The 7 Habits: Put First Things First

A case study on the life of a survivor and how you can use these habits to survive in any survival situation.

The “put first things first examples” is a book written by Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits are:
1) Be proactive, 2) Begin with the end in mind, 3) Put first things first, 4) Think win-win, 5) Seek first to understand then to be understood, 6) Synergize and 7) Sharpen the saw.

Pointing finger to dominoes illustration.

Welcome back to our monthly series summarizing, expanding, and riffing on each of the seven behaviors outlined in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Big vision and abstract are Covey’s first two tendencies.

The first habit, “Be Proactive,” is all about shifting your perspective from one of being acted upon to one of doing. It’s about reminding yourself that you have control over your life and how you react to it.

The second habit builds on the first. It tells you to harness your inner agency and “Starting with the end in mind is a good way to go.” — the “end” in this case being nothing less than death. What do you want to see and how do you want to feel when you look back on your life from your deathbed? Once you know that, you may write a personal mission statement based on timeless concepts and your own fundamental beliefs, which will guide you in developing and practicing these “eulogy virtues.”

Where the rubber hits the road is Habit #3.

Personal leadership — finding out where you want to go and what you want to accomplish in life — is what Habits 1 and 2 are about, according to Covey, while personal management is what Habit #3 is about. It’s about transforming the big picture, the abstract, the idealistic, into the everyday, the concrete, and the practical. It’s about doing exterior acts that are consistent with your interior beliefs.

“While leadership chooses what ‘first things’ are, management is the one who puts them first,” says Covey.

Small Rocks vs. Big Rocks


Covey expands on this practice in his book First Things First, using the comparison of giant vs. little rocks to illustrate his point (I did a video on this several years ago that may be helpful to watch). 

Consider the following scenario: you have a mound of sand and tiny rocks, a pile of large boulders, and a jar into which both heaps must be placed. Let’s imagine you started by filling the jar with sand/small rocks; you could discover that they took up so much space that you couldn’t fit the large rocks in. However, if you fill the jar with huge rocks first, then add the sand and tiny rocks, the sediment will settle in the gaps of the big rocks, enabling you to fit everything from both heaps into the jar.

Your life resembles a jar. The little rocks represent the urgent but less significant aspects of your life, such as your never-ending to-do list and fires to put out. The major rocks in your life are the activities that don’t have strict deadlines but assist you reach your main personal, school, and career objectives, as well as your overall purpose as a man. Spirituality, health, relationships, and professional purpose are all big boulders in the eulogy virtues development process.

When you handle life’s “big rocks” first, you have more time for day-to-day responsibilities, as well as leisure and enjoyment. When the little pebbles – the urgent or meaningless — are placed first, the more significant aspects of life are pushed aside. Your life might seem both hectic and stagnant at the same time; your days are packed, yet you don’t appear to be making any progress toward your objectives or becoming the man you want to be.


So we understand why it’s critical to prioritize, but how do we do it? What are the finest “management” techniques for appropriately prioritizing our tasks?

You Are Your Morning Routine, or Frontloading Your Life

I could just re-take you through the two procedures Covey suggests for its execution, which I’ve already covered in depth: organizing your chores into a 4-quadrant decision matrix and planning your week, which I’ve previously written about more than any other.

In my personal life, I’ve found both of these activities to be really beneficial, although to be honest, my weekly planning is erratic, and I don’t think about the decision matrix on a daily basis.

So, although the habits are undoubtedly beneficial, I doubt that the vast majority of people will give them a try, much alone continue with them. They’re a bit more complicated, and human nature being what it is, they’re difficult to integrate permanently into your life.

As a result, I’d want to take things back to the fundamentals and provide a method for practicing this habit that is both really simple and incredibly successful.

I’m going to accomplish it by taking the dictum “first things first” to its logical conclusion.

You must actually make the most essential things in your life the first things you do each day if you want to ensure that you complete them.

You should include your large rocks into your morning routine.

How do you choose which things to prioritize first thing in the morning? It all boils down to a crossroads of your own mission and a domino effect. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about, using my own life as an example.

