Setting Priorities Key To Achieving Life’s Goal

TIME, like death, is irrevocable. Once spent, it is gone, never to be retrieved. Yet despite this reality, some people take time for granted, they spend it carelessly on pursuits that do not enrich the meaning of their lives. Other people take it too seriously, they cram so many things in their time, thinking that the business will give them wealth and therefore, happiness.

The “power” executive and the harassed employee both strive to balance their personal needs, family relationships and work pressures in a never ending continuum of day and night. To maintain their sanity, they take the panacea of traditional “time management techniques.” So many books and seminars later, they remain as frantic as ever. They fail to realize that they are living their lives according to the clock, wasting time on the minutiae of life. Their lives would have been different if they had lived it according in the compass, concerned with its direction.

This is the lesson that Stephen Covey, and the husband and wife team of Roger and Rebecca Merill impart in “First Things First,” the third book of the trilogy that started with the highly acclaimed “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This is the book from which this often quoted line is taken: “How many people on their deathbed wish they’d spent more time at the office?” Read in the context of the book, this statement does not mean that one should spend less time in the office or dismiss the importance of work. Instead, it puts work-usually seen as more activities-in the context of an individual’s personal vision and mission.

Life’s Direction

Covey and the Merills believe that when a person is aware of the direction his life should take, then he will know how to put “first things first” and “moved beyond time management to life leadership.

But how does one determine the correct direction of one’s life? The authors answer with the question: “What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your personal life?…in your professional or work life? If you know this things would make such a significant difference, why are you not doing them now?” in other words, discerning one’s direction means being able to see the real needs and recognize one’s own unique capacities. Reflecting on these questions is like an alarm that shakes one into full consciousness.

The whole book, in fact, serves as a wake-up call to anyone who has been lulled into the complacency, unconcern and pride-fullness of life that keeps the human spirit from becoming fully alive. It is distinctly Covey, who through his books and international consulting practice, is transforming the workplace from the mere place of work to a place of life. An MBA degree holder from Harvard and a doctorate degree holder from Brigham University, husband, father and grandfather, chair and founder of the Covey Leadership Center, he is the icon of the new breed of management consultants that focuses on leadership based on principles and not on manipulative techniques.

What’s Important

The good thing about this book is that it is not just a bunch of platitudes. After tearing down one’s false assumptions on time, it helps the reader to construct, block by block, a life that is led by what is important rather than what is urgent. Covey and the Merills teach us how to get a rid of the “urgency addiction” by using Quadrant II organizing. Quadrant II represents that area of one’s life that deals with what’s important but not urgent, this is usually the area which builds human capacities and relationships but is often neglected precisely because it is not “urgent.

They also show how one’s roles in life can be balanced and produced synergy. They believe that roles are not hats one puts on and takes off at different times but rather integrated parts of a whole person. They encourage one to stick to what’s important by exercising “integrity in the moment of choice.” When confronted with a dilemma of doing one thing instead of another, one knows he has made the right choice, according to the authors, when the decision brings peace of mind rather than guilt feeling.


Covey and the Merills believe that it is not only enough to know where one is going. They point out that the reality of life shows that interdependence is the key to how one can get to where one wants to go. The fulfillment of man’s basic needs of living, learning, loving and leaving a legacy depend on how man relates with one another. They believe that man has to be independent and as well to be able to accomplish his goals. They write “…interdependence is not transactional; it’s transformational. It literally changes those are party to it. It takes into consideration the full reality of the uniqueness and capacity if each individual and the rich, serendipitous potential of creating synergistic third alternatives that are far better than individuals could ever come up with on their own.

Principle-Centered Living

The authors show how putting first things first will make a difference in one’s life and result in “the power and peace of principle-centered living.” They write: “Principle-Centered Living is not an end in itself. It’s the means and the end. It’s the quality of our travel along life’s road. It’s the power and peace we experience each day as we accomplish what matters most. In a principle-centered life, the journey and destination are one.” The authors proceed to illustrate how these ideas, when applied at work, in the family or with friends, can make a significant difference in one’s life and others.

Letting Go

The book is a challenge to let go of old paradigm of time and of life. It is a challenge to leaders’ focus on relationships rather than to manage “things,” to manage based on principles rather than compromises. It is a challenge to teach working person to find the particular synergy of roles that will enable him to make a difference in his organization, in his family and in his communities.

It is a challenge of all who seek a better and more meaningful life “to become the change we seek in the world.

First Thing First By Stephen Covey, A. Roger Merill & Rebecca R. Merill
Simon A. Schuster, New York, USA 1994, 373 pages

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer November 24, 1997

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Founding Editor, People at Work, Business, Phiippine Daily Inquirer

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