This is a preview of the Shortform book summary of guide to
First Things First by Stephen R. Covey.
Read Full SummaryRead Summary + Analysis

1-Page Summary1-Page Book Summary of First Things FirstFast Summary of Shortform's Guide to First Things First

In First Things First, Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, presents a time-management approach that focuses on priorities, or “first things.” This approach teaches you to use your time effectively rather than efficiently. Using your time effectively means focusing on what you’re spending your time on, rather than how much time you’re spending.

The Urgency-Importance Matrix

There are two factors that determine how you spend your time: importance and urgency. A task can be either important, urgent, both, or neither.

The “first things” method of time management emphasizes important tasks, rather than those that are merely urgent. All our daily, weekly, and monthly activities fall into one of the following four categories, as seen below:

Urgent Not Urgent
Important Quadrant I

Urgent and Important

Quadrant II

Not Urgent, but Important

Not Important Quadrant III

Urgent, but Not Important

Quadrant IV

Neither Urgent nor Important

Quadrant I is both urgent and important. This quadrant contains emergencies and problems that require your immediate attention. This can include health emergencies, a work deadline, or a broken-down car.

Quadrant II is important, but not urgent. This is where you do prevention, maintenance, long-term planning, relationship building, and personal leadership activities like evaluating your thought patterns and assessing progress toward goals. For the highest quality of life, Quadrant II is where you should spend most of your time.

Quadrant III is urgent, but not important. The urgency of Quadrant III activities can make them appear important, but they don’t actually align with your values or contribute to the achievement of your goals. Quadrant-III activities include making phone calls, going to meetings that lack purpose, and receiving unexpected guests.

Quadrant IV is neither urgent nor important. These activities add no value to your life; even recreational activities don’t belong here because true recreation is a restorative and valuable Quadrant-II activity. Quadrant IV includes gossiping, mindlessly watching television, or passively scrolling through social media.


Quadrant-III and Quadrant-IV activities add little value to your life. You should limit time spent in these quadrants. Although Quadrant-I activities are inevitable, you should aim to spend most of your time in Quadrant II. This can be difficult, especially if you’ve spent your life reacting to the urgent business at hand rather than engaging in activities that benefit you in the long run. The first step toward spending more time in Quadrant II is to recognize when urgent tasks are not important and stop wasting your time on them. Eventually, you’ll shift to an “importance paradigm,” a mindset in which you automatically focus on spending your time doing the things that are most important to you.

Shift to an Importance Paradigm

How do you shift to an important paradigm and start spending your time on activities that align with your goals and values?

There are three principles that guide your shift to an importance paradigm.

1. You must fulfill your four human needs and capabilities: to live (the physical realm), to love (the social realm), to learn (the mental realm), to leave a legacy (the spiritual realm). Humans get a sense of fulfillment only through satisfying these four fundamental human needs. Activities that help fulfill these needs are Quadrant-II activities.

2. You must understand “true north” principles: true north principles include integrity, moderation, self-discipline, loyalty, responsibility, honesty, and patience. These are universal principles that give you direction and context for where you are now and how to reach your destination. Activities that align with true north principles are Quadrant-II activities.

3. You must understand the four human endowments: These endowments are self-awareness, conscience, independent will, and creative imagination. Activities that nurture these endowments are Quadrant-II activities.

Quadrant-II Scheduling

The heart of First Things First is Quadrant-II scheduling. This is a time management system that helps you understand your priorities and spend the majority of your time in Quadrant II, where the most personal and professional growth happens.

Step 1: Identify Your Long-Term Vision and Personal Mission

The first, foundational step of this planning process is to identify what’s most important to you, what gives your life meaning, and what do you want to achieve in your life.

One way to clarify these priorities, or...

Want to learn the rest of First Things First in 21 minutes? Want to learn the ideas of First Things First better than ever?

Unlock the full book summary of First Things First by Unlock the full Shortform guide to First Things First by signing up for Shortform.

Shortform summaries help you learn 10x faster by: Shortform guides make you smarter by:

  • Being 100% comprehensive: you learn the most important points in the book Being 100% crystal-clear: you learn important ideas written simply and clearly
  • Expanding beyond the book: we add smart analysis and teach ideas the book didn't cover.
  • Cutting out the fluff: you don't spend your time wondering what the author's point is. Respecting your time: we don't waste your time and we make every word count.
  • Interactive exercises: apply the book's ideas to your own life with our educators' guidance.

