The Japanese teacher speaks the words “Hajimeru Juuyou Jiko O Yuusen Suru” which translate basically as “prioritize the essential matters”. In another land, Stephen Covey explains this concept in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey writes about the strategy of keeping “First Things First”.
Whether one is discussing military campaigns, personal self-defense tactics, business strategies or weekly time management, this is one of those key principles of success.
In the classic work “The Book of Five Rings”, Miyamoto Musashi identifies nine rules for success in combat. Let us briefly discuss these as they relate to the First Things First strategy.
1. “Think of what is right and good.” All actions, from personal goal setting, to national security begin with establishing the values of the mission. The reason for this is that in order for a mission to be successful, the actions must be congruent with the underlying values of the participants.
2. “Practice and cultivate the science.” Understanding what each action will generate as a consequence is a science, based on the law of cause and effect. From the use of the kamae or posture in our forms, to the shifting of military troops for a show of force, these actions bring forth specific consequences and results. It is the knowledge of this tactic that allows a leader to develop successful campaigns in any endeavor.
3. “Become acquainted with the arts.” Whatever your chosen career or mission, you should throw yourself into becoming a lifelong student of that art. These days one needs to spend 30 minutes to an hour every day, reading and studying just to keep up because of the rate of increasing knowledge in all areas. Only by knowing all the options available to you, can you be assured of making the right decisions. Seeing successful actions from other disciplines is how one learns of these options.
4. “Know the principles of the craft.” In the martial arts, there are teachers that enjoy teaching a variety of techniques that they have learned from a variety of sources and yet the system that they are teaching is not really a system at all because it is not based on specific and congruent principles. Like the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you can feed him for a lifetime,” the teacher that teaches principles of success, empowers his students to learn to be successful in any situation, not against a specific attack in a set way.
5. “Know the harm and benefit in everything.” Understanding the reactions of all parties to a given scenario, allows a person to understand all the possible outcomes before acting in the first place. Careful consideration of all the possibilities before acting is the key to successful implementation of any action plan.
6. “Learn to see everything accurately.” Each of us sees the world not as it is, but as we want it to be. We constantly need feedback from others to gain a better understanding of the way things really are. In conversation, it is imperative to ask questions and get feedback to truly understand what others are trying to say. In creating a strategic action plan, it is imperative to understand all the stakeholders involved and what is in it for them. Only by seeing the entire picture can you create a win-win action plan that can be bought into by all the parties involved.
7. “Be aware of what is not obvious.” The warrior learns to see what others do not see through specific training of the senses. In law enforcement, the streetwise officer notices a bulge inside a piece of clothing, or sees a curled hand, which indicates a possible weapon being hidden. The businessman does his research and enters negotiations, knowing at the end of the meeting, a deal will be struck because he understands the absolute minimum offer that will be accepted going into the meeting. The modern warrior is an expert of verbal and nonverbal responses, seeing the person’s desires and intentions, where many people simply do not have a clue. This ability makes him a very effective communicator, simply because he sees what others don’t see.
8. “Be careful even in the small matters.” When one develops an action plan, it is imperative that every little detail is written down and then later it is prioritized into which needs to be done first. Each and every small action has consequences and can affect the whole process. Only by paying attention to detail can you be assured success.
9. “Do not do anything useless.” This is the foundation to the first things first strategy. In strategic planning, whether you are doing your personal day planner, a corporate business plan, trying to increase your return on equity, or developing an action plan to overcome an enemy in combat, it is important to follow specific actions that have produced successful outcomes for generations. Successful action plans include identifying your goals or objectives and which strategies you are going to use to achieve them. A written plan would include an objective look at your strengths and weaknesses, as well as any opportunities or threats you recognize. Once you have identified the action plan, you identify what needs to be done and in what order.
In identifying what is most important for us to do on a weekly or daily basis, we use a letter system to identify the priority of their importance.
A. An “A” task is one that must be done.
B. A “B” task is one that has mild consequences if it is not done.
C. A “C” task is one that has no negative consequences if we put it off till later.
D. A “D” task is one that we can delegate to another.
E. An “E” task is one we should eliminate all together.
In prioritizing your actions, simply ask which activity will project you towards your goals. If an action is directly responsible towards an increase in effectiveness towards your goals and only you can perform this action, then it is probably an “A” priority. Truly successful people never spend time on a “B” task when there is an “A” task yet to be done. The “first things first” strategy is based on the constant feedback from the following question, ” What is the most important thing I could be doing right now?”
Like a journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step, success in any endeavor begins with a single action. The key is identifying that first step as a number one priority and staying focused on that task till completion.