First Things First

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Stephen R. Covey is an internationally respected leadership authority and founder of Covey Leadership Center. He received his M.B.A. from Harvard and a doctorate from Brigham Young University, where he was a professor of business management and organizational behavior for 20 years. His book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 30 languages.

A. Roger Merril, a well-known leader in time management and ...

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Stephen R. Covey is an internationally respected leadership authority and founder of Covey Leadership Center. He received his M.B.A. from Harvard and a doctorate from Brigham Young University, where he was a professor of business management and organizational behavior for 20 years. His book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 30 languages.

A. Roger Merril, a well-known leader in time management and leadership development, is a vice president and founding meember of Covey Leadership Center. He holds a degree in business management and has done extensive graduate work in organizational behavior and adult learning.

Rebecca R. Merril, a mother, grandmother, homemaker, and accomplished author, has also served in numerous leadership positions in a variety of community, eduational, and women's organizations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
USA Today Covey is the hottest self-improvement consultant to hit U.S. Business since Dale Carnegie.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671315566
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Publication date: 11/28/1999
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged, 1 CD, 1 hr. 12 min.
  • Edition number: 1
  • Sales rank: 625,084
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 5.38 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen R. Covey, one of Time magazine's 25 most influential Americans, has dedicated his life to demonstrating how every person can control their destiny with profound, yet straightforward guidance. He is an internationally respected leadership authority, family expert, teacher, organizational consultant, and author. He has sold over 20 million books (in 38 languages), and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was named the #1 Most Influential Business Book of the 20th Century. His most recent major book, The 8th Habit , has sold nearly 400,000 copies. He is the cofounder and vice chairman of FranklinCovey, the leading global professional services firm with offices in 123 countries. He lives with his wife and family in Utah.

A. Roger Merrill, co-founder of the Covey Leadership Center (now FranklinCovey), has more than 40 years of experience as a line manager, senior executive, executive coach, consultant, and teacher. Roger is the author of Connections: Quadrant II Time Management, coauthor of The Nature of Leadership and Life Matters: Creating a Dynamic Balance of Work, Family, Time, and Money.


Stephen R. Covey writes in his blockbuster self-improvement tome, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, about the "social band-aid" effect of much recent success literature, the tendency to create personality-based solutions to problems that go deeper. "Success became more a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques, that lubricate the processes of human interaction," he wrote. Covey acknowledges the importance of the "personality ethic," but he sought to go deeper and emphasize the "character ethic," something Covey saw as a fading concept. He went back further and found inspiration in figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Thoreau, and Emerson.

Indeed, everything old is new again in Covey's works. The author himself would admit that nothing he is saying is terribly new; but Covey's synthesis of years and years of thinking about effectiveness resulted in a smash personal growth title -- one that continues to be a top seller nearly 15 years after its first publication. The title, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, makes it sounds like a quick-fix path to power, but Covey's philosophy is rooted in exactly the opposite notion: There are no quick fixes, no shortcuts. He is writing about habits, after all, which can be as tough to institute as they can be to break. His list: Be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; sharpen the saw.

Covey's subsequent titles are based in some way or another on this seminal book. First Things First offers a time-management strategy and a new way of looking at priorities. Principle-Centered Leadership is an examination of character traits and an "inside-out" way of improving organizational leadership. Covey, a Mormon, also wrote two religious contemplations of human effectiveness and interaction, The Spiritual Roots of Human Relations and The Divine Center. These were Covey's first two titles; his esteem for spirituality is not absent from subsequent work but appears as just one more tool that can be applied in self-improvement.

Like Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese?, 7 Habits has been able to achieve astonishing sales success by espousing ideas applicable beyond an office setting. Covey's books are about self-improvement more than they are about corporate management, which has enabled him to create a successful version of the philosophy for families (entitled, of course, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families) in addition to attracting people who just want to be more efficient in their lives, or bolster that diet.

Most attractive about Covey is his versatility in conveying his ideas. His books are structured in appealing, number-oriented groupings ("Three Resolutions," "Thirty Methods of Influence," four quadrants of importance in time management) and big umbrellas of ideas, but within these pockets Covey draws from a wide range of resources: anecdotes, business school exercises, historical wisdom, and diverse metaphors. Sometimes, Covey uses himself as an example. He knows as well as anyone that practicing what he preaches is tough; but he keeps trying, which makes him an inspiring testimonial for his own books.

Good To Know

Covey is married to Sandra Merrill Covey. They have nine children.

Covey is co-chair of FranklinCovey, a management resources firm based in Provo, Utah. He has also been a business professor at Brigham Young University, where he earned his doctorate.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 12 million copies in 33 languages and 75 countries throughout the world.