READ FULL SUMMARY OF FIRST THINGS FIRST READ COMPLETE GUIDE TO FIRST THINGS FIRST

Here's a preview of the rest of Shortform's First Things First summary:guide:

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Part 1 | Chapter 1: Be Effective, Not Efficient

Do you feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day? That no matter how furiously you work, you can never get ahead of all the demands on your time? That you’re constantly checking things off your to-do list but still don’t have enough time for the important things, like friends, family, and self-care? Your problem might be that you’re working efficiently, but not effectively.

Most time management approaches focus on being efficient -- getting as much done as quickly as possible. But if you don’t stop and evaluate the tasks on your to-do list, you could be wasting your time doing things that don’t benefit you or your long-term goals. Using your time effectively means focusing on what you’re spending your time on, rather than how much time you’re spending.

This is the difference between the clock and the compass: The clock measures the amount of time that passes, but the compass guides you toward your ultimate destination. When you have a gap between the clock and your compass -- between what’s important to you and how you’re spending your time -- it creates tension, anxiety, and dissatisfaction in your life.

To align the clock and your compass and...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of First Things First Read full guide to First Things First

Sign up for free

Shortform Exercise: Understand Your Management Tools

Use these questions to determine which “generation” of management tools you currently use and which paradigms may be holding you back from living an effective, rather than an efficient, life. After you’ve identified the issues, later exercises will help you find solutions.


What tools do you use to manage your time? (Perhaps you check off items on a daily to-do list, write in a planner, or use an app on your phone.) List the two or three tools you use the most.

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes. This is the best guide to How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned the ideas better and got new insights than when I first read the book.
Learn more about our summaries →Learn more about our content →

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 2: Understand the Urgency-Importance Matrix

There are two factors that determine how you spend your time: importance and urgency. A task can be either important, urgent, both, or neither.

The fourth generation of time management emphasizes important tasks, which ultimately move you closer to your goals and values. But we’re often distracted by urgent tasks -- things as trivial as a ringing phone or as critical as a health emergency.

Urgency vs. Importance

Imagine a square divided into four quadrants: One axis measures whether something is urgent or not, and the other axis measures whether it is important or not.

Urgent Not Urgent
Important Quadrant I

Urgent and Important

Quadrant II

Not Urgent, but Important

Not Important Quadrant III

Urgent but Not Important

Quadrant IV

Neither Urgent nor Important

<!--SSMLContent

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important

Quadrant 2: Not Urgent, but...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of First Things First Read full guide to First Things First

Sign up for free

Shortform Exercise: Identify Your Primary Quadrants

Use these questions to identify where you spend the most time: Quadrant I (urgent and important), Quadrant II (important but not urgent), Quadrant III (urgent but not important), or Quadrant IV (neither urgent nor important).


Think about how you spend your time. Which quadrants do you occupy most?

Why people love using Shortform

"I LOVE Shortform as these are the BEST summaries I’ve ever seen...and I’ve looked at lots of similar sites. The 1-page summary and then the longer, complete version are so useful. I read Shortform nearly every day." "I LOVE Shortform as these are the BEST book guides I’ve ever seen...and I’ve looked at lots of similar sites. The 1-page overview and then the longer guide are so useful. I read Shortform nearly every day."
Jerry McPhee
Sign up for free

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 3: Shift to an Importance Paradigm

We’ve discussed why it’s critical to place importance over urgency and use your time in a way that aligns with your goals and values. But how do you do that?

There are three aspects you need to understand in order to effectively shift to an importance paradigm.

  1. You must fulfill your four human needs and capabilities.
  2. You must understand “true north” principles.
  3. You must understand the four human endowments and how to use them to create new paradigms.

Let’s explore each of these in depth.

Fulfilling Your Four Human Needs

The first step of shifting to an “importance paradigm” is fulfilling your four human needs.

There is a difference between living day to day and feeling fulfilled. Humans get a sense of fulfillment only through satisfying four fundamental human needs: “to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.”

The need to live involves your physical needs for survival, including food, shelter, clothing, good health, and money.

The need to love pertains to humans’ need to be social and have relationships with other people in which they can love, be loved, and feel they belong.

The need to learn is your need to continuously nourish and...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of First Things First Read full guide to First Things First

Sign up for free

Shortform Exercise: Identify Your Growth Areas

Examine your human endowments and identify which ones could use your attention.


Of the four human endowments (self-awareness, conscience, independent will, and creative imagination), which do you feel are strong? Which do you feel need to be strengthened or used more often?

