Covey’s habit 3: Put first things first

Habit 1 said that you are in charge, with habit 2 is the first creation (in the mind). Habit 3 is the second creation, in reality. Habit 3 is where you do stuff. Habit 3 to me is the Getting Things Done habit.Put First Things First sounds very logical, yet we mess this one up a lot of times. First Things are not the things that need to be done first, but the things that have to come first. YOU decide what the first things are! In habit 2 you have made a lot of these decisions. The things that make you happy, the things that give you true
fulfillment, those are the First Things.

Covey makes a strong case to plan blocks of time for these First Things in your calender, and stick to them. The rest can be used as filler as there’s so much more that comes your way than only your First Things. Getting Things Done is all about dealing with all the stuff that’s coming at you. Both Stephen Covey and David Allen provide me a piece of the puzzle here. The GTD system would benefit from the time leadership matrix that Covey describes in his book.

The time-leadership matrix
The Eisenhower matrix (Eisenhower is the real inventor) combines importance and urgency into a matrix to make up 4 quadrants:

Q1: the stress quadrantEisenhowermatrix

  • This is the important and urgent quadrant.
  • This is where you find the the crises, projects close to their deadlines, urgent problems and so on.
  • The strategy: Do Now!
  • It needs to be done, and it needs to be done fast!

Q2: the value quadrant

  • This is important, but not urgent.
  • This is where you find education, working on your vision, investing in people and so on.
  • The strategy: Schedule time.
  • It needs to be done, plan time to do it before it gets urgent.

Q3: the deception quadrant

  • It is urgent, but not important.
  • This is where you find most interruptions, some meetings, other peoples chores.
  • The strategy: Delegate.
  • It needs to be done fast, but are you the one that needs to do it?

Q4: the regret quadrant

  • It neither important nor urgent
  • This is where you find pass-times, some phone calls (you know them), the “too much” activities (too much television, too much internet).
  • The strategy: Eliminate
  • And why were you doing this again?

Most people are Q1 and Q3 dominant. The urgency gives them a rush, it feels that you’re important, you deal with the urgent stuff. The challenge is to get Q2 as big as possible. The more you invest in Q2, the smaller the need for urgency (Q1 en Q3).

This is a very powerful concept, and I use it in combination with GTD. For all my projects and actions, I think about the relationship between the projects and next actions and the quadrants. If it turns out to be Q3, I define new actions to prevent this stuff from landing on my desk the next time.

Recap of the private victory
The first 3 habits are what Covey calls the “Private Victory”. These three habits will bring you to independence. In short the three habits are:

  • You have to do it
  • Imagine what you want
  • Do it!

The private victory is not an easy victory. Look around you and you’ll recognize one of these three habits in the people that surround you. Surf around on the web and there are a lot of blogs, sites and communities dealing with one or more of these habits.

Next week habit 4: Think Win-Win

Previous articles in this series:
Covey’s Habits 1: Be Proactive
Covey’s Habits 2: Begin with the end in mind

Can’t wait? You can buy Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People at Amazon, or as an audiobook here. There’s also an audiobook on this habit alone, or a complete book (the audiobook and the book are NOT the same in this case).

If you liked this article, please bookmark it in or stumble it. Thanks!

Posted in spilling beans on Tue 2007.06.05


Albert | UrbanMonk.Net December 7, 2007 at 04:25

Fantastic stuff – It’s important to get back to basics once in a while. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll have to go dig up my copy of 7 Habits tonight, then.

Albert | UrbanMonk.Net
Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

Claudia April 16, 2012 at 14:17

That’s true. You just hit right. Modern personal develpment entwined with ancient spirituality., Absolutely.

Dan May 6, 2008 at 13:58


For implementing Covey’s time management techniques you can use Gtdagenda.

More here:

Steve (Bleezed in Vancouver) September 19, 2008 at 23:27

Nice…I went on a time management course using Microsoft Exchange years ago and they had some similar things to say…it’s good to go over this every few years!

Steve (Bleezed in Vancouver)’s last blog post..Hero in You Speaker Series

Learn Skills October 14, 2008 at 13:49

This is wonderful example to show how to do a Eisenhower Matrix which is a nice addition to our time management course: Not Enough Hours – Time management

jaime October 20, 2009 at 15:35

This method has really helped me alot in the last year. I’ve put the most important things first and now practically live in Q2.

Diethard Seiferth June 1, 2010 at 17:17

Very good illustration of the “matrix”! Want to practice it on your iPhone or iPod Touch? Please visit

kortney king October 26, 2010 at 15:23

i really feel that it helped mii to

resa November 3, 2010 at 16:15

I LOVED IT!!! ;-)

resa November 3, 2010 at 16:15


Nick Smith January 3, 2011 at 13:03

A good way of identifying what to ‘stop doing’.

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