Stephen Covey has been gone since 2012, but it’s a tribute to his ideas that they live on and still feel fresh and relevant. First Things First was published in 2015, three years after Covey’s death, by Roger and Rebecca Merrill, with plenty of Covey’s original wisdom included. First Things First is more than a guide to time management; it presents a self-proclaimed fourth generation of the concept. It’s about personal leadership, rather than personal management. “More than doing things right, it’s focused on doing the right things.”
The decision of what to do next is seldom a decision (for most busy adults) between doing something “good” and doing something “bad.” It’s often a tough choice between “good” and “best.” This is a completely different problem. Roger and Rebecca Merrill write: “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 our lives are being lived for us.
What is “best” for you? What keeps you from giving those “best” things the time 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.”
First Things First says that the science and philosophy of time management is fundamentally flawed. It can make us more efficient, but it doesn’t help us decide what activities are most meaningful and essential for living a good life. Time management focuses on the concept of chronos, time as a measurement of linear minutes. First Things First, say theauthors, focuses on kairos—an “appropriate time” or “quality time.” It’s the difference between asking “How long did you stay at the party?” and “Did you have a good time?”
Shifting from paying attention to the clock to paying attention to your internal compass means you start spending time where it matters. You stop worrying about getting more done and focus on getting more out of what you do.
Here’s a great example, from Stephen Covey’s writing.
My daughter Maria, who recently had her third child, was talking with me one evening. She said, “I’m so frustrated, Dad! You know how much I love this baby, but she is literally taking all my time. I’m just not getting anything else done, including many things that only I can do.” I could understand how this was frustrating to her. Maria is bright and capable, and she’s always been involved in many good things.
She was feeling pulled by good things—projects she wanted to accomplish, contributions she wanted to make, things around the house that weren’t getting done. As we talked, we came to the realization that her frustration was essentially a result of her expectations. And for now, only one thing was needful—enjoying that baby.
“Just relax,” I said. “Relax and enjoy the nature of this new experience. Let this infant feel your joy in the role of mother. No one else can love and nurture that child the way you can. All other interests pale in comparison for now.” Maria realized that, in the short run, her life was going to be imbalanced… and that it should be.”
What would change in your life right now if you focused on the most important things rather than trying to accomplish everything? I invite you to step back, take a big breath and find out.
More from First Things First in future posts.