First Things First: Summary & Review

first things first book

Author Stephen Covey in First Thing First invites readers to reflect on what’s important for them, and then prioritize accordingly based on what will help them reach their goals.

Bullet Summary

  • Decide what your values and principles are: that will be your “moral compass”
  • Find out what is important for you, the objectives you want to achieve in life
  • Draft your goals based on your moral compass and your objectives
  • Always prioritize and put first what’s important to you

Full Summary

About the Author: Stephen Covey, the author of First Things First, is also the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which is one of the best-selling books ever in the self-help genre.

Find Out Your Values

Putting first things first means executing not based on “general priorities” or on “what comes first”.

But it means taking the time to think through what your values and principles are.
That’s your internal compass.
And you should always use your internal compass when considering your tasks.

Decide What’s Important to You

To decide what’s important for you Covey invites the readers to picture the future they want.

From that future, you would like to have, walk backward and outline the steps you need to take today to reach your destination.

Once you know what steps you need to take today, you also know what’s important to execute.

Set Goals Congruent With Your Values

Once you know what’s important to you and what your values are, you can set your goals.

You want to set your goals in a way that you will achieve what matters to you while still staying true to your values.

To Covey, that makes the difference between goals that are reached and leave you unhappy versus reaching your goals while you are fulfilled and satisfied.

Differentiate Urgent VS Important

Once you know your goals, you will be able to escape the mistake that most people do.

Covey says that most people do first what they think is important and urgent.

However, urgent and important are often not the same thing.

And if forced to choose between doing what’s urgent and what’s important, most people pick urgent.
People feel important and in demand, if they are rushing from one thing to another, and tackling the urgent novelty we get an adrenaline rush which makes us feel energized and alive.

the time quadrant of the 7 habits of highly effective people

Why You Should Pick Important

Covey makes the case that we should pick important over urgent more often.

Because important tasks are what lead to long-lasting happiness.

Especially when urgent is not also important and would have little consequences, we might all gain turning them down more often.

first things first book

Real-Life Applications

  • Don’t Compartmentalize Your Life

I agree with the idea of not seeing your life as independent silos of “work”, “family”, “friends”, “hobbies” or whatever else you have.
Indeed I believe that if you need to make different compartments, you’re probably not happy with some of them.


  • Unnecessarily Long

The principle and idea behind First Things First are crucial. However, it could have been delivered in a much shorter format.

  • Somewhat Bland

While the concepts of First Things First are good, they are also rather obvious if you have been reading about self-development for a while.

  • Contrived Prose 

The writing is often unnecessarily complex and contrived. And sometimes just plain poor.

  • Sometimes Proselytizing

I had the feeling “First Things First” indirectly tried to inculcate certain goals and ethics into the readers.
An example of “important tasks” is time with the family, for example, as if that were important to everyone. And it recommends valuing interdependence and cooperation instead of independence and competition.
Yeah, I agree for great relationships, that’s true. But it’s not a good career strategy, so it depends.


  • Simple Yet Deep Wisdom

The idea behind First Things First has the potential of improving many men’s lives.


Peter Drucker, an author of The Effective Executive, first came up with the sentence “first things first“.
Stephen Covey takes that same idea and builds a whole philosophy around it.

I find that First Things First is especially useful to all those people who have not taken the time yet to reflect on what’s important to them.
If you haven’t done it yet, this is an absolute must and it will be a life-changer.

And for all the others who have taken the time to think about what’s important for them, it serves as a powerful reminder.

However, as powerful as the concept is, I find the book too long and verbose.

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