Rhapsody Health Solutions Team

Putting First Things First

August 27, 2010

In a previous article, we highlighted Stephen Covey’s time-tested book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and discussed how it can be applied to leading healthcare interoperability initiatives.

With all the activities occurring on Meaningful Use, it may be a good time to focus more on Habit 3 – Put First Things First. This is always a tough one, especially when it comes to managing multiple projects plus doing the normal daily activities required of each of us. What do you do first? What can wait?

A way to think about selecting the first things to do is with the following two-by-two illustration.

Habit 3 of the '7 Habits' - Putting First Things First, two-by-two illustration


Essentially, the two dimensions define:

  1. What is really important given my organization’s mission and my role in achieving it?
  2. What really needs to be done right now?

Based on answering these two questions, the activities can be placed in one of four quadrants. Think about each quadrant in the following way:

  • Trivia – This is an easy one to get stuck in, and it causes the most distractions and wasted time. Simply stated, these are interruptions which constantly come our way. It sucks the time away from the top half of the quadrant and places us in a meaningless waste pool of activities. One word – stop, most if not all in this category.
  • Interruptions – These are the non-value added emergencies which come up during a day. “Something terrible has happened in the break room which needs your attention!” It is these types of calls to action which should be ignored or handled by someone else. Delegate and/or empower!
  • Necessity – We do need to spend time in this quadrant to address the issues which arise during a day or week. These items have importance for daily operations, keeping processes moving forward or un-stalling certain initiatives. Spend the right amount of time here, but not all your time. Remember, you have team members and managers who can solve problems, too.
  • Opportunity – We should spend more time in this quadrant, but are too often distracted. This is the planning quadrant or, put a better way, getting to the next level of performance and effectiveness quadrant. If we want to move a mission, organization, initiative, or project forward, it is critical to develop and evolve the plan; define and act on the right metrics; and hire, retain, and inspire the people involved.

Many of us get stuck in the lower half. We need to shake it off and set aside time to spend in the opportunity quadrant. It is what leaders do, and it is the art of saying “yes” to the right things and saying “no” to the distractions. Time management is a central part of achieving this habit. At the core, it is the only way to convert ideas and missions into action.

In the tangled mix of meaningful use, workflows, quality patient care, and health IT, there are many projects to balance and connect. Doing this right is the difference between stalling out at Stage 1 and moving successfully through all three stages of meeting the meaningful use requirements. If there is ever a time for bringing your leadership skills up a notch, it is now.

In each organization, we need to think more about delivering meaningful leadership rather than meaningful use. The first will facilitate getting to the second. It is time to put first things first.

Key start points: 

  • For a week, keep careful notes of where you spend your time each day. Jot down the amount of time spent on each activity and then categorize it into one of the four quadrants. Do this at the end of each day and then look at the overall picture at the end of the week.
  • See where your time is spent and then think and plan of how you can spend more time in the top half of the quadrant and, specifically, more time in the opportunity space.

For an Integration Generation perspective on the 7 habits, please read our white paper.

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