first things first

Simple Ways to Prioritize and Put ‘First Things First’

Each of us has a limited amount of time and energy each day to make the most of it. The more you prioritize what you do, the more value you can create each day for yourself and others, and the better you will feel each day. Prioritizing is key to being more successful in life.

In previous posts we have summarized key points of Stephen Covey’s famous guide to success in life, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” First we need to be proactive and not reactive – to take charge of our own lives. Then we need to consider what we want to achieve as we “Begin with the end in mind.” Now that we have taken the first two steps, the next logical move is to prioritize, what Covey calls “First Things First.”

He observes that all too many of us let things that are urgent but not important crowd out things which are important but not urgent. Planning for the future and nurturing relationships are two important things which are often neglected because they are not urgent at the moment.

But the next text message, the next email, the next phone call, the next person through the door, the next whimper from a child or pet – now that feels urgent. It is easy to become addicted to the chemical hormones surging in our brains when we identify and react to something that feels urgent and “get it done right now.”

In today’s hyperactive Internet world, it is harder and harder to focus on things which are important but not urgent. But this is one of the most essential disciplines if you want to be successful in life.

So how do you prioritize effectively?

The best way is to build and repeat daily habits that put First Things First and keep you in charge.

In an earlier post we recommended writing down a short list, maybe five, dynamic goals which are things you want to achieve in life and can visualize. So every day, every single day, start out by reviewing that short but important list, consider other items you must do, and plan your day.

For many years I have kept an electronic To Do list using originally Excel, then Filemaker Pro, and more recently a multi-platform To Do list app. But recently I noticed if it took more than a few seconds to launch the electronic To Do list, I could just leave it to memory … and then forget.

So about a year ago I put a 5X7 yellow notepad right beneath my main computer. Each time I think of something I need to do or remember, I write it down. Instantly. Completed items are scratched off. When the page gets full, I start a new one. I enter important things in my app so I can access it anywhere, but that is just a back-up. The yellow notepad has become my best To Do list and memory aid ever. So simple and cheap. Does not require electricity.

However, a list of more than a dozen To Do list items can be full of “urgent but not important” stuff. So right beside it is a vertical index card with my five key dynamic goals on it. I review the goals, review the To Do list, and decide what to do next, in a matter of seconds. It works really well.

I’ve always loved Einstein’s quote, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” This is a really simple way to put First Things First that works for me. Even the coolest smartphone app is not in your field of view right under your computer.

Read much more about how to put First Things First in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Written by Key Success Edge president Buck Lawrimore


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