Putting First Things First: How Do You Juggle the Most Important Things in Life?

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

Do you remember your 2011 New Years resolutions?  It feels like just yesterday we were reflecting the many things we wanted to do in 2011.  Ideally, we decided upon at least one thing we could do that would make a positive difference in our lives and made a commitment to make it happen.  Now that it is August, let’s all ask each other, how are we doing with our goals?   Many of us know what we need to do but face it, taking those first steps and keeping everything in motion is hard.


So how do you stay focused on doing what you really need or want to do for yourself and for your loved ones?  How do you keep the main thing the main thing?  In the book entitled First Things First, the authors suggest we begin by connecting with our vision and mission.  What does that mean?  We look at ourselves and say, “Is what I am about to invest time and energy in really important in the larger scheme of things?”  During our 7 Habits of Highly Effective People class, based on Stephen Covey’s book by that name, we talk about being so busy we don’t have time to analyze whether or not the gathering we are running to is really a part of who we are and what we are about.  Did we volunteer for something that we don’t have a passion for?  Are we recognizing when we say yes to one thing such as dinner with our family, we may need to say no to something else, such as an evening meeting – or vice versa?  Which do we value most and how do we achieve balance?

Another question to ask is:  What do we hope to accomplish in our lifetime?  If you’ve had a burning desire to take an extraordinary vacation and can’t find the time this year, then when?  First Things First challenges us to write down our future accomplishments and contributions and to put a check mark in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s box representing the decade you will make it happen.

“I can’t get around to exercising today.  I’m just too busy.”  Does that sound familiar?  We each have twenty- four hours in a day.  Why does it feel like some of us have more time than others?  Here is a better question:  Have you ever really looked at or logged how you spend your time?  People who have undergone this exercise usually find they are spending more time then they realized on ‘the minutiae’ as opposed to spending time doing the most important things.  Stephen Covey does a wonderful job explaining time management in his books. He brings light to the fact that the more time we can invest in important but not urgent activities (Q2 – see matrix) such as planning, prevention and relationship building opportunities, the more focused and effective we can become, that is what Covey identifies as, “necessity.”


Beware of time wasters.  Have you ever been to a meeting without an agenda, worked on a duplicate report or had an unexpected interruption that was not important but took a large portion of your time?  Covey refers to this trap as “deception” because it is time spent on things that are not important but that we deem urgent (Q3.)  A friend of mine recently told me she was addicted to social media.  She said she was spending more time online in ‘fantasy contact’ then in really living her life with others.  She wanted to get away from the television and surfing the internet (Q4), things that she self identified and Covey confirms may not be important and not urgent (waste) so she could invest in things that meant the most to her: building family relationships, fitness and furthering her education.


When you plan your week recognize the importance of identifying your roles and goals in the relationships that matter to you.  If you are a spouse, parent, friend, or employee, what is the most important thing you can do this week to make a difference in each role?  Some may want to schedule spending more ‘heart to heart’ time.  Others may want to block off time for taking action.  In fact, if it were your 80th birthday, what would you want people to say you were like?  How can you be your most ideal self?  For instance, in an ideal world, many decades from now your spouse might say you were the most patient, thoughtful, loving person he knew.  To fulfill this expectation, you might want to spend more time planting more thoughtful, loving activities into your relationship.


While you are at it, consider your ‘big rocks.’  What are big rocks:  The most important things in your life that might not necessarily be urgently banging down your door but are always there under the surface to nurture, build or manage and you value them to the point they shape your character and perspectives of your relationships.  Take a moment and imagine two empty jars.  These jars represent the time you have on this earth.  One is filled with little things, little rocks representing all of the small things in life that will happily take up your time.  The other jar is filled with big rocks, things that represent the most important aspects of life:  family, education, good health, big opportunities, service, key relationships and others.  Is it possible to fit both the big rocks and little rocks into one jar?  Yes, it is.  When you put the big rocks in first, the little things fall into place all around.  Time spent on doing the most important things and creating special memories are all worth it.  Just remember, most people say that at the end of their life no one ever wished they had spent more time at the office.  Keep first things first.


A special thanks to Holt Kornegay, a participant of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People class and Franklin County Library Director, for his contributions to this article.


Rachel Harris Monteverdi is a Family & Consumer Sciences Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, a division of North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University.  The Family & Consumer Sciences department includes prenatal to end-of-life programs.  Priorities for North Carolina citizens include:  Family & Parenting Education; Balancing Work & Family Workshops; Academic Success; Elder Care; Active Aging; Planning for the Future; Home Ownership & Housing Issues; Conservation & Environmental Issues; Leadership; Emergency Management and more.  Call 919-496-3344, email Rachel_Monteverdi@ncsu.edu or visit http://franklin.ces.ncsu.edu for additional information.