Put First Things First

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When preparing for this article, I was reminded of something that the superintendent of my school district loves to state. He has even gone so far to make this statement a motto of our district. The motto states:

"Keep the main thing - The main thing!"

I have always loved the message behind this statement. It is very powerful both educationally and personally. Some people may not get the power behind this statement, but I get the following things from his words:

From an education perspective, you need to keep student instruction the main thing. With all of the pressure that is put on schools and teachers with the testing environment, we can get bogged down in teaching towards a test. This phrase is to remind all teachers, that the main thing is the students in our classes and not the tests that they take.

From a personal perspective, our lives and sanity are important factors to being successful employees. Everybody needs to remember that they need to take care of themselves, and the things that are important to them. Sometimes, we as Americans can focus too much on work, and forget about the important things in our life.

This statement always reminds me to hold up time with family and time for myself, because it is that important. It's the main thing. It's more important than working 80 hours a week for my students. It's more important than working until 9 pm every night.

As I think about "The Main Thing," I am always reminded about the things that I have heard from multiple people in my life, when it comes to parenting.

"Time flies - enjoy this time (with your kids)."

"Enjoy them while they are little."

"Cherish this time, they grow up so fast."

My daughter is 9-months old, and it is amazing to see how fast she has grown up. My wife and I enjoy every little moment that we get to spend with her. We cherish our time and hope that every reader gets to enjoy those little moments with their children. 

This topic of family was in my mind as I continued my read into "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen R. Covey. In the first part of the book, he focuses on personal habits of successful people. The third habit of 'Putting First Things First,' is the most important to growing into the person that you want to be. 

Stephen focuses on becoming a person who develops a vision. Within this vision, comes the task of balance, discipline, and control. Basically, the idea of 'putting first things first' is a time management issue. If you don't plan for the important things in your life, they will get away from you! 

According to Stephen Covey, the best time manager focuses on the following activities:

  • Prevention (Being Proactive)
  • Relationship Building
  • Recognizing New Opportunities
  • Planning and Recreation

To focus on these items, a time manager must create a vision of what is important to him/her. This allows the person to say 'no,' when things become too much. Even I need to understand, it's okay to say 'no' to something at work, so you can focus on your family.

Stephen suggests that the best way to time manage is to focus on your roles each week, and the tasks that you want to accomplish. For example, I will give a list of roles that I have, and the tasks that need to be completed for each role.

  1. Personal Development
    • Train for Half Marathon
    • Read Bible
    • Finish 7 Habits
  2. Spouse
    • Read Devotional Together
    • Date Night
    • Daily Conversation Time
  3. Parent
    • Take Daughter to Daycare
    • Relationship Building
  4. Teacher
    • Lesson Plans
    • Grading
    • Meetings
    • Parent Phone Calls
    • Check Forms
  5. Blogger
    • Write 2 articles
    • Respond to e-mails/comments
    • Build social networking followers
    • Develop relationships with other bloggers and other sites
  6. Family Finance Time
    • Track Spending
    • Update Budget
  7. Committee Chair at School
    • Develop Agenda for meeting
    • Prepare materials for meeting
    • Coordinate presenters for meeting

After you develop your list of roles and weekly tasks, Stephen suggests that you plug each item into your weekly schedule and dedicate time to that schedule. He suggests making an appointment for each item on the list. By doing this, you make sure to create time for everything that you must do each day.

With all of this said, I still find it hard to write the tasks that I want to complete each day. Instead of writing out a weekly list, I create a daily 'to do' list in my head. My 'to do' list in my head is always longer than what I can complete in one day.  However, it keeps me focused and requires me to get things done during my planning time at school and my free time at home.

With that being said, I make the following things a priority daily:

  • Spending Quality Time with my Wife - We have been making a conscious effort to spend quality time together each night after our daughter has gone to bed. This quality time has led us to watch less TV (which I think is a good thing) and has made our relationship even stronger.
  • Playing with my daughter - My daughter is very tired everyday after daycare. She tends to go to bed early in the evening and we make it a priority to just enjoy her growth each day. We enjoy watching her play, while building a lasting bond.
  • Reading/Praying - To be the best husband/father/co-worker, I must continue to learn and grow. I always challenge myself to read something that will make me a better person.
  • Working Out - Having the goal of completing two half-marathons this year, keeps me motivated to follow my workout calendar.

Not all of us are living the same lifestyle. We have different roles and give time to a lot of different tasks. This article is just a reminder about the importance of being intentional with your time. This is no different that setting up a budget for your money. This is a call for you to budget your time. 

To create a good budget, you must figure out the tasks and roles that are important to you. This can be created by your vision/mission statement that you have for yourself. Early on in my teaching career, I had a career focus. With no family, it was easy to work long hours. Today, my focus has shifted to more of a family focus, because my family is THAT IMPORTANT.

You must have a reason for the things that you do each day and a reason for the way that you spend your money. Having a 'why' will give you the motivation to complete the tasks that match your goals. It gives you a reason to put the first things first in your life.

What steps are you taking today to make sure that you focus on the important things in life? What tasks do you have a hard time completing? What holds you back?

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