Put 1st Things 1st – 7 Habits to Make Yourself an Effective Leader

What could be easier than Habit 3: Put First Things First? Your parents probably taught you that when you wanted to play before doing the chores. Even if they didn’t, you wouldn’t be spending your time on anything at work that isn’t important, would you? Many people prioritize their schedule but don’t necessarily do a great job of scheduling priorities. How much of your day has been spent on something that made significant progress towards your top goals for 2010? Let’s take a closer look.
Stephen Covey, author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” teaches to start with the private victories then move on to the public victories. The private victories are the first three of the seven habits taught to make you a more effective leader:

Private Victory

Habit 1: Be Proactive – Principles of Personal Vision
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind – Principles of Personal Leadership
Habit 3: Put the First Things First– Principles of Personal Management

Covey teaches that you spend your time in these 4 quadrants:

Time management matrix as described in Merrill...

Image via Wikipedia

1. Important & Urgent
2. Important & Not Urgent
3. Not Important & Urgent
4. Not Important & Not Urgent.

You probably recognize what is urgent and what in not urgent. It’s more of a challenge to recognize what is truly important and even more difficult to have the self-discipline to spend the appropriate time in each quadrant. I am a firm believer that the Pareto Principle (80-20 Rule) applies to your time management. You will get 80% of the benefits in 20% of the activities. You will increase your effectiveness by spending more time in Quadrant 2 – Important & not urgent. These are all of the proactive activities that are difficult to fit into your day if you let the tyranny of the urgent crowd them out.

You will need to understand what is truly important if you are going to spend more time in Quadrant 2. What are your top goals for 2010? If you work in Food Processing, the common priorities are Safety, Quality, Yield improvement, Efficiencies, Lean implementation to name a few. What about outside of work? How will you strengthen your family relationships and your spiritual walk? What other priorities did you set for yourself when you looked at Habit 2, beginning with the end in mind? You will need to spend less time in the other 3 quadrants so you can focus on Quadrant 2. Don’t confuse the time you spend fighting fires which is important and urgent, with the proactive Quadrant 2. Let’s use a production line that is down and waiting for parts as an example. Troubleshooting the problem, expediting the parts, and repairing the line is fire fighting in Quadrant 1. Performing a 5-Why Root Cause Analysis on why the line went down and why no parts were available would be Quadrant 2. Implementing effective countermeasures like improved Planned Maintenance, inspections, and parts control would be Quadrant 2. You could be telling yourself that you are too busy and are always fighting fires. Life in a manufacturing plant can be non-stop fire fighting if you only focus on the urgent. Start with addressing just one or two issues that are keeping you from hitting one of your top goals. If you take it to a true root cause and countermeasure then you have solved an issue and prevented a fire in your future. It feels good.

You won’t be able to solve everything today but you can take steps towards your top goals by scheduling your priorities today.

View all 7 Habits

Please leave a comment below if you liked this article. You can also connect on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter.

About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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9 Responses to Put 1st Things 1st – 7 Habits to Make Yourself an Effective Leader

  1. Thanks for reminding me of the 7 Habits by Stephen Covey. I can see that I need to explore applying his habits to Money Managing! Woot!

    Good luck on your #blogboost efforts. I’m currently two posts behind. Eee.

  2. Posted by Jeremy Pennington via LinkedIn:

    Great writings Christian…Like always you’re a motivating leader.

  3. Ted Bauer says:

    Great post & super reminder of what was learned so many years ago (and tragically sometimes forgotten) in Dale Carnegie training. Best-

    • Hi Ted,

      Dale Carnegie and Stephen Covey definitely have a common thread to their teachings. I am a big fan of both and both teach classic principles that are timeless. Thank you for your comments, Ted.

      Best regards,

  4. Pingback: 3 Reasons Leaders Fail Under Pressure – Will You? | Life's Lessons in the 21st Century

  5. turbokerri says:

    Learning how to pinpoint and stay focused on my priorities is something I just recently figured out! I’ve started listening to personal development audio and reading personal development on a more constant basis this year, and in doing so I finally found an audio from my mentor Chalene Johnson that really rang a bell for me on this issue. It’s so true–you can’t really move forward unless you are honest about your priorities, write them down, and then live in accordance with them every single day!

    • Thanks for your comments and insight. Focusing on the priorities is a great step towards effectiveness at work and at home. Your are on to another great step which is self development. I believe that Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is on audio and may even be at the public library since it’s a classic. You might enjoy that since it sounds like you found this post helpful. Thanks again.


  6. Pingback: 6 Quick Lean Leadership Lessons | My Flexible Pencil

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