The allure of being #1 is undeniable. After all, it’s the winner that stands highest on the podium, takes the largest trophy, makes the most money and has the fawning attention of the fans and media ever eager to watch and report on every move a winner makes.
But what does it take to be #1 ? Is it a lot of innate ability, ungodly amounts of persistence, rigorous discipline, or just plain ol’ luck ? The right answer may perhaps be all of the above, but far more important than anything else, it appears that most people “at the top” figured out a) how to figure out what was important, and then b) a way to focus on that over anything else.
The phrase “first things first” was popularized several years ago by Dr. Stephen Covey’s bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly effective People” (It’s habit #3, for the detail oriented amongst you). In fact, this chapter in the book resonated so well with so many, that a few years later it was the title of a whole new book that Dr. Covey wrote. What is interesting is that this approach is not about simply making a list of what is important and then prioritizing it. In fact the FTF approach specifically draws attention to the set of activities that are “important but not urgent” and exhorts us to pay attention and focus on those, because, let’s face it, the urgent stuff always gets done anyway – it is paying attention to that which is truly important AND NOT URGENT that makes a difference.
For a two decade vintage, this “old school” approach has much relevance in our lives today. In fact, it may have even more, as the sheer number of candidates to distract and divert our attention have vastly multiplied in the years since this hypothesis was first presented. The urgent is often the enemy of the important, and by constantly doing the #1 item on our lists, we run the real risk of never getting to what really matters.
And by the way, being second is also quite ok 🙂 In some ways, if your ego can allow it, it’s better to be second than to be first. Enduring value is often created not by simply being the first to show up, but by being the one to focus on what’s truly important.