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“First Things First”

“First Things First”
“First Things First”

This week I’ve had to practice “first things first” many times. At work, at home, everywhere. Because right now, everything is chaos. And when everything is chaos, I need a little order in my life.


The Serenity Prayer: my mantra some days


To be truthful, I love chaos. I thrive on it. I get bored easily when things are slow. At work, when there’s no big project or problem that needs to be solved, my attention span goes out the window. At home, when everything is in order, my mind starts to drift into morbid reflection and self-doubt.

But when there’s chaos, I’m happy. Especially right now. At work things are crazy. My supervisor is off on a leave of absence for two months because of surgery. That leaves me as temporary supervisor. Yikes! On top of that, my part-time helper was on vacation from last Thursday until today (Wednesday).

My area looks like crap. There’s stuff everywhere. And there’s SO much to do! But I’m happy.

Back in my drinking days I didn’t know what to do with chaos. It would come, things would get crazy, and I would lose my shit. Stressed out, grouchy, and I would drink to cope. I would look forward to 4 pm every day because I could go home and start drinking.

But eventually that started to get to me. As my drinking became heavier, my emotions and stress level grew worse. Suddenly, I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. My anxiety about the day ahead was overwhelming. I dreaded going to work. I dreaded being home. I dreaded life in general.

New Solution: Sobriety

When I finally reached my bottom, and got sober, things started looking up. My emotions and stress levels tapered off over time. Situations which used to send me into a tailspin weren’t so overwhelming anymore. And I learned what “first things first” really meant.

I learned that it’s not just another cheesy saying that the old-timers use on newcomers to confuse the hell out of them. It’s a real thing. But, I’ve found that “first things first” can’t be explained. It’s a way of life that must be put into action.

What It Means To Put “First Things First”

A great explanation for “first things first” can be found in the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” pg. 382 (3RD Edition): “’First Things First’: solving our immediate problems before we try to solve all the others and get muddled in our thinking and doing.”

What that says to me is, do what is immediately in front of me. So, to practice that at work, I focus on what I can accomplish right now. Even though there’s a million things that need to be done, some tasks are more important than others.

Instead of trying to do everything in one big chunk, I prioritize my tasks based on two factors:

  1. How long the items have been there
  2. Are they timing sensitive?

 “First Things First” In Action

When I practice “first things first”, I make a list of what needs to be accomplished. I don’t like “to-do” because my “to-do” list is never ending. Then, I prioritize the items that are time sensitive over the items that are just annoying, and in my way.

For example:

Customer return items are time sensitive and need to be done first.

Next, online order returns.

Then, the annoying carts of clearance merchandise to be marked down for donation.

By prioritizing my tasks in this way, I am not only taking care of the items that are time sensitive, I’m giving my brain a break too. Because for me, it is easy to get overwhelmed. I look at all this stuff around me, and panic about how it will all get done.

Then, I start thinking I’m superwoman and I have an infinite amount of time in one day. When 3:30 hits, I’m wondering where the time went, and start feeling like I’ve made no progress at all.

Practice Makes Perfect (Almost)

Practicing this principle has been an on-going learning process. Some days I do well, and I’m able to get through the day without getting frazzled. Other days, I leave work feeling like I got nothing accomplished.

But one thing I don’t do anymore is take my work home with me.

Back in my drinking days, when I left work, I would stress about how much I didn’t get done. And, stress about how much there was still to be done. Thankfully, I have a smart sponsor who reminds me that my in-box will still be full when I die.

Translation: I am only human. I can only accomplish so much in one day. I can’t do everything, so I need to stop trying.

In my line of work, I’m never “finished”. There will always be customer returns. There will always be online returns. There will always be stuff that needs to be marked down. That will never change.

But, what can change is how I perceive the work load. By taking things a piece at a time, I am more focused on that one area, and I do my job more efficiently.

Try “First Things First”

Next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, try first things first. Stop and take a breath. Then, make a list of everything you need to do, and prioritize it. What needs to be done today? What can wait until tomorrow? Try using first things first for a week and I promise you will feel the results almost immediately.

Originally published Sep 28, 2016 –

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