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes. This is the best guide to How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned the ideas better and got new insights than when I first read the book.
Learn more about our summaries →Learn more about our content →

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Part 2 | Chapter 4: Start Quadrant II Scheduling

Now that you have an understanding of the importance paradigm and what you need for a high quality of life, let’s put it into practice with the Quadrant II organizing process. The Quadrant II organizing process is a 30-minute weekly process to organize your time based on principles, needs, and endowments in order to create quality of life.

The Quadrant II organizing process will:

  • Address your urgency addiction by helping you to prioritize important activities rather than react to urgent needs.
  • Provide a framework for managing your time in a way that keeps your focus on consistently taking care of your human needs and acting on principle.
  • Teach you how to translate your mission statement into your day-to-day activities and decisions.
  • Allow enough flexibility for unexpected events and opportunities.

This process takes a weekly planning approach because a week provides more context than a single day. Daily planning keeps your view so limited that it only allows you to see what’s right in front of you, which can feed into an urgency paradigm, rather than allowing you to plan for what’s important.

(Shortform note: The book provides a weekly worksheet that...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of First Things First Read full guide to First Things First

Sign up for free

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 5: Create Your Personal Mission Statement

Your vision of your life and future is the most powerful tool you have in realizing that life. Your creative imagination allows you to create a vision of the life you want or expect, and that vision has an incredible influence on your behaviors, affecting the choices you make each day and the way you manage your time.

If you have a short-term vision -- if you only think a few days or weeks into the future and haven’t given much thought to how you want your life to play out in the long term -- then you’ll simply react to what’s in front of you. Your actions and decisions will be based on urgency or your current mood or other people’s suggestions.

If your vision isn’t grounded in reality, your choices won’t reflect an understanding of true north principles and the consequences they bring. This will cause you to make ill-informed decisions (because they’re based on illusion and not reality) that don’t create the results you want or expect.

If your vision is limited to only one area of life (e.g. focusing on financial and social needs while ignoring mental and spiritual development) your actions and choices will create an imbalanced life.

If your vision is based on the...

Want to read the rest of this
Book Summary Shortform Guide ?

With Shortform, you can:

Access 1000+ non-fiction book summaries. Access 1000+ non-fiction book guides.

Highlight what
you want to remember.

Access 1000+ premium article summaries. Access 1000+ topic and news guides.

Take notes on your
favorite ideas.

Read on the go with our iOS and Android App.

Download PDF Summaries. Download PDF Versions.

Sign up for free

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 6: Balance Your Roles

Most people’s biggest source of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in life is the imbalance they feel between their different roles and responsibilities. Many people feel their work demands so much of them that there aren’t enough hours in the day to give adequate time, energy, and attention to their family. Or they’re just barely keeping up with family and work, but have no personal time for their own rest and rejuvenation, so they feel burnt out.

This feeling of being constantly pulled in different directions stems from the paradigm that balance is about either/or: You either devote the next hour to work or to family, but not to both. The either/or paradigm is largely part of Western culture and contributes to a scarcity, win/lose “chronos” mentality that there is only limited time and time spent in one role is always at the expense of another.

But in reality, the person who goes to work and brainstorms in meetings is the same person who cooks dinner at home and helps the kids with homework. Furthermore, all your roles are part of your interrelated whole person, so who you are in each role impacts who you are in all your other roles.

**To find balance among your roles in...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of First Things First Read full guide to First Things First

Sign up for free

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 7: Setting Goals

Goals are a key part of self-improvement and time management methods. However, goals can be counterproductive if you don’t set them or execute them carefully and conscientiously.

There are two major ways in which goals can end up working against you.

  1. Your sense of integrity and courage take a hit when you fail to achieve a goal.
  2. Sometimes, even when you do achieve your goal, the outcome is unexpectedly negative.

Falling Short of Your Goal Hurts Your Integrity

Your personal integrity is the trust you have in yourself to do the things you say you’re going to do. Everyone has a Personal Integrity Account, which is a running balance of how much trust you have in yourself to keep commitments.

When you successfully make and keep a commitment, you make a deposit into that account. More deposits lead to a higher balance, which provides a sense of strength, security, and stability.

