Contractormag 3219 Priorities

Habit 3 of the ‘7 Habits’ that will change your contracting business forever

July 17, 2015
Put First Things First If we want to truly maximize our productivity we must stay focused on the right priorities To help us better prioritize our time, Covey created the Time Matrix Managing time is important, but managing priorities is even more important

Habit 3 – Put First Things First

This is the fourth in a series of articles about how Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s landmark book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” can be used to create powerful results in your contracting business.

Johann Goethe once wrote, “Things which are most important must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

This is the essence of Habit 3 and illustrates the simple concept that if we want to truly maximize our productivity and effectiveness, we must stay focused on the right priorities.

In my years of training and speaking I have noticed that the biggest obstacle to business success is not ability or desire — it is a lack of focusing on the right things.

Before Dr. Covey wrote The 7 Habits, the bulk of writing and teaching in the area of time management focused on the clock. In other words, we were taught to better manage our time.

Of course managing time is critical, but Dr. Covey introduced the concept of the clock and the compass to time management. In other words, it’s not enough to get things done, we must also ensure we are taking our companies in the right direction. As Covey famously stated, “Managing is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.”

To help us better prioritize our time, Covey created the Time Matrix, which separates various activities into four groups:

  1. Things that are Urgent and Important.
  2. Things that are Not Urgent but very Important.
  3. Things that are Urgent but Not Important.
  4. Things that are neither Urgent nor Important.

Each “quadrant” represents our use of time. Quadrant1 (urgent and important) are the fires and crises we face daily in business, such as a ringing phone or an upset customer.

Quadrant 2 (not urgent but important) are the things that truly help make us successful such as planning, preparation and prevention.

Basically Quadrant 1 is firefighting and Quadrant 2 is fire prevention. The problem is, however, that we get so busy fighting fires in Quadrant 1 that we never have time to prevent the crises by planning better in Quadrant 2. This can result in feeling constantly overwhelmed.

I remember once in my HVAC business that no matter how many checklists we used, our installers would very often get out to the jobsite and realize that they were missing parts needed for installation. This would result in wasted hours every day, running to and from parts houses. This often turned into a Quadrant 1 fire when the homeowners would get frustrated that we were still at their home finishing up an installation at 7 o’clock at night.

So what I did was to schedule one hour per week of Quadrant 2 planning time to figure out how we could permanently eliminate the problem. Over a six week period we figured out a system (in conjunction with our primary supplier) whereby we would order certain installation parts packages which our supplier would shrink wrap with the equipment for a particular job. Everything the installers could possibly need was in the package and any parts not used would be returned the next morning.

In a very short time we eliminated the crisis that seemed to be inevitable. By spending a little more time in Quadrant 2 planning our installations, we had few Q1 fires that were bad for everyone.

The more time you can spend planning and preparing in Quadrant 2, the less time you will spend fighting fires in Quadrant 1.

Dr. Covey also warned of time wasters in Quadrant 3. These are activities that are not important but can sometimes feel urgent because they are the priorities of other people imposing on our time. In Quadrant 4 are activities that are just pure wastes of time like to much television or surfing the Internet.

Those activities are important to identify because Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 are where you are going to find the extra time to spend in Quadrant 2 doing better planning, preparation and prevention. Once you can do that, you will find far fewer crises and fires consuming your time in Quadrant 1.

Managing time is, indeed, important. But managing priorities to ensure you are spending your time on the right activities is even more important. Always put first things first and do not allow the fires and distractions in Quadrant 1 to keep you working in your business instead of spending time in Quadrant 2 working on your business.

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