Friday, January 27, 2012

Putting First Things First

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A young ensign had nearly completed his first overseas tour of duty when he was given the opportunity to prepare his ship to "set sail." With a stream of crisp commands, he had the decks buzzing with sailors and soon the ship churned slowly out of the channel.

The ensign’s efficiency was remarkable. In fact, the talk was that he had set a new record for getting the ship underway.

But his captain was not as pleased. A message delivered to the young officer read, "My personal congratulations upon completing your underway preparation exercise according to the book and with amazing speed. But next time, you might wait until your captain is aboard before setting off."

What good is a ship without the captain? The ensign did all the right things, but he never did the most important thing.

It is a matter of priorities. I know that I may accomplish a great deal every day. I may do the right things, but am I doing the best things? To borrow language from author Stephen Covey, do I put first things first?

I can relate to the man who believes he spends too much of his time in meetings. "I have this recurring nightmare," he says. "My wife and children are gathered at the cemetery for my funeral. After the service, the funeral director approaches my weeping family and hands them a box containing all my earthly possessions. In the box are 35 years of my annual calendars and diaries. I read over their shoulders as they scan the appointment notes that kept me busy for so many years. It occurs to me how seldom anything of significance was ever accomplished at those gatherings. I turn to look at my tombstone. The epitaph reads, "Daddy has gone to another meeting."

That man could be me. I need to regularly ask myself, "In my most significant relationships, in my work and in my free time, in all areas of my life, am I doing what is truly important? Important to me? I do the mundane. I do the urgent and the pressing. But do I spend enough time with what is actually significant?

I once made this demonstration to an audience. I filled a large, clear jar with coffee beans almost to the top. The beans, I said, represent all of the activities we accomplish in a day. Then I produced two golf balls. "These," I said, "represent a couple of the truly important things in our lives." I asked them to think of the golf balls as time spent with a significant person, such as a family member, or doing something special for somebody else, or developing their spiritual life or just beginning that project they keep putting off. I placed the balls on top of the beans then tried to screw on the lid. I couldn’t do it. There were too many beans in the jar.

"Does this remind you of a typical day?" I asked. "We’re so busy doing the usual we can’t seem to squeeze in anything else."

I emptied the jar and started over. "But what if we put first things first? What if we start each day doing something special, something we truly WANT to do? I placed the golf balls into the jar first. Then I poured in the coffee beans – all of them. They fell neatly around the balls and filled the jar to the top. When I screwed on the lid it fit perfectly.

And that’s the secret to building the kind of life you want. I’ve discovered that if I can begin every day with one or two things that are important to me, the other stuff still fits into place just fine.

I don’t want to just do all of the RIGHT things and never get around to the BEST things. And I certainly don’t want my life summed up in the sentence, "Daddy has gone to another meeting." So I handle the golf balls first. And in comparison, everything else is just beans.


-- Steve Goodier



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