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First Things First

First Things First’ is the habit of organizing activities around goals and priorities, rather than managing time.  Okay, but how do we focus on priorities, when our lives are full of urgencies and distractions?   It starts with a model:

Every action has two drivers; namely, urgency and importance.  If we put urgency and importance on separate vectors, they are the backbone of Steven Covey’s four-quadrant model:

Quadrant One actions are both urgent and important. You must do them immediately because delays have serious consequences.  For example, if your baby has a high fever, you must look after your baby now!  The fever is urgent and very important. Yes, urgent and important issues are unavoidable, but many of us spend all our time in Quadrant One, leaving no time for long-term goals and values. Effectiveness means shrinking the size of Quadrant One.

Quadrant Two is the heart of powerful leadership.  These tasks are critical to long-term goals and values, such as: building meaningful relationships, writing mission statements, exercising, learning new skills, planning, and true recreation.  Inherently, we know Quadrant Two is crucial, but this quadrant is neglected because we waste  time in Quadrants Three and Four.

Quadrant Three is the zone of urgent yet petty things.  These tasks feel important because they matter to someone.  Nevertheless, they are irrelevant to your long-term goals. Quadrant three includes shallow relationships, aimless meetings, most incoming calls, and dumb reports.

Quadrant Four is a pure waste of time: This includes trivial discussions, busy (but meaningless) work, redundant emails, gossip, checking cell phones every 5 minutes, listening to perennial complainers, surfing the Internet, reading junk mail and so forth.

What are the implications of the four quadrants?

The key to success is spending more time in Quadrant Two.  Peter Drucker said leaders focus on opportunities, rather than problems; they schedule around goals rather than having other people, or outside factors dictate the schedule. This makes sense, because 80% of productivity comes from about 20% of our activities – the “Pareto Principle”.  Moreover, we generally know what activities are the most productive.

How do we find time for Quadrant Two?  That’s simple: We must shrink Quadrants Three and Four.  Be ruthless. Eliminate wasteful activities. Instead, we must focus on long-term goals and core values.   True, we will always have urgent and important tasks in Quadrant One.  This said, many crises are mitigated by investing in preventative activities of Quadrant Two.

Quadrant Two Leaders start by defining your key roles.  For example, you may be a parent, spouse, manager, team captain, or musician.  Ask yourself: What are the pivotal things you can do – on our own – that will boost your performance in each of these roles?  Second, identify your time-wasters.  What are you doing in Quadrants Three and Four? Dump them – now!

Finally, remember effective delegation is a critical to leadership. This means: a) defining tasks that can be done by others, b) getting others to accept these jobs, or roles, c) giving people requisite resources and authority to complete their new jobs, d) measuring progress, and e) celebrating success, or making adjustments (with training or additional resources) should people fall short of the desired outcome.

Peter Labrie – Founder


Covey, S.R. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in  

           Personal Change. New York, N.Y. Simon &Schuster Ltd.

Jura, J.M. (1964). Managerial Breakthrough. New York, N.Y. McGraw-Hill

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