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The third habit of highly effective salespeople: Put first things first

“The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves.” [Stephen Covey]

What is really important to you in life? Where are your priorities? Have you ever stopped to think about what they really are?

Covey in his third habit encourages us to categorise everything we do as either ‘urgent’ or ‘important’ so that we can actually pursue the goals identified in Habit two (Begin with the end in mind).

Often in life we spend our time on things that aren’t really important or that may not contribute to the fulfilment of our long-term goals. Nine times out of ten, this is down to the pursuit of pleasure or just a lack of discipline.

Discipline involves willpower – the sheer  determination to do something, even when it’s the last thing you want to do. If it helps you achieve your long-term goals then it’s got to be worth the effort.

This habit includes features of Habit one – to be proactive.

It involves ruthlessly eliminating excuses and knuckling down to good old-fashioned hard work.

It can be difficult to identify, sometimes, what really matters and what can wait. The most helpful and successful method is surprisingly simple: just write down your tasks, then put them into categories according to urgency.

Ask yourself “what must I get done before I leave work today? What can wait for tomorrow? What can wait til next week?”

Some like to write down their tasks on post-it notes, then group them together in various ‘category bins’. Whatever works best for you, the main thing is to get it done and prove the benefit!

Covey uses the Time Management Matrix to help categorise every activity we may undertake.
He identifies the ‘Quadrant two’ activities as the most overlooked yet essential ones: Important activities that are not yet urgent. These are things such as building relationships, seeking new opportunities and strategic planning.

These are often left for the simple reason that they’re not considered urgent and aren’t particularly pleasurable. But they contribute to long-term satisfaction, effectiveness and success, so if they’re left then you’ll suffer.

How can this work for you?

Start identifying your priorities

Use these to build your own time management matrix so that you know, when an activity is sprung on you, whether it’s important, urgent or a blend of both.

Revive a Quadrant two activity (Important but not urgent!)

Something you know you’ve been neglecting and postponing. Procrastination is the surest way to failure, so it’s time to commit!

Analyse your time

Being brutally honest hurts, but it’s the best way to make positive changes. Have a look at everything you do and how much of your time is spent on the things that really matter. Aim to increase the amount of time you spend in Quadrant two.


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