1st Things 1st

Group size:  5-50

Purpose:  Increase awareness, increase organization and time management life skills, introduce tool, and practice using tool

Props Needed

  1. Paper
  2. Pen
  3. 1st Things 1st Handout

Activity Preparation

  1. print off enough handouts for each participant

Time needed:  45-90 minutes

  • Directions: none
  • Activity: 45 minutes
  • Debrief: 15-30 minutes

Set Up:  Print off enough handouts for all participants. Ensure a hard surface to write on, this can either be tables or clipboards.

Activity Directions:

  • Explain the purpose of having a written agenda
  • Explain the correlation to PAWS and how writing things down in early recovery is especially helpful.
  • Introduce 1st things 1st tool
  • Have group members complete their sample 1st things 1st sample week


Facilitator script: “Ok everyone let’s gather around and find a seat. Today we are going to go over a creative way to help you deal with PAWS or Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. As you may know, this can last anywhere from 18 months to 5 years into abstinence from alcohol and other drugs. One of the ways that PAWS can affect you is in your ability to maintain an optimum level of organization. Post-Acute Withdrawal is the brain’s adjustment to the absence of alcohol and other drugs. When our brains are used to the presence of alcohol and other drugs it sometimes takes a while for them to get used to the absence of them. PAWS affects things like sleep, physical coordination, memory, and organization.

The 1st things 1st tool can be a way to help you with organization. Here is the handout we will be looking at today. (Pass out the handout)

Notice on the right-hand side of the page there are a couple of To-Do lists. There are Have tos, Need tos, Want tos, as well as a space for you to write out your meetings and reminders.

Here is how the lists work.

The Have tos are agenda items with a specific time sensitivity or heightened priority

These are things like appointments, school assignments, medication refill dates, and work shifts. These items cannot easily be changed or have a high recovery-oriented priority. A high recovery-oriented priority is something that must be done within the next 24hours in order to support your overall well-being like call probation officer by 5pm today.


The Need tos are agenda items with a moderate or flexible time sensitivity, moderate priority, or everything else

These are things like 12 step meetings, sponsor time, homework (school or therapy) time, and running errands. These items can be juggled around and do not have to be completed within the next 24-hour timeframe. An example of this would be to schedule an evaluation within the next 2 weeks. Another example of this might be evening and morning recovery practices like prayer and meditation. These are needed to’s because we need to do them but they can be moved around depending on the Have-to’s of the day. Something to be aware of is that Need to’s become Have to’s when they are postponed long enough, watch out for procrastination.


The Want to’s are agenda items that are fun, pleasurable, and promote self-care.

This is the fun stuff. Some of these items include going to fellowship, working out, going on a hike, crafting, and anything that brings you joy and reduces stress. It is important to have enough want-to’s sprinkled throughout the week so that getting through the Have to’s and need-to’s don't seem so hard.


The Meetings section is a place where you can put down the weekly meetings you plan on attending or maybe a new meeting you would like to remember to try out. This section can also be used for pop up meetings like a Dr app or even reoccurring appointments like a therapist appointment.


The reminder section can be a great place to write down things you don’t want to forget like homework, calls you need to make, or anything else you want to keep in the forefront of your mind.


On the left-hand side of the handout, you will find a weekly schedule. The first column is a place where you can start and end your day based on what works for you. The rest of the columns are places where you can plot out a schedule that allows you to start marking things off your have to, need to, and want to lists.

Are there any questions about the handout?

(Once questions have been answered) Great, let’s take about 20 minutes to start to fill out the 1st things 1st list.

(Be sure to give time warnings when you are ½ way and ¾ of the way through the allotted time. Also, it might be useful to see if anyone needs individual help during the time).

Ok great who would like to share what they wrote down? (Give participants time to share if they wish. Be sure to leave time to debrief.)


  • What was challenging about this activity?
  • Which section was easiest/hardest to do?
  • How did you feel about presenting your 1st things 1st week?
  • What did you think as you listened to your peers present theirs?
  • What is the difference between recovery-oriented have to, need to, and want to versus addiction oriented have to, need to, and want to
  • What actions bring you closer to recovery or closer to relapse?


Recovery/Wellness Metaphor:

Role of Facilitator: There are 3 lists on the 1st things 1st agenda Have to, Need to, and Want to. It is important to have all sections completed and then go in and plot them on the agenda. Start out plotting the Have to’s as there is not any flexibility with Have to’s. Then go to the need to’s, as there is more flexibility with them. Pay attention to complete need to’s in time before they become Have to’s. In other words if I have a need to that is get my medication refilled and I keep postponing it, eventually it will become a have to when my medication runs out.


Variations: This can be done in individual sessions or as homework.


Source:  Facilitated Growth:  Experiential Activities for Recovery and Wellness