Co-written by the same person who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, First Things First has an interesting thesis, boiling down to “Traditional time-management approaches are flawed. Yes, they’ll help you get more stuff done quicker…but is that stuff really the important stuff?”
The meat of the book discusses how tasks and activities can be broken down into 4 “quadrants”:
- Tasks which are both urgent and important
- Tasks which are important but not urgent
- Tasks which are urgent but not important
- Tasks which are neither urgent nor important
Of these four, the book argues that Quadrant II (Important but not urgent) is one that not enough time is spent in. It also discusses “urgency addiction”, where people live for the rush of metaphorically putting out fires and saving the day when some allegedly urgent task comes up. It notes that this won’t necessarily bring you fulfillment.
The book then basically challenges you to come up with some things that you think of as Quadrant II, and to rethink how you approach your day by adhering to some of the principles, called “true north” principles, derived from Quadrant II. Some of the examples of this are fascinating, particularly a company that, of all things, shut down. Instead of a top-down edict, the company involved employees of all levels when they were going through financial difficulties. It soon became clear that the operation was unsustainable–the company was, basically, obsolete. Realizing this, the company shifted their focus to finding future employment for its workers. The media came in to cover the company’s last day expecting a demoralized war zone, and instead got a giant farewell party where everyone was truly as happy as they could be given the circumstances.
Was the book worth it? Content-wise, I’d say yes–while I didn’t specifically perform any of the exercises, it did get me thinking about things I want to do that are important that I’ve been neglecting. Format-wise, though, is another story. I bought this as part of a Humble Book Bundle, and downloaded the Mobi onto my Kindle. Now, it’s possible I’m just too old for this whole “eBooks” thing, but the book mentions worksheets and appendices and other things that didn’t seem to be in my electronic version. Additionally, there were other minor issues–visible formatting characters, things are were/weren’t bolded/etc that should/n’t have been, etc. that served to temporarily take me out of the lessons the book was trying to teach me. And let’s not get into the fact that the title of the book is wrong on the top of each page in the version I read (It’s missing the “s” in “Things”). Still, I mentioned on Facebook that if I can pick up a useful concept or two from a book like this, it’ll have been worth it, and I can say I did that with First Things First.