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"First Things First" by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill

Explore key insights from "First Things First" on prioritizing life's values over urgency.
"First Things First" by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill

"First Things First" by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill challenges traditional time management strategies and presents an innovative approach focusing on prioritizing the most important tasks, which align with one's deepest values and life missions. This book emphasizes quality over quantity and effectiveness over efficiency, urging readers to reflect deeply on what truly matters to them instead of merely managing time.


Paradigm Shift in Time Management

"First Things First" argues for a paradigm shift from the conventional time management to what the authors call "time leadership" or "life leadership." Traditional time management focuses on efficiency — the goal is to do more tasks faster. Covey and the Merrills suggest that true effectiveness comes not from managing time but from managing ourselves, with an emphasis on what we do and why we do it. This requires us to operate not out of urgency ("I must do this now!") but out of importance ("This is the right thing to do").

Quadrants of Time Management

One of the book’s most influential tools is the Time Management Matrix, which divides activities into four quadrants based on urgency and importance:

  • Quadrant I (Crisis Mode): Tasks that are both urgent and important. They demand immediate attention but often arise due to poor planning.
  • Quadrant II (Quality and Personal Leadership): Tasks that are not urgent but important. This quadrant is key to personal management and effectiveness, focusing on long-term strategizing, planning, and prevention.
  • Quadrant III (Distraction): Tasks that are urgent but not important. These often include interruptions and busy work that do not contribute to our overall objectives.
  • Quadrant IV (Waste): Tasks that are neither urgent nor important, such as trivial busy work or mindless escape activities.

Principle-Centered Approach

The authors advocate a principle-centered approach to prioritizing our time and lives. Principles are timeless, universal truths that guide human conduct and are more reliable than the changing demands or circumstances we may face. By anchoring our lives in principles, we gain both clarity and the courage to say no to activities that do not align with our deepest values.

Compass Versus Clock

A recurring metaphor in the book is the distinction between the "compass" and the "clock." The clock represents our commitments, appointments, schedules, goals, and activities — how we manage our time. The compass symbolizes our vision, values, principles, mission, conscience, and direction — what we feel is important and how we lead our lives. The authors stress that managing our lives according to the compass is the key to achieving quality and personal effectiveness.

Role of Mission Statements

Covey and the Merrills stress the importance of creating personal and professional mission statements. These statements serve as frameworks for filtering decisions, guiding behavior, and providing a sense of purpose. By defining what truly matters to us, we can align our daily activities and goals with our larger life vision.

Balancing Roles and Goals

The book also discusses the importance of balancing various roles in life, such as parent, professional, spouse, and individual. For each role, the authors suggest setting weekly goals and evaluating these goals in terms of their contribution to our quality of life and relationships. This holistic view ensures that we do not let one area of life overshadow others, leading to a more balanced, fulfilling existence.


"First Things First" is not merely about getting more things done but about getting the right things done. The book’s lessons extend beyond simple productivity hacks to propose a thoughtful way of living that prioritizes well-being, effectiveness, and integrity. By focusing on the important rather than the urgent, individuals can transform their approach to time management, productivity, and, ultimately, their lives.

Key Takeaways and Insights

🌱 Prioritize based on values: Identify what matters most to you and let these priorities guide your daily tasks.

🌟 Focus on importance over urgency: Spend more time on tasks that contribute to long-term missions and goals.

📅 Use the Time Management Matrix: Categorize tasks by urgency and importance to better allocate your time.

🔄 Review commitments regularly: Adjust your priorities as your life and values evolve.

🤝 Nurture relationships: Allocate time for building and maintaining key personal and professional relationships.

🧘 Balance life aspects: Ensure that physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health are all catered for.

🔍 Reflect daily: Take time to reflect on your day to enhance your self-awareness and align your actions with your values.

🎯 Set specific goals: Define clear, actionable goals that reflect your highest priorities.

🛠 Say no to non-essentials: Empower yourself to decline tasks that do not align with your core values.

🌟 Empower others: Delegate tasks effectively to empower others and free up your time for important activities.


"First Things First" is ideal for individuals seeking a more meaningful approach to personal and professional life management. It is especially beneficial for leaders, managers, and anyone feeling overwhelmed by daily responsibilities and looking for a method to align their actions with their deeper values.

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About the author


Decoge is a tech enthusiast with a keen eye for the latest in technology and digital tools, writing reviews and tutorials that are not only informative but also accessible to a broad audience.

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