Habit 3: Put First Things First

Time management is a misnomer. We manage what we do, we don’t manage our time. Time is what it is; seconds, minutes, hours… there is no stopping it. Our success and happiness are dependent on what we do with our time. Making choices about what we do with each hour is what we really have control over. 

Putting first things first is a conscious choice to have a proactive approach to our day. There are a multitude of things we can do each minute of the day. Without thinking too much, we might find ourselves entrenched in something that may not align with our personal or professional well-being. Successful people recognize how they are spending their time and they mind their business. In other words, they put their energy into what is important and push away the distractions that may not be important or urgent.

The Leader In Me system of thinking that we use at Almond Acres illustrates this idea nicely with Quadrant Thinking. The matrix below identifies and organizes how we spend our time based on how productive we can be.

Looking closely at this matrix, you can see that Quadrant 1 is made up of tasks of the utmost necessity. We attend to these daily, and as needed, throughout our lives. Quadrants 3 & 4 can swallow up much of our time, allowing us to neglect not just what is important and urgent, but also what is important, but not urgent. It is in these two quadrants that most of us spend our time—it’s the path of least resistance. 

It’s interesting that we use the words “spend our time”. When we look at our day as an opportunity to invest ourselves in life, it becomes clear that we would rather spend wisely. 

Spending our time wisely is Q2 Thinking. Like fire prevention, we put our attention to the things that will benefit us now and in the future. As a parent, putting my time and energy into growing great kids should suppress many problems in the future. It’s about being proactive.

When we spend most of our time on things that are important but not urgent, we are putting first things first. Parents realize that the urgent and important are also critical and must be attended to, but minding our Quadrant 2 business is powerful. It forces the mindless tasks to the bottom of our list and makes the best use of our limited time.

An Almond Acres Charter Academy student in red polo shirt uniform uses her time wisely by helping load cereal into the back of a car to take to a local homeless shelter.

One of my favorite lessons in the Middle School Pathways program is the rocks and sand exercise that is illustrated in this video, The Pickle Jar. It is a clear metaphor for getting our priorities straight and finding ways to be more intentional about our life and likely, being able to achieve more than we may have thought possible. 

Happy and successful people are great at spending their time and talent on what is most important to them; heart, mind, body, and soul. You can help your children examine their priorities by asking them about each of the AACA colors:

  • 🔵 Heart  – Who are the most important people in your life?
  • 🟡 Mind  – What topics do you enjoy learning about most?
  • 🔴 Body – How do you like to spend time physically? (favorite sports, hobbies… )
  • 🟢 Soul – Why are you so special?

The other important message tied to this week’s habit is knowing what is important and urgent, and what is important but not urgent. Sorting the tasks and activities in our lives between these two ideas helps to keep our plates from feeling too heavy. I have attached a simple guide that may support our families in organizing our week/month and helping us to be intentional about our time and talents. I encourage you to print it, talk about it, and decide as a family how you can best use the precious asset of your time.

Further Reading on Putting First Things First

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids! 

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