First Things First

AUGUST 04, 2016

This is the third part of an 8-part series called “7 Habits of Highly Effective Pharmacists.”
Ever feel like you’re constantly putting out fires? You’re busy all day, but when you lie down in bed at night, you’ve got nothing to show for it.
When I was in retail pharmacy, I remember feeling like I was always putting out fires, solving everyone else’s problems and moving slightly toward my goals, but not making much progress. 
One retail pharmacy I worked for was pushing us to administer more flu vaccines, which we found distracting. In the middle of our attempts to get work done, we’d have a random patient wanting a vaccine. It felt like the pharmacy was changing the pharmacists’ priorities. 
Looking Backward—and Forward
Let’s revisit the previously discussed habits. The first habit, Proactive Mindset, says you must take responsibility for your actions by becoming a proactive person. With the second habit, Begin with the End in Mind, you create the direction of your life by taking the time to understand and write out your guiding principles. 
The third habit, First Things First, is the physical creation of the second habit. By putting it into practice, you’re exercising your independent will toward principle-centered living.
Say I want to become a runner. I think, “I'm a runner.” When I go to bed, I think about running. When I wake up I think, “I’m going to run.” But, if I don’t spend a single moment actually running, there’s no change.
If I were to review your calendar and your bank statement, I’d be able to tell what you value the most. If you’re spending all your time at work, you’re saying you value work. If you value your time with your children or spouse, you’re saying they’re important.
This habit may sound like time management, but that’s a misnomer. What you’re really doing—intentionally or unintentionally—is managing yourself. It’s about self-control. 
Creating Quadrants
“Time management” is a buzz phrase today because it sounds less oppressive than self-control. With the third habit, you’re going to create a visual guide to help you think about how and where you spend your time.
Think of a graph. To the left of the X-axis, list the crazy, urgent things that happen: “My mom is in the hospital. I have to go.” This is also for things like text messages, which some believe are urgent. I’m sure you’ve been in a conversation when someone’s phone buzzes and they check their message because, apparently, it’s urgent. 
To the right of the X-axis, list things that aren’t urgent, like spending time with your family. The right-hand side might include daily tasks, a weekend trip, or watching TV. 
On the Y-axis, list importance things. At the very top are things like going to the hospital because your mom’s there, but as you move down the Y-axis, list less important things, like minor interruptions at work.
Quadrant 1, in the top left, includes urgent, important matters, like putting out fires at your job. Quadrant 2, in the top right, includes non-urgent but important matters. Toward the bottom left, Quadrant 3, are urgent but unimportant matters. On the bottom right, Quadrant 4, are non-urgent, unimportant matters. 
Living in Quadrant 1 can create stress, burnout, and crises, while living in Quadrant 3 or 4 can be irresponsible and result in losing jobs, not spending enough quality time with your family, and depending too much on others.
Living in Quadrant 2, however, bases things on your principles, which means having discipline and self-control and few crises.
So, how do you live in Quadrant 2? How do you arrange things so you aren’t always extinguishing fires and instead doing things that matter? 
To start, create a graph like the one described, prioritizing urgent tasks on the left and non-urgent tasks on the right.

Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.