First Things First: how to combine Steven Covey method with Eisenhower matrix

We have already spoken about Eisenhower matrix here, yet it is not the only interpretation of the method. The matrix is an integral part of Steven Covey method described in the book First Things First which has become the basics of time management since its appearance in 1994.

Covey describes a so called Urgent-Important matrix that has the same aspect: four quadrants. You still need only to questions to locate tasks on the matrix: is it urgent? and is it important? Thus you get to prioritize your task list according to your goals. What are the specifics of Steven Covey’s method?

Time management by Steven Covey

Purpose and values

List-based task management as well as personal organizers are some sort of previous generation of time management methods as they lack visibility upon what really matters. When organizing daily routine by making task lists we don’t have a strict route from our actions to our goals. Moreover, the work-life balance is compromized, as vital tasks may not be found on the list and thus not completed. Instead of scheduling task lists with deadlines, we need a ‘compass’ that would provide the ‘true north’ pointing out at the basic goal we want to achieve.

Eisenhower matrix in First things First

Used as a framework for prioritizing actions, the Urgency and Importance Matrix described in the book has the same quadrants as Eisenhower 2×2 matrix. Covey speaks most of the non-urgent but important quadrant that contains tasks we most likely neglect due to the first quadrant where tasks marked as both urgent and important take over our attention and prevent us from achieving our goals.


Our most productive zone is located in the second quadrant of the matrix: when tasks are important but not urgent, this means, that you supposingly have time to make them well. This is the area where the quality lies. Non-urgent but important tasks are the ones that move us to our goals, that is where we need to focus our attention leaving aside urgent and non-important tasks, reducing the number of so called ‘urgent and important’ tasks and doing, finally, what is the most productive for us.






The method suggests we should identify several roles we have. This helps to preserve the work-life balance. For example: a husband, a friend, a house owner, a financial expert, – the roles depend on what’s important to you. Roles can change with time, their list can be revised each week.

The thing is that we need to set weekly goals for each role and not to forget to include the ‘sharpen the saw’ role that we take when we are busy with tasks that contribute to our mental, physical and intellectual development. It’s quite important that these notions are included into the time management system and make it more human. The average number of roles is usually less or equals seven.

Since you have your roles list, you can set ‘big rocks’ or weekly goals for each of them and then translate your weekly goals into lists of tasks. Now you can revise your list and prioritize it with Eisenhower matrix in order to make the most out of your time.

The Weekly Compass

The weekly compass is a list of paper where you set your weekly goals and roles. It helps you to find your ‘true north’ and follow the right direction during all week. It’s recommended to keep your compass before your eyes all week and stick to the goals you’ve set for yourself once you’ve started to follow the time management system.


Antique Compass

The ‘true north’ is your big goal. It’s where you want to find yourself over time. It doesn’t matter what sort of different roles you need to complete every day, they are parts of your personality and you don’t have to neglect either of them: if you have them, you need them. What you need is not to get lost in them. When setting ‘big rocks’ for each role weekly, you can orchestrate your roles so that they all are focused on getting to your ‘true north’. Thus, you have several key notions:

  1. Main goal: a long-term perspective.
  2. Role goals: set according to the main goal.
  3. Task list: role goals translated into activity.

Sharpen the saw

One of the most important First Thing First ideas is that time management doesn’t only concern your work. If you want to be organized and avoid procrastination, you need to pay attention to your human needs, such as socializing and learning, as well as taking care of your health. Your weekly compass should always reserve one role to the ‘sharpen the saw’ activities. And this is quite reasonable: when being in a bad mood, or in a poor state of health you simply cannot complete your other tasks.


Why is the self-development role is called ‘sharpen the saw’? The books tells the story of a person who was sawing wood. The person wasn’t quite successful or efficient because the saw wasn’t sharp. A stranger passing by asked the person why he wouldn’t sharpen the saw because in this case he could saw the wood quite quicker and finish his work sooner. The person answered: I don’t have time to do it, I need to saw. And this is a great example of poor time management you can avoid when applying Steven Covey’s method combined with Eisenhower matrix for your daily activity.