First and foremost, consider your goal. This is what mine looks like:

  • I want to improve my connection with God.
  • Be the greatest husband you can be to Kate.
  • Be the greatest parent you can be to Gus and Scout.
  • Create material for AoM that will enhance the lives of men.
  • Improve my physical stamina

So, I know what my priorities are, what my huge rocks are. The issue then arises, how should these planks of my purpose be practiced, at least in terms of my daily schedule? That’s when the dominoes start to fall.

When considering the practices related to your goals, ask yourself, “Which of these, if completed first, would make the fulfillment of the others easier?” If your daily chores are like a line of dominos, you’ll want to carefully choose your top priority — the domino that will sit at the head of the line — as the domino that will effectively launch the energy that will push one domino into another (an concept inspired by Gary Keller’s The One Thing).

So, in my personal life, I know that until I get my thoughts in order, I won’t be able to accomplish anything else successfully – job or relationships included. As a result, my first priority is to cultivate a calm, focused attitude. Everything else is built on top of it. It’s the first domino I’ve ever played.


What this means in practice is that the first thing I do when I get out of bed each day is engage in a set of mental and spiritual exercises: I pray, read my scriptures, meditate, and do an exercise from the Foundations of Well-Being, which has helped me overcome my depression and irritable moodiness.

When I say I do this first thing in the morning, I mean it. I used to check my phone first thing in the morning, but I realized that this set my mind up for a day of triviality and distraction. I would get lost on my phone, which would eat up time for my mental/spiritual exercises; or I would see something that would impact my mood, making the workouts less concentrated and effective. That day, it simply made me twitchier in general. I no longer use my phone until I’ve completed my mental/spiritual workouts. This modest, basic tweak, I must say, has completely changed the game. First and foremost.

My spiritual/mental activities prepare my mind for the rest of the day, including the next stage in my morning routine: working out.

The mindset exercises I practice before each workout not only boost their impact, but they also build the optimistic, confident attitude with which I approach the day. There’s nothing quite like hefting iron to make you feel focused and anchored. It assures that the falling dominoes’ momentum continues.

It’s time for work after I’ve completed my morning ritual and am feeling both focused and energetic. I use the same philosophy at work: I handle my most essential chores first thing in the morning, knowing that if I do, I’ll not only guarantee that the most value-creating jobs get done, but that I’ll also be able to squeeze in the “urgent,” lesser items later.

My morning routine prepares me for a successful workday, and adhering to the “first things first” philosophy throughout the day guarantees that the day is productive.

Of course, I haven’t explicitly addressed any relationship issues, such as my role as a spouse and parent. But, since I’m in a good mood and have had a productive day at work, I’m in a good position to bring my best self to these jobs. It goes without saying that having a positive outlook will enhance my relationships, but having completed what I needed to do at work also helps. You feel dreadful – restless and furious — when you spend the day dicking about, once again letting the hours slip away from you. You may not only infect your family with these unpleasant vibrations, but you may also just offer them a portion of your attention while catching up on work on your phone. However, if you spend your work time well, you may exit from work mode guilt-free and participate in completely present play.


How you start your day determines how you finish it, and as days turn into weeks, weeks turn into years, how you end each day determines how you conclude your life. Your morning ritual is you.

So, first thing in the morning, do what’s most essential to you. First and foremost, put your best foot forward.

Listen to my interview with Stephen’s son on his father’s well-known principles: 


Read Throughout the Series

  1. Be proactive rather than reactive.
  2. Begin With the End in Mind
  3. Prioritize your efforts.
  4. Consider a win-win situation.
  5. Seek first to comprehend, then to be understood.
  6. Synergy is when two or more things work together (Beyond the Eye-Rolling Buzzword)
  7. Make the Saw Sharper



Watch This Video-

The “habit 3 put first things first powerpoint” is a presentation that discusses the 7 Habits. It begins with an introduction to the 7 habits, followed by a discussion of each habit.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the first habit in the 7 habits?

A: The first habit is to be proactive about your situation and take charge.

Why putting first things first is important?

A: The first thing is normally the most important, so its good to put that first. Putting things like your name and job title before other information is also a way of showing youre serious about what you are saying in an interview or meeting.

What is the correct order of the 7 habits steps in safety?

1. Think proactively
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put first things first
4. Think win-win not lose-lose

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