The 3rd habit of highly effective people

by Adrian Lloyd

My god-father gave me The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People soon before he died – he called it a classic, something that won’t date.  He was a highly effective headmaster of Cottesmore School, a boarding school for 7-13 year olds.  It’s an amazing place and he was an amazing man in many ways.  An effective Headmaster wouldn’t be the first person I would typically look to for business leadership inspiration, but with a little reflection it is of course an excellent place to look.  Multiple, highly engaged and demanding stakeholders, tight budgets but the possiblity of consistent profitability, long life-time value, huge importance of “company” culture…the list goes on.

I’m 3 habits in and wanted to write about habit 3 – Put First Things First.  The 1st 2 habits, “Be Proactive” and “Begin with the end in Mind”, were great but areas I already consider myself fairly proficient at.  It was Habit 3 where I sat up and really paid attention as he convinced me that if I put what he suggested into practice I could become 20%,30%, 40%+ more effective over time.


It’s all about prioritising the right tasks…

Stage 1: Consider all the different roles you have in life (e.g. for me: Husband, Father, Partner at Episode 1, Investor at Episode 1, Partner at EtonPreneurs LLP, Individual, Friend)

Stage 2: Think about 1 task/action for each of your roles that would add most value to your success in that role over the long term.

Stage 3: Create a 2×2 matrix of your goals/tasks for each role with “Importance” and “Urgency” as the 2 axes.  I completed the matrix only for my professional roles:

Then take your tasks/actions from Stage 2 and place them in the correct box in the matrix.  Do all or most of them sit in box 2 (important, not urgent) and thus get shunted to make way for all the important urgent tasks that end up running (or should I replace that first “n” with an “i”?) our lives?  They all sat in box 2 for me, as Covey suggested they would.  I’m pretty disciplined and despite that know that I keep putting them off and this exercise just reminded me.  It was annoying.  So what can we do about it???

Stage 4: Fill in a Weekly Worksheet.  Here’s a link to a blank template so you can see what I’m talking about.  This forces you to create weekly goals per role and to allocate them each to a day.  I create 3 goals per role max, but sometimes only manage to think of 1 or 2 for a role.  You then allocate the goals across the days of the week and ensure they all have a day allocated to encourage completion.  Of course you then allocate a specific time in the day to get each goal done.  You may not achieve them all, but you have a much better chance of doing so if you’ve allocated a time.  The best time to do this all is Sunday evening for me – I hit Monday morning with a clear view of my goals for the week and can block parts of my calendar to achieve them.

It’s pretty simple, but I’ve already found it effective.  E.g. one of my goals for my role as an Episode 1 Partner was to write a blog per week and I allocated it to today, and now it’s almost done!  It would have otherwise slipped to Friday and then slipped again because something “important and urgent” would have taken over.  One of my goals as a Friend was to check in with a friend whose father recently died – I did that today in a break.  Had I not had this process up and running I imagine I wouldn’t have even thought to make that call as I am always distracted by “urgent important” tasks both and work and at home.

Try it out.  You may, like me, get some long-term goals both articulated and completed.  Managing the 1st is okay, but it’s worthless unless you actually get them done.


  • Thanks for writing this up in such fine detail. I found your post while searching for a suitable image of Covey’s matrix for a post of my own. As a leadership coach I frequently use the matrix to help clients with prioritization and time management and in my experience, one of the first ‘important-not urgent’ activities that get’s squeezed by box 1 activities is leadership and people development…a downward spiral! It’s useful to have a step by step approach for the matrix and your role-based methodology will help me to extend the influence of the matrix to all aspects of my clients lives…if they choose to take action of course!

  • Nice post Adrian. I was flicking through Covey’s book myself the other week and I focused in on habit 2… realising that there is a little inconsistency between what the book tells us and the methods that startups are now using. That said, beginning with the end in mind remains as important as ever. Sharing my post here if you don’t mind:

    • aelloyd

      Thanks Richard. Pleased you added your blog – you articulate Habit 2 very succincntly! You are right that starting with the end in mind when blended with lean startup methodology is a powerful combination. I think the “end” in software startups is solving the customer pain. How you do it can be determined using the lean startup approach (as I write extensively about in my “How to startup” series of blogs which starts with this one about generating an idea:

      • Great, thanks Adrian. Will have a look a proper look at your ‘How to startup’ posts… they look very helpful.

  • Juliana Zárate

    I read the ‘for teens’ version of this book when I was around 13 or so, still keep a copy and recommend anyone to read it. I would also go ahead and say that the teen version would be great for startups – it’s written in a step-by-step manner that helps pin-point specific things you can focus on to improve. A bit like a ‘lean’ version of the adult one. Or maybe its just utterly simple to read.


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