Find TIME by putting “First Things First”October 27 , 2011

Most of us live busy, noisy lives.  It is incredibly easy to run from one urgent item to another, filling up our days, weeks and years, without spending enough time on the important stuff — like items that make us happy.  (BTW, if you haven’t done the happiness list exercise from two weeks ago, stop reading now and go do it HERE.)

Our life as a jar

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes Habit #3 Put First Things First.   He uses the metaphor of fitting rocks in a jar.  It goes something like this: Imagine a large jar.  Your goal is to fit some large rocks and some pebbles and sand into this jar.  Obviously, if we first put in sand and pebbles, it will be harder to fit in any large rocks.

However, if we put the big rocks in FIRST, then the pebbles and the sand will be able to fill in around the big rocks.

Here’s the metaphor part: This jar is the time we have.  The big rocks are the important things in our lives.  The sand and pebbles are the rest of the stuff.  If we simply let our lives flow, we’ll get stuck doing the most urgent yet often unimportant “sand”-like things that come to us.

Many of these grains of sand are not the most important thing for us but are based on the priorities and expectations of others.  And since they are immediately in front of us, we do them, filling our jar with small rocks and sand.  Then when the fire drills are over, when we are drained and exhausted, we try to do those important but not urgent “big rocks.”  And guess what?   Not many of them get done.

Put first things first

The key is to proactively identify the most important things, those things that if done regularly will make a tremendous positive difference in your life.  Identify those big rocks and proactively schedule them in your week FIRST.  Protect that time as you would a meeting with an important client or a job interview.  Then leave time in your week for following up on the urgent matters that will still come up.

For many, just thinking about this metaphor is enough to start putting first things first.  But some of you might be saying, “But EVERYTHING I do is important!”  If it feels that way to you then try this exercise:

Urgent vs. Important

For a week, track how you spend your time.  Put all of your activities on a grid showing each activity’s importance and urgency as follows:

Be honest about what is in Quadrant 4 – the non-urgent, non-important section.  This is the easiest place to find room for your Quadrant 2 “big rocks.”  Replace as much mindless channel or web surfing and endless Facebook updates with activities from your happiness list.  We often fall into non-urgent, non-important activities because we haven’t figured out what really makes us happy or haven’t made it easy to do.   Now that you are armed with your own happiness list, you can take advantage of this found time.

Now also look at what you listed in Quadrant 1.  What are truly your priorities — those that align with your values, your principles, your chosen roles — and which are other people’s priorities?  Again, be honest, look at each item and weigh its value to you and who you want to be.  What if you kept it on the list but did it less often?  Are there responsibilities that you can let go of?  When you take care of yourself first, you’ll have more capacity and energy to help others.

By defining those things that make you happy (your big rocks) and prioritizing them in your schedule, you are taking a huge step towards increasing your positivity ratio and moving your life into flourishing.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  Hey Los Angelenos – I’m bringing the Science of Happiness Workshop to two locations near you.  I’ll be at:

Come join us, or if you have friends in LA who might be interested in coming, forward them this information.

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