The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Redux: Habit 3 – Put First Things First

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Redux: Habit 3 – Put First Things First


Now we understand what goals we want to achieve we need to understand what changes we need to make in order to realise our goal. Covey’s Habit 3 covers how we should prioritise tasks so that we can action, postpone, delegate or forget them meaning we concentrate on the tasks with the most beneficial outcomes first

Habit 3 - Put First Things First
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This post is part of my “7 Habits Redux Series” in which I take another look at the “7 Habits of Highly Effective people (affiliate link) 6 years after my first reading of it. All posts in the series are listed here, and you can read my 2008 take on the 7 habits here.

This is the last habit in what Covey calls the “Private Victory Phase” i.e. items that we need to rely solely on ourselves to master and control.

If Habit 1 is about recognising behaviours that we may wish to change and Habit 2 is about visualising how life would be better if the items highlighted by Habit 1 were fixed, then Habit 3 is the fulfilment of the work achieved in Habits 1 and 2.

Habit 3 is all about us becoming centred around our core principles and balancing our lives in order to achieve our goals.

Once we have realised our issues using techniques learned in Habits 1 and 2, Habit 3 leads us into making the changes necessary to achieve our goals through being personally effective and having personal accountability.

My own maxim of personal effectiveness is this: Manage from the left; lead from the right.
Stephen Covey

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Leadership is a right-brained function, it’s something that can’t be taught as it’s more of an art form whereas Management is left-brained, it’s ordered and analytical and can be taught. Leadership decides what the “things” are, Management allows us to get those “things” done.

In Habits 1 and 2, we developed self-awareness, imagination and conscience. Habit 3 helps us move on from this and develop the independence and will to act on our choices. These choices are developed through being proactive and understanding the outcome we desire. This allows us to act independently rather than having situations and outcomes thrust upon us from external pressures and other people.

Covey goes on to address how, in a modern world, we are all time-centric. We have priorities that are urgent, not urgent but important, urgent but not important, and not important or urgent.


We struggle with the “urgent” matters. They cause us to be reactive rather than proactive so we become out of sync with habit 1 immediately. Staying in this “urgent” sector has a ripple effect meaning that all minor problems build to become a crisis requiring urgent attention and we find it difficult to break this pattern.

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People who live in the “Urgent but Not Important” sector think they’re acting proactively to urgent items when in fact they’re simply reacting to the urgency that others place on tasks, having no long-term goals they’re simply reactionary.

People in the “Urgent but Not Important” and “Not Urgent, Not Important” sectors are, as Covey puts it, “irresponsible”. They see nothing as important, lack goals and focus and rely on other for even their most basic needs.

According to Covey, the most effective people spend the majority of their time in the “Not urgent but important” sector. The reason their tasks aren’t urgent i s that a person based in this sector has proactively acted on tasks so that they’re not urgent but are still important enough to be on the radar.

The “Not urgent but important” sector tasks are quite often tasks that would greatly improve the quality of our lives but as we’re busy on the “Urgent” tasks, we rarely take the time to look at these and complete them.

The only way we can inhabit the “Not urgent but important” sector is to learn to prioritise. This involves being able to say “No” to things that will negatively impact on our goals or would take valuable time and energy away from things that could be far more useful.

People who inhabit the “Not urgent but important” sector need to have a good time management systems in place that allows them to focus not only on the day-to-day items but have a longer view as well.

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Another important factor to inhabiting the “Not urgent but important” sector is recognising roles and the responsibilities that go with them. We need to set goals based on these roles (parent, manager, spouse etc.) at a daily and weekly level, and prioritise any commitments within these roles we have.

There are many ways to organise, and how you choose to do so it up to you. Whether you use a simple calendar, Covey’s own Weekly Planner, or a planner of your own design (check out some of mine here). The main thing is to manage your tasks and time to ensure that we remain in the “Not urgent but important” sector and don’t become reactive and get stuck in the “Urgent” sector simply putting out fires.

So, with Habit 1 we learn to take the initiative, Habit 2 visualises the outcomes we desire and Habit 3 is the bringing together of the first two habits in a coherent time-managed plan in order to become a more efficient and effective person.

About The Author
Katy is always trying to be more productive one day at a time! Whether it's analogue, digital, motivational or psychological who'll try any system that will help her get things done and get organised. As well as running, she also loves making music and reviewing things.
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