Put First Things First helps you identify and eliminate unimportant activities that rob you of your time. This allows you to focus on what matters most in your personal and professional lives. – 7 Habits Intro Workshop Workbook

What do you do all day? Think about it. Can you give an honest, accurate answer? Are there days where the work day ends and you feel you didn’t accomplish anything? You were at work, right? You did stuff, correct? Did you do the right stuff, is the question.

Habit 3 is all about doing the work that matters most. Putting on your to list and schedule what should be there and sticking with it. Having the discipline to avoid distractions and to politely say no. In this post I’ll summarize this very important habit and then tie it to project management at the end.

Covey presents us with a 4-block time matrix:

Revisiting the programmer metaphor, in Habit 1 we are the programmer. In Habit 2 we write the program. In Habit 3 we execute the program and put it into action. The goal here is to maximize our time in Quadrant II. Quad2 is where we can be proactive and most effective. We are not constantly reacting and putting out fires. We are planned and focused.

This doesn’t mean that fires don’t erupt and have to be put out. That is inevitable and the quicker you accept that the less frustrated you will be adhering to any disciplined planning system. The goal of focusing in Quad2 is that we get to do some fire prevention. We are building relationships, thinking ahead and then focusing our time on the right activities.

As part of Habit 3, Covey encourages us to plan on a weekly basis. Look at your personal mission statement and goals. Understand your different roles, Then, plan accordingly. Be sure to schedule in time for reflective thought and exercise. Don’t make it an “if I get time” appointment. Because, most likely, you won’t get time.

Intuitively, we all know that we can be more efficient with our time. We all want to get out of “catch up” mode. The work doesn’t stop coming, so we need to make decisions as to what tasks we will work. If you aren’t positive what you spend your time doing each day try this exercise. Take a sheet of lined paper. On the left side write the time you start your day at work (i.e. 8:00 a.m.). Then each time you change a task write down the time you changed and what task you become engaged with. For example, if you start your day at 8:00 a.m. reading email then that is your first line. 5 minutes later you answer the phone. Mark that on the sheet at 8:05 a.m. Phone call. Continue through the day. At the end of your day review the sheet and you will get some valuable insight as to truthfully where you are spending your time.

With respect to the practice of Project Management, I equate Habit 3 with the PMs responsibility to keep the project team focused on working within scope and addressing goals, objectives and requirements. Many projects operate primarily in Quadrant 1. Pressing deadlines and customer demands drive the project. My observations are that at least some of the conflict and stress in these projects can be reduced if the team as a whole were focused from the beginning on Quad2. Consider these factors:

  • Risk Management: This is a very proactive activity that is important, but not urgent.
  • Stakeholder communication: Informing and building relationships with the proper project stakeholders can prevent issues and changes late in the project.
  • Team building: Do what you can to orient the team to one another. Ensure that the mentality is that we are in this as a team and there will be a no-blame policy.
  • Consistent project review: Whether you do it yourself or their is someone assigned from the PMO to work with you, you should be reviewing your project on at least a weekly basis. Look at the issues log and risk log. Review open actions and ensure there is ownership and due dates. Talk to your project team to be sure they have what they need and no new roadblocks have appeared

Do you have other suggestions? Let other readers know by posting a comment!