First Things First by Stephen Covey, A. Roger Merrill and Rebecca Merrill

Book Review by Sally Webb, February 2016



This book is ideal for anyone struggling with time management or prioritisation at work, home or both.

It draws upon the same themes used in Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.

As ‘First Things First’ is quite a long read, you might want to absorb its excellent principles (outlined below) and then focus your reading time on the 7 Habits.

In a nutshell

The book is all about conquering time management by re-balancing your life.

The key premise is that your life will improve if you balance the demands of the clock (doing things efficiently) with the compass of effectiveness (doing the right things).

If you spend more of your time doing what’s really important to you, your quality of life will be greatly enhanced.

On the surface, this is about moving from the urgent to the important.

You’ll probably have seen the 2x2 matrix, which categorises potential tasks according to whether they are urgent and/or important. It’s all too easy to allow your day to be filled with urgent requests and crisis management - and then find that important but non-urgent items (such as planning for the future) get squeezed out.

The authors recommend that you spend 30 minutes each week planning, in order to obtain a better perspective of the important things you should be doing. They advocate starting with a personal mission statement by looking at your various roles at home as well as at work, defining important goals for each role, and scheduling time to address these.

This should be followed by a daily sense-check, so that you don’t lose sight of what’s important to you.

Behind this is the idea that your well-being and quality of life is based on meeting your fundamental needs in four dimensions:

  1. Physical needs, such as food, shelter and security
  2. Social needs, involving belonging and loving
  3. Mental needs, including personal growth and development
  4. Spiritual needs, in terms of having meaning in your life and leaving a legacy

To find balance and synergy between these four areas, your need to prioritise what’s important to you and put first things first.

Key insight applications

Everyone in the corporate world faces ever-increasing challenges relating to work pressure and work-life balance, and this will ring true for most people in the Insight community. It’s all too easy to get caught up in day-to-day pressures and demands and to neglect what’s really important to you as an individual.

In the Insight work environment, it’s helpful to review and sort work tasks into the urgent and the important. If you don’t specifically allocate resources and time to the more strategic work, your time will easily be filled with responding to urgent requests, which probably add less value to your organisation. Ruthless prioritisation is really the only solution to maximising the value that you and your team deliver.

The book also outlines how organisations which acknowledge these principles (by embracing a culture focusing on the important and non-urgent) become top performers. They create a culture of trust, alignment, synergy, interdependence and accountability – a cocktail that leads to competitive advantage.

Related reading

‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey

You can follow up on each of the 7 habits from an insight perspective here:

  1. Being proactive
  2. Starting from the end
  3. First things first
  4. Thinking win-win
  5. Understand to be understood
  6. Succeeding through synergy
  7. Sharpening the saw