About the book

In First Things First, Stephen M. R. Covey advocates categorizing tasks by urgency and importance so that you can focus on what actually needs to be done in the limited amount of time that you have. Using personal examples and insight from years of business experience, he argues for a new way of looking at your “to-do” list. Rather than offering you another clock, First Things First provides you with a compass, because where you’re headed is more important than how fast you’re going.  Goodreads

Year published:  1994

Buy book:  Amazon


Quotes from the book

First Things First (Stephen Covey)

  • Consequences are governed by principles, and behavior is governed by values, therefore, value principles!
  • What we believe about ourselves and our purpose has a powerful impact on how we live, how we love, and what we learn.
  • The urgency addiction:  Some of us get so used to the adrenaline rush of handling crises that we become dependent on it for a sense of excitement and energy. How does urgency feel? Stressful? Pressured? Tense? Exhausting? Sure. But let’s be honest. It’s also sometimes exhilarating. We feel useful. We feel successful. We feel validated. And we get good at it. Whenever there’s trouble, we ride into town, pull out our six shooter, do the varmint in, blow the smoke off the gun barrel, and ride into the sunset like a hero. It brings instant results and instant gratification. We get a temporary high from solving urgent and important crises. Then when the importance isn’t there, the urgency fix is so powerful we are drawn to do anything urgent, just to stay in motion. People expect us to be busy, overworked. It’s become a status symbol in our society—if we’re busy, we’re important; if we’re not busy, we’re almost embarrassed to admit it. Busyness is where we get our security. It’s validating, popular, and pleasing. It’s also a good excuse for not dealing with the first things in our lives. “I’d love to spend quality time with you, but I have to work. There’s this deadline. It’s urgent. Of course you understand.” “I just don’t have time to exercise. I know it’s important, but there are so many pressing things right now. Maybe when things slow down a little. 
  • It is that a meaningful life is not a matter of speed or efficiency. It’s much more a matter of what you do and why you do it, than how fast you get it done.
  • Best way to predict your future is to create it.
    “It’s not enough to dream. It’s not enough to try. It’s not enough to set goals or climb ladders. It’s not enough to value. The effort has to be based on practical realities that produce the result. Only then can we dream, set goals, and work to achieve them with confidence.”
  • Basing our happiness on our ability to control everything is futile. While we do control our choice of action, we cannot control the consequences of our choices.”
    “Urgency addiction is a self-destructive behavior that temporarily fills the void created by unmet needs. And instead of meeting these needs, the tools and approaches of time management often feed the addiction. They keep us focused on daily prioritization of the urgent.
  • It’s easy to say “no!” when there’s a deeper “yes!” burning inside.
  • How Many People on Their Deathbed Wish They’d Spent More Time at the Office?
  • When we talk about time management, it seems ridiculous to worry about speed before direction, about saving minutes when we may be wasting years.
  • Principles are the simplicity on the far side of complexity.
  • The struggle comes when we sense a gap between the clock and the compass—when what we do doesn’t contribute to what is most important in our lives.
  • “Changing a planning tool or a method won’t create significant change in the results we’re getting in our lives—although the implied promise is that it will. It’s not a matter of controlling things more, better, or faster; it’s questioning the whole assumption of control.
  • What you alone can contribute, no one else can contribute. Viktor Frankl said we don’t invent our mission; we detect it. It’s within us waiting to be realized.”
  • “While we do control our choice of action, we cannot control the consequences of our choices.”
  • When we set and achieve goals that are in our Center of Focus, we maximize the use of our time and effort. Interestingly, we find that as we do this over time, our Circle of Influence automatically increases. We find positive ways to influence more people and circumstances.
  • There’s no way we can escape accountability. We do make a difference—one way or the other. We are responsible for the impact of our lives.
  • The clock represents our commitments, appointments, schedules, goals, activities—what we do with, and how we manage our time.
  • Compass represents our vision, values, principles, mission, conscience, direction—what we feel is important and how we lead our lives.
  • The unexamined life is not worth living,’ observed Plato. But the number of people who come out of our leadership development programs saying ‘I haven’t thought that deeply in years!’ is astonishing. As human beings, we’re trying—sometimes with disastrous results—to run businesses, raise our children, teach our students, be involved in relationships without giving serious and careful consideration to the roots out of which the fruits in our lives are growing.
  • More important than how fast you’re going, is where you’re headed.
  • What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your personal life? What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your professional or work life?
  • Management works in the system; Leadership works on the system.
  • IF you were to pause and think seriously about the “first things” in your life—the three or four things that matter most—what would they be?
  • Goals that are connected to our inner life have the power of passion and principle. They’re fueled by the fire within and based on “true north” principles that create quality-of-life results.”
  • “The wisdom literature of thousands of years of history repeatedly validates the reality that the greatest fulfillment in improving ourselves comes in our empowerment to more effectively reach out and help others. Quality of life is inside-out.
  • The power of vision is incredible! Research indicates that children with “future-focused role images” perform far better scholastically and are significantly more competent in handling the challenges of life.2 Teams and organizations with a strong sense of mission significantly outperform those without the strength of vision. According to Dutch sociologist Fred Polak, a primary factor influencing the success of civilizations is the “collective vision” people have of their future.
  • Personal leadership is cultivating the wisdom to recognize our need for renewal and to ensure that each week provides activities that are genuinely re-creational in nature.”
  • “Vision is the best manifestation of creative imagination and the primary motivation of human action. It’s the ability to see beyond our present reality, to create, to invent what does not yet exist, to become what we not yet are. It gives us capacity to live out of our imagination instead of our memory.
  • We can control our choices, but we can’t control the consequences of those choices.
  • It’s much more a matter of what you do and why you do it, than how fast you get it done.