My father recently told me a story he remembers from his youth of farming in Paraguay, South America. He knew a young ambitious man who bought a brand new tractor and a three-bottom plow. He put it all on payments, and to pay it off, he took on a large plowing job far away from home. The man had to drive his tractor around ten hours just to get to the field, and once he got there, it would take several weeks to get the whole job done. He planned to work long hours to get the job done as soon as possible.

Since this was a new tractor, he wanted to make sure to take good care of it. Part of this care included changing the oil regularly. The first oil change had to happen at 60 hours with another oil change every 100 hours after that. Within the first week, he eclipsed 60 hours and stopped exactly on the hour to change the oil. As the work went on, he would keep a sharp eye on the hour counter and stop exactly every 100 hours to change the oil.

After some time of working at a hectic pace, he started to have trouble with his vision. His face started to swell up, and he had trouble walking. He began to be concerned about his health and sought the advice of a doctor. The doctor began by asking him about his eating habits and whether he was getting sufficient sleep. After a short consultation, the doctor told him to get more sleep and eat a proper diet. This should restore him to health.

In his zeal for maintaining his tractor, the man neglected the most basic elements of his own health. He was very concerned about getting every last ounce of productivity out of his machine, but he forgot to maintain the one thing that could keep that machine going in the long run. A new perfectly maintained tractor would do him no good if he were too ill to operate it.

Steven Covey sheds light on this truth in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey calls it the P (production) to PC (production capability) balance. There needs to be a balance between our work to produce and our investment in our abilities to produce. Production is driven by imparting effort into a job, but production capability leverages our effort. You can not have P and PC separately; they work together to produce a good and sustainable result.

“Put first things first,” is another one of Covey’s phrases. In the story of the young man with the new tractor, he neglected to put his personal health before his tractor’s maintenance, and it almost cost him the very outcome that he sought. What are some things that you need to “put first”? What can you not bear to do without? If you feel like you are always running just to keep up, what are some things you can do to increase your PC to meet the demands on you and your time? Try to identify the building blocks of your life, the things that inspire you and renew you, and you will find the elements that you need to put first.

“If I do not have _______, I have nothing.” Fill in the blank, and you will find some things to keep first.