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Becoming an Effective Person: Put First Things First

Continuing notes from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Habit three of effective living can be summarized as life management.
Remember that habit one was recognizing our agency, habit two was demonstrating the leadership to chart our course and now here we are at habit three- active management on a day to day basis in line with our chartered course.
From a computer/IT perspective this is running the program we’ve written. The most important part of running our program is keeping our commitments; is adhering to the features we’ve documented in writing the program. Doing this is a show of self-discipline.
We have to master self-discipline in order to succeed in running the program as written. Integrity is having the discipline to submit our will to our principles we’ve centered our life on.
Here Covey introduces his organizational paradigm of Quadrant management. Quadrant I activities under our management are those which are urgent in nature and important (furthering our chartered course). Quadrant II activities are those which are important but not urgent. Quadrant III activities are urgent but not important (think busywork required on the job). Quadrant IV activities are neither urgent nor important (time wasters, distractions). Per Covey, most of our life efforts should be in Quadrant II and in order to acquire the time needed for these activities we have to rob it from Quadrant III and IV (since the first Quadrant activities are also important).
Quadrant II focused management stems from a knowledge of our principles documented in our mission statement. It is the balancing act of managing not only our production output but also our production possibility (the golden eggs versus the goose that lays them).
Notes on managing these Quadrant II activities:
  • Coherence – our Quadrant II activities should flow from and be in sync with our mission statement and principles.
  • Balance – Quadrant II activities should be balanced across several goals that follow from our mission statement. We must be careful not to neglect some areas while tunnel visioning on others.
  • Wide Angle View - Quadrant II activities should be integrated into our schedules through weekly planning (versus just daily planning) to ensure our schedule as a whole is balanced and centered properly.
  • Flexibility – Our life management in action should be able to adapt to changing circumstances based our principles. We must not make an idol out of our schedule when God makes it clear our principles are dictating an unexpected change of plans. (For example, be willing to delay or skip a Quadrant II scheduled activity to help a friend dealing with grief who wants to talk in that moment).
  • Portability – Our life management schedule and plan should be documented in a portable format so that we can take it with us everywhere. If we don’t have it to reference at all times, we may stray from it easily.
What is the technique, on a practical level, for scheduling and managing our life through a Quadrant II focus? Schedule in the Quadrant I and II activities FIRST (the big rocks in our bowl), then fill in with Quadrant III and IV activities as they will fit.
Long term scheduling: review mission statement--->document goals
Short term scheduling: review mission statement and goals--->document substeps and tasks--->schedule or delegate substeps and tasks
A note on delegation: delegate WHAT (results) and not HOW (micromanaging) as much as possible, Obviously some guidelines, regulations, and certified processes must be followed but give people stewardship to carry out tasks their own way whenever possible. Make sure to setup accountability (standards for evaluation) and document the consequences for the evaluation results.
Covey is emphatic that many people *think* they struggle with putting first things first but actually struggle with centering their life on principles (habit two). That is, their real problem is an implantation-of-principles-in-the-heart problem and not a self-discipline problem. Do I agree with this? I’m not sure. It’s a bit of human arrogance to claim anyone can submit their will to their principles if they’ve truly accepted those principles in their heart. After all Romans 7:19 tells us "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.” Given what Saint Paul has stated here, is the problem really that we haven’t accepted the principles in our heart or that we have accepted them (or at least want to accept them) but our sinful nature fights against these principles we want to follow?
I used to struggle (in vain) to acquire the self-discipline required to bend my will to my principles. I failed over and over. In frustration I went to my pastor at the time who told me I was going about it all wrong by trying to force myself into self-discipline. He told me I needed to focus on building my relationship with God and giving him my life and that God would change my will for me. That pastor was a Presbyterian and so embraced the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity (theology that states man in wholly incapable of choosing goodness and only the holy spirit within him can do so). This was very wonderful to hear and since then I’ve tried to direct my efforts to engaging more frequently with God (prayer, worship, meditation, study, etc) and leaving it to him to change my character and it seems to be a more successful strategy for me. Now here comes Covey telling me that with practice I can actually change it myself. And given that there are many people who aren’t religious at all who exhibit self discipline it would lend credence to the view that we can control our will and subvert it to our values if we try hard enough. But then what about our verse in Romans? And if we can submit our will to our principles if we just follow a sound methodology like Covey’s and try hard enough then, in theory, we should be able to be successful, ethical, and principled without God and scripture points to the contrary and the need for grace b/c of our own weakness and sin.
Jonathan and I had a long discussion on executing the program and the self-discipline it takes and whether we can acquire that discipline with practice or whether God changes our character and molds us into a self-disciplined person. Jon thinks it’s a healthy mix of both (convenient safe answer and not at all helpful for me in deciding what exactly *I* should do to most further my character development). What do you think about the human will and discipline? Do you think a failure to follow the program is due to a lack of true acceptance of the program or a failure in will and discipline to follow what we’ve accepted? And in either case how do we get ourselves to accept something we want to but apparently haven’t or how do we bend our will in a way we want to but can’t seem to? What have you found to be the answers to these questions?

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