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    1. Hometown:
      Provo, Utah
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 24, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Salt Lake City, Utah
    1. Date of Death:
      July 16, 2012
    2. Place of Death:
      Idaho Falls, ID

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

January 1

Basing our happiness on our ability to control everything is futile. While we do control our choice of action, we cannot control the consequences of our choices. Universal laws or principles do. Thus, we are not in control of our lives; principles are.

p. 12*

All page references are to First Things First.

January 2

We live in a modern society that loves shortcut techniques. Yet quality of life cannot be achieved by taking the right shortcut. There is no shortcut. But there is a path. The path is based on principles revered throughout history. If there is one message to glean from this wisdom, it is that a meaningful life is not a matter of speed or efficiency. It's much more a matter of what you do and why you do it than how fast you get it done.

p. 12

January 3

The power is in the principles.

p. 14

January 4

Be governed by your internal compass, not by some clock on the wall.

p. 16

January 5

If the thing you've committed to do is principle-centered, you gradually become a little more principle-centered. You keep the promise to yourself and your own integrity account goes up. One of the best ways to strengthen our independent will is to make and keep promises. Each time we do, we make deposits in our Personal Integrity Account. This is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust we have in ourselves, in our ability to walk our talk. It's important to start small.

p. 68

January 6

For most of us, the issue is not between the "good" and the "bad," but between the "good" and the "best." So often, the enemy of the best is the good.

p. 18

January 7

In the absence of "wake-up calls," many of us never really confront the critical issues of life. Instead of looking for deep chronic causes, we look for quick-fix Band-Aids and aspirin to treat the acute pain. Fortified by temporary relief, we get busier and busier doing "good" things and never even stop to ask ourselves if what we' re doing really matters most.

p. 21

January 8

Paradigms are like maps. They' re not the territory; they describe the territory. And if the map is wrong — if we're trying to get to someplace in Detroit and all we have is a map of Chicago — it's going to be very difficult for us to get where we want to go. We can work on our behavior — we can travel more efficiently, get a different car with better gas mileage, increase our speed — but we're only going to wind up in the wrong place fast. We can work on our attitude — we can get so "psyched up" about trying to get there that we don't even care that we're in the wrong place. But the problem really has nothing to do with attitude or behavior. The problem is that we have the wrong map.

p. 25

January 9

Our problem, as one put it, "is to get at the wisdom we already have."

p. 73

January 10

We're not in control; principles are. We can control our choices, but we can't control the consequences of those choices. When we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other.

p. 25

January 11

While you can be efficient with things, you can't be efficient — effectively — with people.


January 12

The way we see (our paradigm) leads to what we do (our attitudes and behaviors), and what we do leads to the results we get in our lives. So if we want to create significant change in the results, we can't just change attitudes and behaviors, methods or techniques; we have to change the basic paradigms out of which they grow.

p. 28

January 13

One thing's for sure: If we keep doing what we're doing, we' re going to keep getting what we' re getting.


January 14

We need to move beyond time management to life leadership.


January 15

It's important to realize that urgency itself is not the problem. The problem is that when urgency is the dominant factor in our lives, importance isn't. What we regard as "first things" are urgent things. We're so caught up in doing, we don't even stop to ask if what we're doing really needs to be done.


January 16

While management is problem-oriented, leadership is opportunity-oriented.

p. 48

January 17

Values will not bring quality-of-life results..,unless we value principles.


January 18

All the wishing and even all the work in the world, if it's not based on valid principles, will not produce quality-of-life results. It's not enough to dream. It's not enough to try. It's not enough to set goals or climb ladders. It's not enough to value. The effort has to be based on practical realities that produce the result.


January 19

The power of principles is that they' re universal, timeless truths. If we understand and live our lives based on principles, we can quickly adapt; we can apply them anywhere.


January 20

To understand the application may be to meet the challenge of the moment, but to understand the principle is to meet the challenge of the moment more effectively and to be empowered to meet a thousand challenges of the future as well.


January 21

The problems in life come when we're sowing one thing and expecting to reap something entirely different.


January 22

Trust grows out of trustworthiness, out of the character to make and keep commitments, to share resources, to be caring and responsible, to belong, to love unconditionally.


January 23

Quality of life is inside-out. Meaning is in contribution, in living for something higher than self.


January 24

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.


January 25

Stand apart from your dreams. Look at them. Write about them. Wrestle with them until you're convinced they're based on principles that will bring results. Then use your creative imagination to explore new applications, new ways of doing things that have the principle-based power to translate dreaming to doing.

p. 64

January 26

To hear conscience clearly often requires us to be "still" or "reflective" or "meditative" — a condition we rarely choose or find.

p. 65

January 27

Make and keep a promise — even if it means you' re going to get up in the morning a little earlier and exercise. Be sure you don't violate that commitment and be sure you don't overpromise and underdeliver. Build slowly until your sense of honor becomes greater than your moods. Little by little, your faith in yourself will increase.

p. 68

January 28

Our lives are the results of our choices. To blame and accuse other people, the environment, or other extrinsic factors is to choose to empower those things to control us.

p. 70

January 29

We choose — either to live our lives or to let others live them for us.


