A young ensign had nearly completed his first overseas tour of duty
when he was given the opportunity to prepare his ship to “set sail.”
With a stream of crisp commands, he had the decks buzzing with
sailors and soon the ship churned slowly out of the channel.

The ensign’s efficiency was remarkable. In fact, the talk was that
he had set a new record for getting the ship underway.

But his captain was not as pleased. A message delivered to the young
officer read, “My personal congratulations upon completing your
underway preparation exercise according to the book and with amazing
speed. But next time, you might wait until your captain is aboard
before setting off.”

What good is a ship without the captain? The ensign did all the
right things, but he never did the most important thing.

It is a matter of priorities. I know that I may accomplish a great
deal every day. I may do the right things, but am I doing the best
things? To borrow language from author Stephen Covey, do I put first
things first?

I can relate to the man who believes he spends too much of his time
in meetings. “I have this recurring nightmare,” he says. “My wife
and children are gathered at the cemetery for my funeral. After the
service, the funeral director approaches my weeping family and hands
them a box containing all my earthly possessions. In the box are 35
years of my annual calendars and diaries. I read over their
shoulders as they scan the appointment notes that kept me busy for
so many years. It occurs to me how seldom anything of significance
was ever accomplished at those gatherings. I turn to look at my
tombstone. The epitaph reads, “Daddy has gone to another meeting.”

That man could be me. I need to regularly ask myself, “In my most
significant relationships, in my work and in my free time, in all
areas of my life, am I doing what is truly important? Important to
me? I do the mundane. I do the urgent and the pressing. But do I
spend enough time with what is actually significant?

I once made this demonstration to an audience. I filled a large,
clear jar with coffee beans almost to the top. The beans, I said,
represent all of the activities we accomplish in a day. Then I
produced two golf balls. “These,” I said, “represent a couple of the
truly important things in our lives.” I asked them to think of the
golf balls as time spent with a significant person, such as a family
member, or doing something special for somebody else, or developing
their spiritual life or just beginning that project they keep
putting off. I placed the balls on top of the beans then tried to
screw on the lid. I couldn’t do it. There were too many beans in the

“Does this remind you of a typical day?” I asked. “We’re so busy
doing the usual we can’t seem to squeeze in anything else.”

I emptied the jar and started over. “But what if we put first things
first? What if we start each day doing something special, something
we truly WANT to do? I placed the golf balls into the jar first.
Then I poured in the coffee beans – all of them. They fell neatly
around the balls and filled the jar to the top. When I screwed on
the lid it fit perfectly.

And that’s the secret to building the kind of life you want. I’ve
discovered that if I can begin every day with one or two things that
are important to me, the other stuff still fits into place just

I don’t want to just do all of the RIGHT things and never get around
to the BEST things. And I certainly don’t want my life summed up in
the sentence, “Daddy has gone to another meeting.” So I handle the
golf balls first. And in comparison, everything else is just beans.


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