Putting first things first is a concept straight out of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (aff). It’s a great lesson from a great book that I highly recommend. It’s also a lesson that I and many other people tend to forget far too often.
The first time I heard of this concept was when reading a book about bodybuilding when I was a teenager. The basic idea was that you should begin your workout with the body part that needed the most attention. For instance, if your biceps were weak looking, you should focus on exercises for that specific part of your arm before doing anything else. This way, you would be able to work on it when your body is at it’s peak of strength and stamina. Once again, this lesson can be carried over into all walks of life.
It may seem completely obvious to most that this is a good idea. For me, reading that really struck me as both a new idea and basic common sense. Sometimes, you may know something without consciously knowing it. Bringing the idea to the forefront of your consciousness then, can make it a much more powerful idea. That’s the case with this idea as well.
There’s always a lot of discussion amongst the writing community about what time each writer feels most productive. Naturally, there’s also a great deal of variety in preferences. Some feel more productive in the early morning while others can get much more done in the afternoon or late at night. The time of day doesn’t make as much difference as does the particular person’s schedule, though.
The key is to put whatever is the highest priority at a prominent place in your schedule that has been set aside for it. We all have multiple responsibilities in life and we’re used to setting priorities for each one, even if we only do it subconsciously. This is sometimes really hard to do. We have a saying about priorities where I work: They’re all ones. All of our priorities sometimes are number one priorities. How do we fit everything in then?
It’s vitally important to put one thing first. All the discussion of multi-tasking aside, it’s really impossible to do more than one thing at a time. Sure, you can do two important things, but your focus is actually switching back and forth from one thing to another. Say, you’re watching your kids and also reading a white paper. Your eyes are going from the page to the kids every minute or two. It’s hard to get anything done like this, isn’t it?
So, decide what’s most important at that moment and do that only. Sometimes this isn’t completely possible, but many times it is. Make some time in the morning right after you get up to have a cup of coffee and read that white paper or write that blog post. Focus on that task completely and get it done. You’ll find that you get it done much more quickly this way, too.
It pays to take stock of all of your responsibilities. This is something you should do regularly, maybe once a month or even once a week. Sit down and plan for when you’re going to take care of those number one priorities. While you’re going through your tasks, you may find that some aren’t quite as important as the others. Sometimes it really pays to shelve some of those less important tasks for a time, or even to decide not to do them. If you’re always overwhelmed by having too much to do, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever accomplish your goals.
Try to set aside some time soon to list out your responsibilities and decide what is your highest priority right now. This will change over time, but it will help to crystallize what’s important to you today. Don’t forget the importance of things like watching the kids or calling your mother, though. Focusing on those types of tasks pays off in the long run much more than reading that white paper of writing that blog post. Do your work early in the morning or late at night instead. You’ll be happier for it in the long run and also get much more done.