Put first things first. That’s how Stephen Covey describes Habit number 3 in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In other words, highly effective people are those who identify what is most important in their lives and make it top priority, above everything else. They focus on opportunities rather than problems, centered on their mission rather than being seduced by outside forces. “The key,” as Covey puts it, “is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
In my former career I was responsible for a bond trading operation for a major Wall Street investment firm. On any given day it was a beehive of activity, phones ringing constantly, squawk boxes blaring, people shouting across the room, a chaotic atmosphere, a perpetual fire drill. There was an urgency about everything we did; the ringing phones demanded our immediate attention, impatient investors who needed someone to help them “right now!” Yet in the heat of battle decisions had to be made, often times big decisions involving substantial sums of money. It was those big decisions that were of utmost importance; for from them our profitability was derived, our life blood, our reason for being, the purpose of our existence, our mission. If we were not careful, though, the urgency of the ringing phones and blaring squawk boxes could become seductive, distracting us from the importance of the big decisions that had to be made. In other words, we had to manage in the midst of that perpetual fire drill to put first things first.
In a sense, the experience of working on a bond trading desk was an imitation of real life, for in real life we constantly encounter urgent demands on our time and energy, problems to be solved, projects to complete, impatient people who need us to help them “right now!” And it is not as if we can or should ignore those urgent demands, for indeed they must be responded to. Rather it is a matter of prioritizing because if we are not careful the demands of life’s urgent matters can become seductive, distracting us from what is most important, our reason for being, the purpose of our existence, our life mission. But as Covey reminds us so well in his Habit number 3, in order to be most effective we must put first things first.