inside Out

What If other people are the problem?
The Passion of Vision
The Balance of Roles
The Power of Goals
A Review of Time Management Literature
The Wisdom Literature

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About the author (1995)

Chapter 1: How Many People on Their Deathbed Wish They''d Spent More Time at the Office?

The enemy of the "best" is the "good,"

We''re constantly making choices about the way we spend our rime, from the major seasons to the individual moments in out lives. We''re also living with the consequences of those choices. And many of us don''t like those consequences -- especially when we feel there''s a gap between how we''re spending our rime and what we feel is deeply important in out lives.

My life is hectic! I''m running all day -- meetings, phone calls, paperwork, appointments. I push myself to the limit, fall into bed exhausted, and get up early the next morning to do it all again. My output is tremendous; I''m getting a lot done. But I get this feeling inside sometimes, "So what? What are you doing that really counts?" I have to admit, I don''t know.

I feel like I''m being torn apart. My family is important to me; so is my work. I live with constant conflict, trying to juggle the demands of both. Is it possible to be really successful -- and happy -- at the office and at home?

There is simply too little of me to go around. The board and shareholders are on me like a swarm of bees for our declining share prices. I''m constantly playing referee in turf wars between members of my executive team. I feel tremendous pressure to be leading our organization''s quality improvement initiative. The morale among out employees is low and I feel guilty for no/ge/ring out with them and listening more. On top of all this, despite our family vacations, my family has all but written me off because they never see me.

I don''t feel in control of my life. I try to figure out what''s important and set goals to do it, but other people -- my boss, my work associates, my spouse -- continually throw wrenches into the works. What I set out to do is blocked by what other people want me to do for them. What''s important to me is getting swept away in the current of what''s important to everybody else.

Everyone tells me I''m highly successful, I''ve worked and scraped and sacrificed, and I''ve made it to the top. But I''m not happy. Way down inside I have this empty feeling. It''s like the song says, "Is that all there is?"

Most of the time, I just don''t enjoy life. For every one thing I do, I can think of ten things I don''t do, and it makes me feel guilty. The constant stress of trying to decide what I should do in the middle of all I could do creates a constant tension. How can I know what''s most important? How can I do it? How can I enjoy it?

I feel like I have some sense of what I should do with my life. I''ve written down what I feel is really important and I set goals to make it happen. But somewhere between my vision and my daily action, I lose it. How can I translate what really counts into my daily life?

Putting first things first is an issue at the very heart of life. Almost all of us feel torn by the things we want to do, by the demands placed on us, by the many responsibilities we have. We all feel challenged by the day-to-day and moment-by-moment decisions we must make regarding the best use of our time.

Decisions are easier when it''s a question of "good" or "bad." We can easily see how some ways we could spend our time are wasteful, mind-numbing, even destructive. But for most of us, the issue is not between the "good" and the "bad," but between the "good" and the "best." So often, the enemy of the best is the good.

Stephen: I knew a man who was asked to be the new dean of the College of Business of a large university. When he first arrived, he studied the situation the college faced and felt that what it needed most was money. He recognized that he had a unique capacity to raise money, and he developed a real sense of vision about fund-raising as his primary function.

This created a problem in the college because past deans had focused mainly on meeting day-to-day faculty needs. This new dean was never there. He was running around the country trying to raise money for research, scholarships, and other endowments. But he was not attending to the day-to-day things as the previous dean had. The faculty had to work through his administrative assistant, which was demeaning to many of them who were used to working with the person at the top.

The faculty became so upset with his absence that they sent a delegation to the president of the university to demand a new dean or a fundamental change in his leadership style. The president, who knew what the dean was doing, said, "Relax. He has a good administrative assistant. Give him some more time."

Within a short rime, the money started pouring in and the faculty began to recognize the vision. It wasn''t long until every time they saw the dean, they would say, "Get out of here! We don''t want to see you. Go out and bring in more funds. Your administrative assistant runs this office better than anyone else."

This man admitted to me later that the mistake he made was in not doing enough team building, enough explaining, enough educating about what he was trying to accomplish. I''m sure he could have done better, but I learned a powerful lesson from him. We need to constantly be asking ourselves, "What is needed out there, and what is my unique strength, my gift?"

It would have been easy for this man to meet the urgent expectations of others. He could have had a career at the university filled with many good things. But had he not discerned both the real needs and his own unique capacities, and carried out the vision he developed, he would never have achieved the best for him, the faculty, or the college.

What is "best" for you? What keeps you from giving those "best" things the rime and energy you want to give them? Are too many "good" things getting in the way? For many people, they are. And the result is the unsettling feeling that they''re not putting first things first in their lives.


Our struggle to put first things first can be characterized by the contrast between two powerful tools that direct us: the clock and the compass. The clock represents out commitments, appointments, schedules, goals, activities -- what we do with, and how we manage our time. The compass represents out vision, values, principles, mission, conscience, direction -- what we feel is important and how we lead our lives.

The struggle comes when we sense a gap between the clock and the compass -- when what we do doesn''t contribute to what is most important in out lives.

For some of us, the pain of the gap is intense. We can''t seem to walk out talk. We feel trapped, controlled by other people or situations. We''re always responding to crises. We''re constantly caught up in "the thick of thin things" -- putting out fires and never making time to do what we know would make a difference. We feel as though out lives are being lived for us.

For others of us, the pain is a vague discomfort. We just can''t get what we feel we should do, what we want to do, and what we actually do all together. We''re caught in dilemmas. We feel so guilty over what we''re not doing, we can''t enjoy what we do.

Some of us feel empty. We''ve defined happiness solely in terms of professional or financial achievement, and we find that our "success" did not bring us the satisfaction we thought it would. We''ve painstakingly climbed the "ladder of success" rung by rung -- the diploma, the late nights, the promotions -- only to discover as we reached the top rung that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. Absorbed in the ascent, we''ve left a trail of shattered relationships or missed moments of deep, rich living in the wake of the intense, overfocused effort. In out race up the rungs, we simply did not take the time to do what really mattered most.

Others of us feel disoriented or confused. We have no real sense of what "first things" are. We move from one activity to another on automatic. Life is mechanical. Once in a while, we wonder if there''s any meaning in our doing.

Some of us know we''re out of balance, but we don''t have confidence in other alternatives. Or we feel the cost of change is too high. Or we''re afraid to try. It''s easier to just live with the imbalance.


We may be brought to an awareness of this gap in a dramatic way. A loved one dies. Suddenly she''s gone and we see the stark reality of what could have been, but wasn''t, because we were too busy climbing the "ladder of success" to cherish and nurture a deeply satisfying relationship.

We may find out our teenage son is on drugs. Pictures flood out minds -- times we could have spent through the years doing things together, sharing, building the relationship...but didn''t because we were too busy earning a living, making the right connections, or simply reading the newspaper.

The company''s downsizing and our job''s on the line. Or our doctor tells us we have just a few months to live. Or our marriage is threatened by divorce. Some crisis brings us to an awareness that what we''re doing with our time and what we feel is deeply important don''t match.

Rebecca: Years ago, I was visiting with a young woman in the hospital who was only twenty-three years old and had two small children at home. She had just been told she had incurable cancer. As I held her hand and tried to think of something to say that might comfort her, she cried, "I would give anything just to go home and change a messy diaper!"

As I thought about her words and