But when you don’t achieve a goal or keep a commitment, you make a withdrawal from your account, which can be a painful blow to your confidence. Frequent withdrawals deplete your trust in yourself and others’ trust in you, making it harder to have the confidence and courage to set...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes. This is the best guide to How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned the ideas better and got new insights than when I first read the book.
Learn more about our summaries →Learn more about our content →

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 8: Develop a Weekly Plan

A key aspect of effectively setting goals and managing your time is choosing the right time frame for your planning.

Planning within the framework of a week is a balanced compromise between daily and long-term planning. It connects a bigger-picture perspective with day-to-day actionables. Let’s look at some of its benefits.

A Weekly Framework is Ideal for Balanced Renewal

A week encompasses a natural balance of life: It includes work or school days, evenings, and weekends. This lens is broad enough to incorporate self-renewal on a weekly and daily basis.

Weekly Self-Renewal

As you’re doing your weekly planning through the Quadrant II organizing process, you can proactively schedule in rest and renewal time that is genuinely rejuvenating.

Many people fall into the trap of getting so burnt out that they escape to Quadrant IV activities (which are neither urgent nor important) to rest, but the effect is the same as munching on potato chips when you’re hungry -- it only temporarily satiates you and doesn’t truly satisfy your need. True rest and renewal is a Quadrant II activity because it is important and necessary for your well-being.

Quadrant II renewal...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of First Things First Read full guide to First Things First

Sign up for free

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 9: Stay True to Your Mission in Each Moment

No matter how carefully and thoughtfully you plan your week during your weekly organizing session, or review your plans and priorities for the day each morning, unexpected events and demands are bound to come up -- that’s life.

The Quadrant II organizing process is not simply about making your weekly plan and sticking to it no matter what; it’s meant to empower you to navigate those unexpected events along the way. Quadrant II organizing keeps you closely connected with your mission, endowments, and principles to empower you to live with integrity when you encounter these moments of choice.

You constantly face moments of choice, big and small, and in those situations, there are many factors that can weigh on your decision.

  • Urgency
  • The social mirror
  • Your expectations
  • Others’ expectations
  • Your deep values, which reflect what’s important to you in the long term
  • Your operational values, which reflect what you want in the short term
  • Your conditioning
  • Your self-awareness

It’s easy to blame other people or external circumstances for what happens in your life, but you always have control over how you’ll respond: You can make your choice...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes. This is the best guide to How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned the ideas better and got new insights than when I first read the book.
Learn more about our summaries →Learn more about our content →

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 10: Learn From Your Experiences

The last -- and first -- step in the Quadrant II weekly organizing process is to evaluate your experiences from the past week to inform your choices for the coming week. The value of each week is not just what we accomplish during it, but what we learn from it and how we apply that to the weeks that follow. This creates an upward spiral of growth.

Through a continuing cycle of organizing, acting, and evaluating, you increase your self-awareness, strengthen your connection with your conscience, and increase your capacity to implement constructive habits and act effectively.

Strategies for Evaluating Your Week

Using a personal journal or making notes on the back of each week’s schedule may be helpful in your weekly evaluation practice. Some people find it useful to create a list of five or six questions to ask yourself before you begin planning for the following week.

Your questions might include some of the following:

  • What goals did I achieve?
  • What pushed and empowered me to achieve these goals?
  • What challenges did I face?
  • How did I overcome these challenges?
  • Did I make the best use of my time by accomplishing these goals?
  • Did my...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of First Things First Read full guide to First Things First

Sign up for free

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Part 3 | Chapter 11: Creating Synergy Through Interdependence

Beyond the tools and strategies already discussed in the Quadrant II organizing process, one of the most powerful ways you can make the most effective use of your time is through creating synergy with other people. Your relationships with other people have a huge influence on how you spend your time and the quality of life you create.

Consider these questions:

How much time and energy do you spend dealing with Quadrant I problems that became urgent because of miscommunication or misunderstanding with someone else?

How much time and energy do you spend on Quadrant III tasks because they’re important to other people and you confuse that with being important to you?

How much time and energy gets wasted in your family or company because of people miscommunicating, misunderstanding each other, or blaming and accusing each other?

How much more time effectiveness and quality of life could you and the people around you enjoy if you were all able to work together to capitalize on everyone’s unique talents and creativity?

Traditional time management techniques are based on a management and control paradigm that causes you to see other people in a transactional way: They’re...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes. This is the best guide to How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned the ideas better and got new insights than when I first read the book.
Learn more about our summaries →Learn more about our content →

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 12: Finding Win-Win Solutions

Society teaches us to have a “win-lose” mindset -- if you win, someone else must lose. But to reach your goals in an interdependent world, you need to change how you think about winning. Winning doesn’t mean someone else loses; winning means accomplishing your goals, and you can accomplish more if you cooperate rather than compete.