January 30

The best way to predict your future is to create it.


January 31

If a goal isn't connected to a deep "why," it may be good, but it usually isn't best.


Copyright © 1997 by Covey Leadership Center, Inc.

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Table of Contents



Section One


1 How Many People on Their Deathbed Wish They'd Spent More Time at the Office?

2 The Urgency Addiction

3 To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy

Section Two


4 Quadrant II Organizing: The Process of Putting First Things First

5 The Passion of Vision

6 The Balance of Roles

7 The Power of Goals

8 The Perspective of the Week

9 Integrity in the Moment of Choice

10 Learning from Living

Section Three


11 The Interdependent Reality

12 First Things First Together

13 Empowerment from the inside Out

Section Four


14 From Time Management to Personal Leadership

15 The Peace of the Results



Appendix A: Mission Statement Workshop

Appendix B: A Review of Time Management Literature

Appendix C: The Wisdom Literature


Problem/Opportunity Index


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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2004

    A real thought provoker

    I liked this much better than 'Seven Habits of Highly Successful People'. It includes most of 'Seven Habits' but focuses more on your personal wellness. I often use the metaphors and examples in helping others with problems. Covey has presented some personal challenges for me and I'm still trying to work through them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2002

    excellent book

    Ever since I read this book; I constantly tell myself that ¿I am not in control of my life; principles are¿! The only thing I am in control of is making choices about the actions that I will take. The result is not necessarily going to be the one I expect or want it to be. I can relate to this through my everyday issues in life. I must say this book has helped me a lot as a College student, a sister, a daughter and a wife to be. The author has given some excellent principles to help us be wise managers of our time and it has unquestionably worked for me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 22, 2013

    Highly Recommended- You will be glad you read this book!

    This was exactly what I was looking for, it helped me to focus on the important issues and get time management into prospective. An issue I have struggled with all my life, but I now can have the tools to live,love, and leave a legacy.

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  • Posted December 15, 2011

    First Things First: creating mission from vision

    First Things First is not a book about time management, it is a book about leading a life of purpose and mission. This book will teach the attentive reader how to identify the truly important things in their own life, and then shows how to develop a sense of mission, and the methods needed to prioritize one's life to assure that the bulk of one's life-time is spent doing what is important, and not merely urgent. To call this time management is incorrect; this is time leadership, which as Covey explains, is a matter of doing the right things (management is: doing things right). I have been engaged in a life mission for more than fifteen years now, and can honestly say that I have been most productive and of greatest service when my focus has been on my core mission. This is not a panacea, nor an easy way to wealth and glamour; rather, it is a method for making the dirty, sweaty workings of daily life have purpose and direction that keeps the spirit whole and the day to day routine worthwhile. Don't simply read this book; embrace it, engage it, practice its' principles, and follow your vision towards the mission of your higher calling.

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  • Posted September 21, 2010

    Make Room for Your Heart in Your Life

    I find this book to be an essential for my library, one that I reread occasionally to refresh my memory and commitments. While I appreciated the 7 Habits book, this second book is more value-based. The Merrills add a lot to the mix and the 7 principles are broken down, examined and defined very clearly, with real-life examples. It affirms my belief system, not many organizational books can claim that distinction. On a par, if not better than, Ordering Your Private World, by Gordon MacDonald!

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Only slightly better than the 7 Habits

    This book can be summed up like this: 360 pages that should have been condensed down to 50. However, that is not Mr. Covey's style. He is long winded, and at times very boring. Every chapter I would come across a couple 'Aha' statements or quotes. Beyond that, it was just plain difficult to get through. Some of the stories are almost laughable in that I find it hard to believe people even have those sorts of conversations. I really wanted to like the book because, while not a fan of the original 7 Habits, the First Things First habit is, to me, the one that applies the most. But that chapter from the original book is not worth an entire book on its own. There is not enough material there to expand upon.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2001

    Great follow-up to the 7 Habits

    This book provides useful, profound, and much-needed advice to people who are over-worked, stressed, fatigued, have poor relationships, and feel helpless and hopeless in general. Most people think that to be more effective they have to give up sleep, exercise, friends, and work more and faster. This book provides a revolutionary solution to problems that so many people suffer from. By putting First Things First, you can be more effective while working less and feeling better. First Things First has its roots from The Seven Habits, which I would recommend reading first. The 7 Habits is more general and fundamental, while First Things is more dynamic, practical, detailed, and specific. Read them both!

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