Do First Things First This Emotional Life - PBS

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Happiness / Blog

 Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin's Bio

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project.

Do First Things First


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I'm constantly on the hunt for insights about happiness, or ideas about how to be happier -- which probably makes me a somewhat tiresome companion at times. In any event, I was talking to a friend of mine about her views on happiness, and she said, "I try to remember to do first things first."

"What does that mean?" I asked, mystified.

"It means, don't skip the obvious first steps in your haste to get to the next thing. Don't overlook the basics because you're trying to get fancy."

"I still don't know what that means, exactly," I answered.

"Well, I tell myself, 'First things first,' to make sure that I eat before a job interview. Or I make my kids' lunches before answering email. Or I make sure I get a certain number of hours of taxing creative work done before I let myself relax with some busywork."

First things first! For me, I knew, first things first meant taking care of my body. I'm so much less patient and lighthearted when I'm physically uncomfortable. First things first means getting enough sleep, not letting myself get too hungry, dressing more warmly (even if other people make fun of my long underwear and hat), taking pain medication whenever I get a headache or back pain, and keeping clutter at a manageable level.

It means doing at least three hours of writing each day -- not researching, not reading, not answering email, but actual original writing.

It means putting away my devices during family time.

Efficiency experts often talk about the "urgent" and the "important." All too often, what's important gets pushed aside while we deal with what's urgent -- but in the end, what's important is what's important. First things first is another way to remind myself of my real priorities.

How about you? Have you found ways to make sure that you take care of first things first?