This week, Life Training Online is reviewing First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy, by Steven Covey, the twelfth of fifty-two books in the 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks series. To help strengthen our understanding, Covey brings into play the analogy of the clock and the compass — two powerful tools that direct us. To more effectively deal with the issues of urgency and importance, take a look at Covey’s Time Management Matrix below. After moving from an urgency paradigm to one of importance, you may have wondered what exactly these “first things” are and how can you put them first in your life? Although it’s important to fulfill these four needs in our lives, equally important is how we fulfill them.
In chapter 5, Covey delves deeply into the importance of creating and living an empowering mission statement. An effective and empowering mission statement should be one which transforms you and is based on principles of contribution and purpose that are higher than self. Put First Things First is Habit # 3 of Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That sounds pretty easy and intuitive, but many people unconsciously fall into the trap of getting caught up in non-important things. The Time Management Matrix is actually the fourth generation in the series of time management systems developed to give us more control of our lives. However, the system does not factor in deeper values such as relationships, spirituality, inner peace which are more important in the bigger picture.
The fourth generation system addresses this gap – It focuses us on developing deeper value tasks and accomplishing results.
A good way to differentiate Q-3 from Q-1 task is to ask yourself: “Is this task related to my goals? This is called the Quadrant of Waste, and for good reason – it contains all your time wasters. Q-2 is magic quadrant we need to focus on – It is the most important, yet most often neglected.
After you plant your seeds, you will need to continuously put in time and effort to manage your plants. If you are living in an unconscious manner, you will find majority of your time spent in Q-1, Q-3 and Q-4, in varying proportions. After I was done with Q-1 and Q-3 tasks at work, I would feel too tired to do any brain work. It was not entirely easy too – When I first started this, there were many times I would slip into my previous response model. The symptoms of stress can show up mentally, physically, emotionally or behavourally and within each category they cover a wide range of symptoms.
As you look over this abbreviated pie chart of body, mind, emotions and behavior symptoms you may begin to realize that your stress symptoms fall more into one group more than another. There are numerous symptoms of stress from each of the four groups, as illustrated by the following list many common signs of stress as listed by the American Institute of Stress. As demonstrated in the above list, symptoms of stress can show up in a mind bogglingly wide range, and have huge impact and effects on our sense of self, our emotions, moods and behaviours. You may see a number of symptoms that describe you, and yet have trouble grasping that stress is their cause. How would we know what freedom from stress is like it we have never experienced any other kind of existence? We may also have trouble grasping the seriousness of stress because, well, stress is a brain killer. And our brain is only one of the systems that we can be unaware of, or worse oblivious to, being heavily affected by stress overload.
It’s quite extensive, but I felt it needed to be in order to give his book the due diligence it deserves. The clock represents things like our schedule, commitments, appointments, goals, activities — basically what we do with and how we manage our time.
In fact, some of us get quite good at putting out all these little fires that pop up in our lives that we begin to thrive on them.


