Success Key #3 – Focus on Vital Priorities [Putting First Things First]

Focus on Vital Priorities [Putting First Things First]

Management is about making the most efficient and effective use of available resources for the purpose of achieving those things that are important. One of the most difficult resources to manage well is time.

How often have you said or thought things like: “I never have enough time.” , “I feel like I’m being pulled in ten directions at the same time.”, “Life is so hectic – I run all day and still feel like I’ve achieved nothing of real value.”, “I push myself so hard most days that I fall into bed utterly exhausted, and next day I wake up feeling no better.”, “I’m running myself ragged, but does what I’m doing what really matter?” , “I don’t ever feel that I’m in control of my life – in fact, other people and demands rule my life.” and “I just can’t juggle all my responsibilities any more.” Join the club!!! You have plenty of company!

One of the keys to success is business, as in all other parts of your life, is to set priorities and work to them. Put first things first.

In Key 2, it was emphasised that you should never start anything without the end in mind. In other words, plan, build and operate your business only when its vision, destination or purpose is clearly established.

Only when you know your goal or destination, can you be sure that: (1) you are heading in the right direction; and (2) all your actions are focused on the required end-result. Only when you know the direction you want to go and the goal you want to achieve, can you arrange your activities in their order of importance i.e. set your priorities.

In trying to spend time and effort on what really matters most, we are affected by the difference between two ‘tools’ that govern our activities. The clock relates to our commitments, schedules, activities, and all our efforts to get more done in every day. The clock therefore relates to our efforts to be efficient – to do more in less time. Instead of feeling good about being efficient, many managers have a vague nagging uneasy feeling that they are not achieving what is really important. The compass is the tool that points us in the ‘right’ direction. If you are going in the right (for you) direction, you are achieving what you want to achieve, and are therefore being effective. Being effective is about achieving the results we want.

To come back to the point made above – only if you know what you want to achieve, can you know your destination, and then set your direction, establish your vital priorities, and thus focus your time and efforts on those top priority activities which will get you the result(s) you want.

To be able to put first things first, we also need to understand the essential difference between importance and urgency. Whether you operate according to the paradigm of urgency or that of importance, makes a tremendous difference to what you are able to get out of life, and your business. To some degree, most of us suffer from the urgency addiction – the inability to prevent urgent demands from controlling our lives. Many people get an adrenaline rush from feeling needed, from dealing with crises and from being in a state of constant ‘busy-ness’. Are you able to resist answering the ‘phone when serving a customer? How does your behaviour change as a deadline nears?

The urgency addiction is debilitating and dangerous – as self-destructive as any other addiction. It is also known as the ‘tyranny of the urgent’. Most of the things we do each day get done because they are urgent, whether they are important or otherwise. We get so caught up in being busy, that we rarely stop to ask ourselves if what we are doing really needs doing, either right now, tomorrow or ever! Urgency crowds out the important and, usually, less urgent tasks.

Time management skills need to be built on setting priorities, keeping a time log to measure time-use habits, comparing time usage with priorities to identify ‘time wasters’, and taking action (by either delegation or elimination) to generate for ourselves more ‘discretionary time’ for working on what is important.

“I haven’t got enough time!” Don’t kid yourself – you have the same amount of time every day (or week) as everyone else! No matter what you do, you will only get 24 hours in every day. You can’t save up unneeded or unused time from today, to use tomorrow. You cannot replace a single moment because:

“Four things come not back: the spoken word; the sped arrow; time past; and the neglected opportunity. ” – Omah Ibn-Halif
It’s what you do with your time as it comes that largely determines your ‘quality of life’. To quote Stephen Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!”

Get your priorities right, work on them, and your stress level will drop.


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