First Things First

Dear Will:

Ever find yourself going in so many directions at once that you can’t concentrate very long on any one thing? I don’t know about you, but when I get into that sort of synapse-firing frenzy, it’s almost paralyzing. My mind becomes a jumble. At best I’m inefficient with how I use my time; at worst I get nothing done whatsoever.

It wasn’t very many years ago that I was a devotee of the Franklin Planner, a system for organizing one’s day and getting stuff done. I first encountered the Franklin Planner in the mid-‘80s when I served a short, ill-fated stint as Stake Clerk  in the Los Angeles Stake. The men in that Stake Presidency were very accomplished and successful, and all three of them swore by the Franklin Planner. As an unaccomplished and unsuccessful 20-something wannabe, I was in no position to judge, but since I was a 20-something wannabe it didn’t stop me. I teased and taunted them about their devotion until, a few years later, I sheepishly got a Franklin Planner of my own.

In those days, when you bought your Franklin Planner starter kit they encouraged you to listen to a couple of cassette tapes designed to train you on how to use the planner and to motivate you to actually use it. Central to the approach was the “Prioritized Daily Task List” in which you were supposed to separate the important from the not-so-important so that you would be less likely to burn time and energy on low priority fluff and more likely to focus on the truly essential. It’s what Stephen R. Covey has referred to as “putting first things first.”

So which things should come first? The answer to that question will vary from day to day, but over the long arc of time, that which matters most will always have more to do with human relationships than with personal achievement or financial success. Our prophet, Thomas S. Monson has said:

I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. . . .

[And] what is most important almost always involves the people around us. Often we assume that they must know how much we love them. But we should never assume; we should let them know. Wrote William Shakespeare, “They do not love that do not show their love.” We will never regret the kind words spoken or the affection shown. Rather, our regrets will come if such things are omitted from our relationships with those who mean the most to us.

Send that note to the friend you’ve been neglecting; give your child a hug; give your parents a hug; say “I love you” more; always express your thanks. Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved. (“Finding Joy in the Journey,” General Conference, October 2008)

It’s an important reminder, especially as I consider the scribbled list before me: so many self-centered to-do’s that there’s hardly room for a person to get my attention. Perhaps it’s time for me to reprioritize.

It’s a speech I have given myself before—and certainly one I will give myself again—but for now, my mind is a little less jumbled. So before I post this letter, I think I’m going to go call my mom.

PW

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