The problem is when urgency, not importance, becomes the dominant factor in our lives and the important things get left by the wayside. If you’re familiar with the Franklin Covey planners, these principles form the basis of them. The things that give your life meaning and ultimately determine what you want to do and who you want to become.
In our focus to complete our tasks, we may tune out ‘distractions’, such as a call from friends or general family time, even though we may genuinely value people and relationships! While people become highly successful in goal achievement with third generation, they eventually reach a point where there is a conflict between their goals and what gives them deeper meanings.
This is done via using Covey’s framework to first classify our daily activities, then dealing with them in a certain way based on which quadrant they fall in. Does doing this make any difference to me?” Focusing on Q-3 results in short-term vision and myopia, being out of control in life and not being able to stick through with your own goals and plans. Q-2 is all about having personal leadership and focusing on the important tasks that matter. When I first knew about the framework two and a half years ago, I was surprised to know that many of my Q-2 tasks were neglected. I'm Celes and I'm here to help you achieve your highest potential and unleash your magic to the world. There is no one list of symptoms that describes stress because the symptoms themselves are highly subjective and as varied as we are. A steep roller coaster dive might be enormously distressful for some of us yet the same ride can be pleasant for others. This may give you helpful clues for choosing stress management techniques and knowing how to handle stress in your individual situation. It may be hard to think of stress as their direct cause, when often the symptom is in itself a cause of stress, and perpetually locked into a vicious cause-effect cycle. And this is where this book promises to help us — to help us learn to put first things first in our lives. The compass on the other hand represents the visions and priorities we have, the principles we follow, and the direction we feel we should go.
However, according to Covey, these tools leave much to be desired and a new generation time-management tool is required. Sure they put stress in our lives, but they also give us excitement, leave us with a feeling of accomplishment and success, and by golly we get good at it. Although we all need to spend some time in this quadrant, it’s when we spend too much time here that we risk stress issues and burnout.
Covey explains that these aren’t necessarily recreational things, because recreation is an essential Quadrant II activity. And finally creative imagination is our ability to envision a future state, to create something in our mind, and visualize our potential.
Covey recommends choosing at most seven roles and selecting those which work together to contribute to the fulfillment of your mission. If there must be changes, then those changes come only when conscious directs you to do so. To become a master of your time, you need to first be aware of your priorities in the larger context of your life.
Firstly, commitments may not be kept, because people do tasks as they appear as on the list or according to whatever may seem important at the time.
An example would be overachieving corporates who feel a sense of emptiness despite a successful career.
For example, you may be spending a lot of time on a certain report which does not have any implication in your overall job performance or appraisal.
Q-2 tasks should reflect your life goals and desires, which are laddered down from your life purpose. On the other hand, if you keep on putting off these Q-2 tasks, the status quo will remain the same, whether 5, 10, 20 years from now. For example, after I started working on eating healthier and exercising more often, I was visibly losing weight.


Neuroscientists are warning us about disregarding the fragility of our brains with regard to stress. In my college years I used to pride myself in not studying the whole semester and then cramming like crazy to ace the final and yes, I got real good at it. And finally, the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need for meaning, purpose, and contribution.
When you align with those principles, and bring each of your needs in balance with all the others, you’ll experience true fulfillment in life. With this system, we now have personal accountability since our tasks are tied to a certain deadline. By spending all our time here, we become consumed with firefighting every day instead of crisis prevention. This can be because they have nothing better to do or they are procrastinating on things they should be doing.
To correctly define them, you need to be clear on your life purpose first – so if you have not discovered your life purpose, please read my 7-part series on Discovering Your Purpose! Secondly, compared to other quadrants, these tasks require more investment of energy and time for results, which conflicts with society’s obsession with instant results nowadays.
For example at work, I would be spending majority of the time firefighting and dealing with crises. On the other hand, I had Q-2 tasks such as eating healthier, exercising, pursuing my passion in helping people, improving my relationship with my family, etc. Despite investing so much time and being incredibly efficient in Q-1 and Q-3 tasks, my life not seem very different vs. It will help you structure out your daily activities in accordance of importance and urgency and deal with them accordingly. Side effects include stress, burn-out, constant firefighting and resolving problems instead of preventing them in the first place.
This was especially so since I was in project management, where delivery against timelines was critical.
While I recognized them as important, they were always last on the to-do list simply because they did not seem urgent at the moment. For every activity that I do, I would evaluate first to see which quadrant it lies under before doing it. We often see working level employees, advertising executives, accountants, etc getting consumed by this quadrant. I was also unconsciously investing in Q-3 tasks and thinking that I was being productive, such as writing unnecessary reports, attending unimportant meetings, dealing with others’ requests. If I ever do plan to do a Q-2 task, I almost never get to it because Q-1 and Q-3 tasks always take centerstage. Start working on them today and in time to come, you will find yourself reaping the fruits of your labor. You know it is only a matter of time before you will enjoy the harvest – being a full-fledged teacher. By constantly allowing myself to be embroiled in urgent tasks, I did not leave any time for Q-2, the most important areas of my life. My natural behaviour toward Q-1, Q-3 and Q-4 tasks is to get them out of the way so that I can go back to focusing on Q-2, because I know this is what will give me the biggest rewards in the long run.
It became clear that unless I consciously prioritize my Q-2 tasks, nothing is ever going to happen in this area. Acting on the Q-2 task means starting the conscious search for your prospective partner now. Even though it may take you a while before you find someone you desire, you will be able to experience benefits earlier than if you procrastinate on it.



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