Putting First Things First

It’s been a long time since I read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but there are parts of it that continue to shape my life. I recently thought about the book when I came across this video showing Covey illustrating the the habit: Putting First Things First.

Covey went on to write an entire book devoted to that one principle. Here’s an excerpt…

One of our associates shared this experience:

I attended a seminar once where the instructor was lecturing on time. At one point, he said, “Okay, it’s time for a quiz.” He reached under the table and pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar. He set it on the table next to a platter with some fist-sized rocks on it. “How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.

After we made our guess, he said, “Okay. Let’s find out.” He set one rock in the jar . . . then another . . . then another. I don’t remember how many he got in, but he got the jar full. Then he asked, “Is that jar full?”

Everybody looked at the rocks and said, “Yes.”

Then he said, “Ahhh.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar and the gravel went in all the little spaces left by the big rocks. Then he greinned and said once more, “Is the jar full?”

By this time we were on to him. “Probably not,” we said.

“Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went in all the little spaces left by the rocks and the gravel. Once more he looked at us and said,”Is the jar full?”

“No!” we all roared.

He said, “Good!” and he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in. He got something like a quart of water in that jar. Then he said, “Well, what’s the point?”

Somebody said, “Well, there are gaps, and if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”

“No,” he said, “that’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?”

The point is that we shouldn’t just try to cram more into our lives but instead we should make sure that we are prioritizing the right things. Don’t just prioritize your schedule but schedule your priorities. Covey continues…

With the “more is better” paradigm, we’re always trying to fit more activities into the time we have. But what does it matter how much we do if what we’re doing isn’t what matters most?

Our Quadrant II goals [important, but not urgent] are like the “big rocks.” If we put other activities — the water, sand, and gravel — in first, and then try to fit the big rocks in, not only will they not fit, we’ll end up making a pretty big mess in the process.

But if we know what the big rocks are and put them in first, it’s amazing how many of them we can put in — and how much of the sand, gravel, and water fits in between the spaces. Regardless of what else actually does fit in, the key point is that the big rocks — our Quadrant II goals — are in first.

What are the big rocks in your life? What are the things that are really important to you in your overall life? What’s important in your parenting, marriage, career, finances, friendships, character, your relationship with God? When you look at your schedule and how you spend your time, does it reflect your values? Are you putting the big rocks in first?

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