As obvious and straightforward as this might seem, Covey teaches it explicitly because, as it turns out, focusing on the most important tasks is not at what most people naturally do. Of course we all "put out fires" first, doing those things that are important and also very urgent. Then, however, most people tend to move to those tasks that are urgent but not really important. We delay more important tasks to check email, tend to a distraction or address some other "pressing" matter. Surprisingly, when the urgent tasks are all complete, most people drift toward tasks that are neither urgent nor important, leaving the important but not urgent tasks for last.
This quirk in human behavior is unfortunate because it is those important task that are not urgent that create the most value in our lives. These are things like building relationships, making plans for long-term success, preventing future crises, developing discipline and perspective, and improving ourselves through training or recreation.
"Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because, urgent or not, they aren't important," Covey writes in his book. "They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II... Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management."
While putting first things first may help any aspect of our lives, there is great power in applying this principle to our daily prayers. Most of us already turn to God for help when we are in dire straits and we need the Lord to intervene to prevent serious consequences, but what do we pray for next? And when was the last time you prayed to build your relationship with God or discuss something important that wasn't on a tight timeline?
The pattern of revelation used to direct recent changes in Church procedure exemplifies what can happen when we spend quality time discussing the important elements of our lives in sincere prayer. President Nelson explained:
When we convene as a Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, our meeting rooms become rooms of revelation. The Spirit is palpably present. As we wrestle with complex matters, a thrilling process unfolds as each Apostle freely expresses his thoughts and point of view. Though we may differ in our initial perspectives, the love we feel for each other is constant. Our unity helps us to discern the Lord's will for His Church.
In our meetings, the majority never rules! We listen prayerfully to one another and talk with each other until we are united. Then when we have reached complete accord, the unifying influence of the Holy Ghost in spine-tingling! (April 2018).
This process can take many months as each member ponders, studies and prays about what is being considered. That was the case with the decision to combine ward Melchizedek Priesthood quorums into a single quorum. The result will be better direction for a more supportive, responsive and unified priesthood quorum. A similar process was used to call new apostles, assign counselors in the First Presidency, identify locations for new temples and modify and enhance the home and visiting teaching programs now wrapped into a cooperative ministering effort.
Following the examples of modern day prophets and apostles, we would do well to consider where we might prayerfully counsel with the Lord. What aspects of our testimony need to be strengthened before we have a crisis? What is our personal mission on the earth and how can we go about accomplishing it? Where should we dedicate our resources of time and energy to develop Christlike attributes and build metaphorical temples in our lives? What should we be learning now to help the people we will meet next year, teach our children in a few years and face the challenges of the next decade?
When urgent prayers are done, we make little progress with hurried, rote or habitual monologues offered to check the box that we think will bring blessings from heaven. "Ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts," the prophet Moroni taught, "but ask with a firmness unshaken that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God" (Mormon 9:28).
Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save. Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you (Alma 34:18-27).
The Lord asks that we offer our prayers "with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ" (Moroni 10:3-5). We do this as we counsel with Him about those things, urgent or not, that are important in our lives and for which we need his guidance. As we do so, the promise is sure: "he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."