Habit 3: Put First Things First

Habit 3: Put First Things First

In our fast-paced, ever-evolving world, effectively managing time and prioritizing tasks remains paramount for success in personal and professional spheres. This essential skill forms the crux of the third habit of highly effective people, espoused by Stephen R. Covey in his best-selling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. “Put First Things First,” as Covey termed this principle, underscores the importance of discerning what truly matters, then acting in a way that aligns with these core values. This habit aims to endow us with the capacity to separate the significant from the trivial and make decisions that foster growth, productivity, and balance.

Understanding the Principle Behind “Put First Things First”

This habit fundamentally hinges on the capacity to prioritize. Covey invites us to envisage our tasks in terms of urgency and importance. Tasks that bear both traits warrant immediate attention. Those that hold importance but lack urgency can be scheduled, while urgent yet unimportant tasks need delegation. Lastly, tasks neither urgent nor essential should receive minimal attention.

The Importance of Prioritization in Personal and Professional Life

In personal and professional spheres, the importance of prioritization stands indisputable. It aids in alleviating stress, fostering focus, and promoting productivity by enabling us to allocate our resources—time, energy, and attention—effectively. It empowers us to control our own lives rather than allowing life’s chaos to control us.

Real-life Examples of Effective Prioritization

Consider a successful entrepreneur. They may juggle multiple tasks daily, but not every task bears equal importance. To thrive, they identify core activities—such as strategic planning and team management—that directly influence business success and ensure these tasks receive their undivided attention.

Similarly, in a personal setting, a working parent might prioritize spending quality time with their children over less important tasks such as watching television or engaging in aimless social media browsing.

Strategies to Put First Things First

Developing effective strategies to prioritize tasks involves identifying goals, categorizing tasks based on urgency and importance, delegating appropriate tasks, and learning to say no when necessary. Leveraging tools like Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix can be instrumental in this process.

The Role of Time Management in Implementing This Habit

Time management stands inseparable from the effective implementation of this habit. Knowing how to allocate our time wisely allows us to focus on activities that align with our fundamental values and objectives.

Overcoming Challenges

Obstacles to effective prioritization may include procrastination, fear of delegating, or an inability to determine what’s truly important. Overcoming these challenges involves introspection, discipline, and occasionally seeking external help or advice.

The Impact of This Habit on Overall Effectiveness

Adhering to the “Put First Things First” principle can drastically improve overall effectiveness. It allows for more precise focus, better stress management, and a heightened sense of achievement. The linchpin holds all the other habits together, creating synergy between one’s vision, values, roles, and goals.

Tools and Techniques

Numerous tools and techniques exist to help cultivate this habit, including the Eisenhower Matrix, the ABCDE Method, or software like Asana or Trello. Additionally, maintaining a regular journal or planner can aid in the identification of critical tasks and goals.

Case Study: Emily’s Journey to Implementing The Habit

A middle manager at a mid-sized technology firm, Emily struggled with overwhelming workloads and the demands of a bustling personal life. Despite her diligent work ethic, Emily was stressed and unproductive, her to-do list perpetually growing. Recognizing a need for change, Emily turned to Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” mainly focusing on the third habit: Put First Things First.

Understanding the principle behind the third habit, Emily began to view her tasks through the lens of urgency and importance. She realized that she was investing most of her energy in urgent but not necessarily essential tasks—such as responding to non-critical emails immediately—which left her little time for strategic projects that held long-term significance.

Aware of the significance of prioritization in her personal and professional life, Emily started employing strategies to put first things first. She began her day by identifying her high-priority tasks, aligning them with her goals, and dedicating her best hours. Emily also started practicing effective delegation and developed the courage to say no to tasks that did not align with her priorities.

Managing time became a crucial component of Emily’s journey. She used time-blocking techniques and digital tools to ensure she allocated adequate time for her prioritized tasks.

However, the path was not devoid of challenges. Emily faced resistance from her colleagues as she started declining non-priority requests and faced her internal struggle with letting go of immediate but less essential tasks. She tackled these challenges by communicating her new approach to her team and continuously reinforcing her commitment to prioritization.

As Emily implemented the third habit consistently, she noticed a significant improvement in her overall effectiveness. Her stress levels were reduced, her work quality improved, and she experienced a greater sense of achievement and fulfillment.

Drawing inspiration from successful figures like Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey, Emily persisted with putting first things first, using tools like the Eisenhower Matrix and apps like Asana for better task management. She also made it a practice to journal her experiences, noting her challenges, triumphs, and observations.

Months into her journey, Emily’s transformation was evident to her colleagues and family. Her ability to manage her time effectively, her heightened focus, and her assertiveness in prioritizing tasks became an inspiration for many around her.

In conclusion, Emily’s case is a practical demonstration of the transformative power of Habit 3. She evolved into a more effective individual and fostered an environment of efficiency around her, inspiring her colleagues and loved ones to follow suit. Her story affirms Covey’s message – mastering the habit of putting first things first can truly make a significant difference in our world.


In the final analysis, “Put First Things First” signifies more than adequate time management or prioritization. It underscores the importance of leading a purposeful life directed by conscious decision-making and alignment with core values. This habit impels us to take the reins of our lives to make deliberate choices that propel us toward our ultimate goals. While the process may be challenging, the rewards of increased effectiveness, enhanced productivity, and heightened self-fulfillment are worth the endeavor.

Through prioritization, we cease to be mere players in the game of life and, instead, become game masters. As we practice putting first things first, we progress towards becoming highly effective individuals and inspire others to tread the same path, fostering a cycle of efficiency and success. As Stephen Covey professed, mastering this habit is a transformative step in our journey toward effectiveness, one that truly helps us make a difference in our world.