“To live a more balanced existence, you must recognise that not doing everything that comes your way is okay. There’s no need to overextend yourself. All it takes is realizing that it’s all right to say no when necessary and then focus on your highest priorities.” Continuing with our series, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, in this blog we’ll look at Habit 3, which is all about putting first things first. If you missed it, our last post was about Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind.
Manage your time by putting first things first
This is an excerpt taken from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which summarises habit number three focused on putting first things first. “Habit 1 says, ‘You’re in charge. You’re the creator.’ Being proactive is about choice. Habit 2 is the first, or mental, creation. Beginning with the End in Mind is about vision. Habit 3 is the second creation, the physical creation. This habit is where Habits 1 and 2 come together. It happens day in and day out, moment-by-moment. It deals with many of the questions addressed in the field of time management. But that’s not all it’s about. Habit 3 is about life management as well – your purpose, values, roles, and priorities. What are ‘first things?’ First things are those things you, personally, find of most worth. If you put first things first, you are organizing and managing time and events according to the personal priorities you established in Habit 2.” There is no question that in business and in our personal lives, time is one of our most precious commodities. How we manage time in our business is an essential skill and one that deserves attention.
Apply this time management trick to your business
We believe the following four areas of focus and associated activities are a great place for business owners to start when it comes to managing their time and putting first things first:
- Take stock of where your time is going by taking notes and checklists which recognise the multiple demands on our time. With these lists, you can determine what you need to stop doing, keep doing or delegate. Over a 30-day period, it is guaranteed that you will see a trend of activities that fall into these 3 categories.
- Use your calendar more effectively to manage your days/weeks/months. Your calendar can be an incredibly powerful tool if it is used properly. What’s currently in your calendar? Spend some time adding calendar events for important business initiatives (marketing time, sales time, delivery time, working ON business time), add general appointments, family engagements, time with your team. Just by structuring your calendar properly, you will reduce the ability for activities that steal focus and attention to creep in and allow you to give more undivided attention to the task at hand – the one your calendar says you should be doing at that very minute!
- Plan your day. Keep a day planner that priorities your activities, gives focus, clarifies values for the day and highlights the overarching goals that are helping you move forward. Nothing feels better than crossing things off your daily to-do list!
- Start saying no. Make it a goal to start saying no to something at least once a day that doesn’t sit inside quadrant 2 of the matrix below. This matrix highlights the activities that generally occupy our time. Unfortunately, for many business owners, most of their time gets taken up by quadrant 3 activities. Ones that are supposedly urgent, but not important. Quadrant 2 is where most of your time, as a business owner, should be spent going forward.
• Pressing problems
• Deadline-driven projects, meetings, preparations
• Values clarification
• Relationship building
• True recreation
• Interruptions, some phone calls
• Some mail, some reports
• Some meetings
• Many proximate, pressing matters
• Many popular activities
• Trivia, busy work
• Some phone calls
• Time wasters
• ‘Escape’ activities
• Irrelevant mail
• Excessive TV
When you spend as much time in quadrant 2 as possible, you will notice that you become more focussed on the opportunities in your business. You can feed the possibilities and starve the problems by anticipating them and planning to prevent crises from happening. It isn’t easy getting to this stage. Creating an awareness of your personal management skills using the four activities listed above is a great place to start. These activities will put you on the path to taking control of your time and truly put the “first things first” in your business and life in general.