Habit #3 – Put First Things First
In our last installment I commented that habit #2 may be the most easily understood habit for me, and I stick to that statement. With that said, habit #3 is probably where I fail the most. To give a frank self-assessment, this is where I become my own worst enemy, and perhaps you’ll see a bit of yourself in my actions at the end. With that said, let’s put first things first and explain what the habit is before I tell you how often I fail at properly executing it.
In explaining this habit, Covey breaks work down into 4 categories, using the Eisenhower Matrix. They are as follows:
Urgent and Important – This is work that is high priority and has an urgent deadline. These items should always be at the top of your list and get done. To use a military example, if you are under artillery fire, it is important that you take cover immediately. For data workers, this might be resolving a known defect impacting your analytics, or rerunning a failed ETL job.
Not Urgent, but Important – This work is generally more of a strategic objective, but doesn’t have to be years out. For data workers, code optimization usually springs to mind. Often overlooked, however, is data governance and documentation such as a complete data dictionary.
Urgent, but Not Important – This work is generally a distraction from your main purposes, but has an accompanying deadline. Timesheets and government required training courses always come to mind when I think of this.
Not Urgent, and Not Important – This work is always a distraction from your main purpose. I always think of IMs when I think of this – someone wants your immediate attention, but most often, it’s wholly unnecessary for you to respond urgently.
In the above list, you should always make time to complete the Important and Urgent work. This is your bread and butter, and what you should spend much, if not most, of your time on completing. Again, if your data warehouse is not operating, none of the rest of it matters. The Not Urgent, but Important work should be your next priority, and generally worked on when the fires from the Important and Urgent work have died down. While it’s Important and Urgent to fight the forest fire, preventing the forest fire in the first place is in the latter category of Not Urgent, but Important. For data workers, if the server is available to be queried, its important that said queries execute both quickly and correctly, or no one will use the system. Urgent, but Not Important tasks for data workers are menial manual tasks that seem to be embedded in our daily lives. A manual SQL pull that has to be sent out by 9am every day, but most people never take the time to read is a perfect example of this – as are cover sheets for TPS reports. Delegate this work by automating it! Not Urgent, and Not Important work – simply put, if it falls into this category, then it shouldn’t be done as there is always something better you can be doing with your time.
I said at the beginning that I often am my own worst enemy here. Where I fall short most often is by prioritizing urgency over importance. By that, I mean if I have someone IM me with a quick task, I almost always respond with a quick completion of the task. This behavior is precisely why I eschew having a cellular phone – I like the feeling I get when I help someone, and if I can do that quickly several times a day, then I often do. The problem here is that while it’s a great team first way of looking at things, it often causes me to fall behind on the Important, but Not Urgent work I had planned on doing for the day. It’s not urgent, right? It can wait until tomorrow… until it can’t. I’m learning to focus my energy where it’s most impactful, but it’s a process of improvement, which is really what the 7 habits are all about.
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