Put First Things First


  • Question: What one thing could you do – which you aren’t doing now – that If you did it regularly, would make a tremendous difference in your business or personal life?
  • The next habit involves self-leadership and self-management: putting first things first. Leadership decides what the “first things” are, and management is the discipline of carrying out your program.
  • As Peter Drucker has pointed out, the expression “time management” is something of a misnomer: We have a constant amount of time, no matter what we do; the challenge we face is to manage ourselves. To be an effective manager of yourself, you must organize and execute around priorities.
  • We don’t manage time. We can only I manage ourselves.
  • Instead of trying to fit all the things of our lives into the time allotted, as many time management plans do, our focus here is on enhancing relationships and achieving results. We all face the same dilemma. We are caught between the urgent and the important. Something urgent requires immediate attention, it’s usually visible, it presses on us, but may not have any bearing on our long-term goals. Important things, on the other hand, have to do\ with results – they contribute to our mission, our values, and our high-priority goals. We react to urgent matters; we often must act to take care of important matters, even as urgent things scream for our attention.
  • People get “harried” away from their real goals and values by subordinating the important to the urgent; some are beaten up by problems (in quadrants I and HI on the “Time-Management Matrix”) all day, every day. Their only relief is in escaping once in a while to the calm waters of quadrant IV.
  • To paraphrase Drucker again, effective people don’t solve problems – they pursue opportunities. They feed opportunities and starve problems. They have genuine quadrant I emergencies, but by thinking and acting preventively, they keep their number down. With the time-management quadrants in mind, consider the question you answered at the beginning of this section. What quadrant do your answers fit in? My guess is quadrant H: deeply important, but not urgent And because they aren’t urgent, you don’t do them.
  • I put a group of shopping-center managers through the same exercise. The thing they said would make a tremendous difference was to build helpful personal relationships with their tenants – the owners of the stores inside the center – a quadrant II activity. We did an analysis of how much time they spent on that activity. It was less than 5 percent of their time. They had good reasons: urgent problems, one after the other. Reports, meetings, calls, interruptions. Quadrant I consumed them. The only time they did spend with store\ managers was filled with negative energy: when they had to collect money or correct advertising practices that were out-of-line.
  • The owners decided to be proactive. They resolved to spend one-third of their time improving their relationships with tenants. I worked with the organization year and a half and saw their time spent with tenants climb to 20 percent They became listeners and consultants to their tenants. The effect was profound. Tenants were thrilled with the new ideas and skills the owners brought them. Sales in the stores climbed, and so did revenues from the leases.

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