The 7 Habits for Sales Leaders: Put First Things First

David Marcum

Habit_3Our latest paper on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Sales Leaders – Habit 3: Put First Things First, explores how sales leaders can master this key mindset and schedule their priorities rather than “prioritize” their schedule. 

When you’ve invested time in developing the habit of proactivity and envisioning what you want to accomplish, then Habit 3 is how you execute on your mission on the most effective level. While the first two habits are habits of leadership (the “first creation”), Habit 3 is a management habit. It’s what the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey called “the second creation,” where things get real.


Schedule Your Priorities, Rather than Prioritize Your Schedule

I love the first line of Jim Collins’s book Good to Great: “Good is the enemy of great.” It’s a key reminder that the enemy of great isn’t “bad,” and it’s not “horrible.” It’s all the “good” things we get done. Most of us are good, and that is precisely why there are few that are great.

As a sales leader, Habit 3 helps conquer good as an enemy in your day-to-day choices, which includes your responses to unplanned events, by making sure you’ve blocked out time first for those activities that contribute to your mission. What good are Habits 1 and 2—the habits of personal vision and imagination—if they’re unraveled by the day-to-day press of things that demand your attention?

The principle of “Putting First Things First” is to execute on your priorities and take responsibility for accomplishing them by proactively planning your time, your day and your week. Instead of coming into the office on Monday and looking at all the emails waiting, the people wanting answers, the meeting invitations to accept, and trying to prioritize your schedule around them, you use time management differently. As Stephen Covey suggests:

The phrase "time management" is really a misnomer—the challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves.

This is an important discipline to build as a sales leader, especially since there’s no end to the list of internal meetings, visits with important customers, proposals to prepare, reports that are due, and decisions that need to be made to fulfill your role. Absent this skill, your most important priorities end up not getting done. But if you’re already overwhelmed with more than you can possibly get to in a day, how can you start to take control?

Place Your “Big Rocks” Before the Pebbles

If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at this great video on Habit 3 that illustrates this principle in action:


It demonstrates that if you start your schedule by prioritizing all the urgent activities and meetings you have, it will take up most of the room in your week and it you won’t allow you to fit in your “big rocks.”

But if you schedule your big rocks first, then you can accommodate urgent and important matters as well as the “pebbles” in your life—representing all of the problems or issues that press on you, other people’s priorities, and demands that you don’t anticipate. What you’ll find is that if you schedule your priorities, then all the other nibbles at your time may still fill in the spaces, but you’ll have a deeper sense of satisfaction because you’re actually making choices that are aligned with your purpose, your mission and the constitution of your life.

The temptation or the risk is that most sales leaders buy into the idea that they’re the leader, they have the authority, and have to be involved to get things done. It can be addictive, and you have to get out of that mindset, Put First Things First, and stay focused on the things that are most important to you.

So what’s eating your time? And what are some of the ways you’ve found to be successful in putting first things first?

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