How to Create a Win-Win Solution

There are three steps to the win-win process:

1. Approach the problem with a “win-win” attitude: This first step is to adopt the appropriate mindset. To create wins for everybody, you need to first acknowledge that individual success at the expense of the group isn’t true success.

2. Listen first, then speak: The second step involves listening and seeking to understand the other person’s point of view. Don’t speak until you understand all the sides of the issue, and until others in the group are satisfied that you understand.

3. Synergize: The last step is to create a list of alternatives that are better than the solutions that any individual could come up with herself.

What if We Can’t Come to An Agreement?

Sometimes the three steps are difficult to execute when you disagree with...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of First Things First Read full guide to First Things First

Sign up for free

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 13: Empowering Yourself and Others

In most organizations, employees aren’t empowered to make their own decisions and aren’t given the freedom to take initiative on their own projects. This is bad for the job satisfaction and professional growth of the individual and also bad for the company.

If you’re an employee in a “low-trust” organization that micromanages your work life, you may think there’s nothing you can do. But everyone has a “Circle of Influence,” as discussed in Chapter 7. If you think the problem can’t be helped, that thought is the actual problem. Even if you’re not the leader of your group, you can still be a leader and empower yourself by focusing on your Circle of Influence rather than blaming others.

Whether you’re “the leader” or “a leader,” there are three things you can do to empower yourself and others.

1. Create Empowering Environments

There are four conditions of an empowering environment: trustworthiness, self-motivated team members, systems aligned with goals, and accountability.

Allowing individuals to tap into these endowments makes them feel empowered, improving the company’s culture and the quality of its output. Each of the four conditions falls into your Circle of...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes. This is the best guide to How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned the ideas better and got new insights than when I first read the book.
Learn more about our summaries →Learn more about our content →

First Things First Summary First Things First Guide Chapter 14: Finding Peace with the First Things First Strategy

When you base your priorities on true north principles and put first things first, you find four different kinds of peace:

  1. The peace that comes from fulfilling your four human needs: living, love, learning, and leaving a legacy.
  2. The peace that comes from developing your four human endowments: self-awareness, conscience, independent will, and imagination.
  3. The peace that comes from cooperating with others instead of competing.
  4. The peace that comes from living according to your conscience.

Obstacles to Peace

There are several roadblocks to peace to be aware of: unrealistic expectations, lack of courage, and pride.

Unrealistic Expectations

Unmet expectations are one of the greatest sources of frustration in day-to-day life. When you have the expectation that you’ll check every task off your to-do list, that you won’t run into difficulties, or that everyone will agree with your ideas, unexpected issues or interruptions cause frustration. You see the people around you as problems. Conversely, when you see your daily plan as a roadmap rather than a checklist, you see problems as opportunities to create better systems and empower...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of First Things First Read full guide to First Things First

Sign up for free

Shortform Exercise: Reflect on the First Things First Approach

Reflect on the lessons of First Things First and how you’ll implement them in your life.


What elements of the First Things First approach do you find most useful? The guidelines for Quadrant-II scheduling? The steps for creating win-win stewardship agreements?

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes. This is the best guide to How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned the ideas better and got new insights than when I first read the book.
Learn more about our summaries →Learn more about our content →

Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Part 1 | Chapter 1: Be Effective, Not Efficient
  • Exercise: Understand Your Management Tools
  • Chapter 2: Understand the Urgency-Importance Matrix
  • Exercise: Identify Your Primary Quadrants
  • Chapter 3: Shift to an Importance Paradigm
  • Exercise: Identify Your Growth Areas
  • Part 2 | Chapter 4: Start Quadrant II Scheduling
  • Chapter 5: Create Your Personal Mission Statement
  • Chapter 6: Balance Your Roles
  • Chapter 7: Setting Goals
  • Chapter 8: Develop a Weekly Plan
  • Chapter 9: Stay True to Your Mission in Each Moment
  • Chapter 10: Learn From Your Experiences
  • Part 3 | Chapter 11: Creating Synergy Through Interdependence
  • Chapter 12: Finding Win-Win Solutions
  • Chapter 13: Empowering Yourself and Others
  • Chapter 14: Finding Peace with the First Things First Strategy
  • Exercise: Reflect on the First Things First Approach