Self-Coaching: “First Things First” Ideas on Time and Energy management

Part 1–In this post I am presenting an important concept for your Self-Coaching experience– Identifying what are the important but not urgent activities in your life that provide the biggest payoff in managing an a limited resource “time” and how time impacts an important quality of life resource–your daily energy. Time is a fixed amount for all of us–168 hours per week. So energy is our currency for life and without this energy, we can`t perform or enjoy doing much in our life, even as we try to manage extend time. Learn more at: Natural News webpage article on Energy and Life Balance. 

Questions and Reflection: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff that life is made of.” – Benjamin Franklin

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” Henry David Thoreau


Here are some ideas on time and energy management that I think will help you to see that at its essence  time management means choice, prioritizing, decision making on what’s important to you. It is a critical building block in becoming more emotionally intelligent and increasing self-management expertise for living a more satisfying and meaningful life.

What are the most important things in your life? Do they get as much care, emphasis, and time as you’d like to give them? Far from the traditional “be-more-efficient” time-management book with shortcut techniques, First Things First shows you how to look at your use of time totally differently. Using this book will help you create balance between your personal and professional responsibilities by putting first things first and acting on them. Covey and Merrill try to convey an organizing process that helps you reflect on what is important. You achieve this by structuring and making decisions about what tasks in life are important to focus on to achieve your goals and mission in life. You focus on what is important, not merely what is urgent. First you divide tasks into 4 quadrants:

  1. Important and Urgent (crises, deadline-driven projects, revenue collected policies in force, quotas etc).
  2. Important, Not Urgent (preparation, prevention, planning, relationships like teeth cleaning to prevent cavities; planning the yearly budget and building trusted and long-term relationships. 
  3. Urgent, Not Important (interruptions, many pressing matters like ringing cell phone
  4. Not Urgent, Not Important (trivia, time wasters, like watching TV)

Most people spend most of their time in quadrants 1 and 3, while quadrant 2 is where quality of life and work happens. The authors point out that “Doing more things faster (efficiency) is no substitute for doing the right things (effectivness). They points you toward the real meaningful human needs–“to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy”–and how to balance your time to achieve a meaningful life, not just get things done.

Time management is good. Setting goals is good. But all of these things are only good if your goals are actually meaningful and important for you in living a productive and satisfying life. If you spend all your time creating to-do lists, and carefully plotting out weekly goals … but your goal is to get a “bigger house or a Porsche ” while your children are struggling to find their way at school or life and you’re miserable at work, something is out of sync.

This book is all about making sure that what you do is what you really want to do. It’s about a higher level of time and self-management called living a Meaningful and Constructive life. So they’re not saying the other time management systems are bad. They explicitly say that each has its place in life! However, if you work very hard every day to climb a ladder, and find after many years that the ladder you’ve climbed was against the wrong wall, then you’ll be very disappointed. You should always make sure you are working for a goal that you really feel is important at a basic moral level.

This isn’t a book to just plow through in a few hours or days and see what you remember. It’s asking you to really think about why you do things in life. Is it because your parents harassed you when you were young, and you want to get a flashy car to prove you’re something? Do you try to out-do your co-workers even if it hurts your home life? Sometimes these answers don’t come easily. If they did, I imagine we wouldn’t need a book to help us sort them out.

This is a good book to read slowly and reflect on. I often use this book as a resource when things seem to be getting hectic or out of control. The basic concept is easy enough to understand. Divide your “to do list” based on what category they fall into – Quadrant  1, 2, 3,or 4; then execute against these priorities. 

Sounds easy, yes? But how many of us get sucked into a ton of “urgent” but really not important tasks for all sorts of reasons? It’s the planning – the Quadrant II time – that can help fix those issues. But we have to make time to plan. If your life is full of urgent demands, it may seem impossible to do this. But it can be done.

I know, I know this is a hard idea to wrap your mind around because  we all only have 24 hrs a day. You might say “Well but I have 3 kids at home”. True! So in your life, you made children your priority. You wanted kids! So embrace that, and accept that as your personal mission and long-term commitment. Put aside other less important things like the Porsche car you want. We all make choices in life about what is important to us. When we make those choices, we should accept that, be happy with that, and find ways to emphasize our time in those areas. You have to choose to spend the time on things that are important and you love – not to divide your time up among various things urgent and pressing. 

This is the main lesson in managing time. If you say you do not have time for something; like call your mother  then it is important to realize you are making a decision that she is not part of what you decided is important in life. You have chosen to focus on what is most important – don’t try to do or be all things to all people. That is living your with all urgent and not necessarily important  and meaningful activities. Trust me it doesn’t work and the stress will burn you out.

In Part 2 of this paper I will provide more ideas about the importance of energy vs time management in this hectic world we are all trying to navigate.


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