The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
by Stephen Covey
- Personal Development
- Ashto =
- Jonesy =
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book that everyone needs to read. The habits aren’t specific to an industry or a point in time, these are pervasive habits that you should constantly be practicing and applying. When we first read this book it shot straight to our #1 and it stayed there for years – it was very hard to knock off top spot.
The seven habits are grouped: the first three habits for them ‘private victory’ (the things that relate to you as an individual – personal effectiveness), the next three are the ‘public victory’ (how you interact with others and the world – interpersonal effectiveness), and the final is an overarching call to be constantly learning, growing and improving.
- Habit 1 – Be Proactive
- Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind
- Habit 3 – Put First Things First
- Habit 4 – Think Win/Win
- Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
- Habit 6 – Synergise
- Habit 7 – Sharpen The Saw
Powerful lessons in personal change
Here is a summary of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
First published in 1989, this is a book that everyone should read. The habits aren’t specific to an industry or a point in time, these are pervasive habits that you should constantly be practicing and applying. When we first read this book it shot straight to our #1 and it stayed there for years – it was very hard to knock off top spot.
The 7 habits of highly effective people are grouped: the first three habits for them ‘private victory’ (the things that relate to you as an individual – personal effectiveness), the next three are the ‘public victory’ (how you interact with others and the world – interpersonal effectiveness), and the final is an overarching call to be constantly learning, growing and improving.
Most people try to become more effective by changing their behaviours. Covey says that this is like trying to change a tree by hacking away at the leaves. Instead, we should look to the roots: our attitudes and our character. Most people are trying to improve their ‘production’ – looking for new hacks that will allow them to get more done in a shorter amount of time. While this can be important, it’s vital that we balance this focus on ‘production’ with a focus on growing our ‘productive capacity’. Rather than looking at the immediate outputs, we need to step back and look for ways to grow ourselves in a way that will lead to long-term sustained improvements. This approach means not just hoping to get the biggest golden egg you can, but feeding and growing the goose that lays the eggs.
PERSONAL VICTORY: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Habit 1: Be Proactive.
The first of the 7 habits of highly effective people is to Be Proactive. Humans the unique ability of self-awareness. Most animals just think, but we can step back and think about how we think. This meta-level thinking about our thought process is what allows us to the ability to make changes in our lives.
In practical terms, it means that there is a gap between ‘stimulus’ and ‘response’. When something happens (stimulus) there is a momentary pause (the gap) before we take action (response). This gap allows us to consciously decide what course of action we take. Rather than reacting immediately like other animals, being guided purely by our emotions and short-term desires, we can actively decide the best path forward. Realising that we have this ability is a powerful thing. It means that you’re no longer jerked around like a puppet – dictated to by the outside world, a victim of conditions and circumstances – instead you can choose for yourself what you want to do.
It means that we have time to think before we act… and it means that we’re fully responsible for our own lives. Covey refers to responsibility as ‘response-ability’: we all have the ability to choose how we respond. That may be scary for some, but it should be liberating to know that YOU ARE IN CONTROL. ‘Proactivity’ is more than just taking initiative, it means taking responsibility.
Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind .
Getting caught up in the activity trap and the ‘busy-ness’ of life can lead us to keep climbing the ladder, only to find when you get to the top that it is leaning against the wrong wall.
To begin with the end in mind is to know where you’re going, so that the steps you take are always in the right direction. Being ‘efficient’ means getting a lot done with minimal input, but being efficient at the wrong things just means you get to the wrong destination quicker. Efficiency is doing things right, but effectiveness is doing the right things. To begin with the end in mind is to know where you are going. This way, when you increase your efficiency, you efforts are pointed in the right direction.
Habit 3: Put First Things First.
The Eisenhower Matrix distributes our activities across two variables: Importance and Urgency:
In the upper left we have quadrant 1 (urgent + important): These are the thing like completing your report before the board presentation, or finalising the first draft to send before the client’s deadline.
Bottom left is quadrant 3 (not important + urgent) Deadlines on things that feel like they need to be done now, but it probably wouldn’t be the end of the world if they were missed. This might be the text message you feel like you need to reply to instantly, or the customer trying on their fourth pair of shoes even though they’re clearly going to buy them online anyway.
Bottom right quadrant 4 (not important + not urgent): Aimlessly scrolling social media, watching mindless TV… depending on what your values are, these things are ‘not important’ and are merely distractions from the important things.
Upper right is quadrant 2 (important + not urgent): This is the valuable stuff that almost always gets missed. These are the vital tasks that don’t have the pressing urgency of an immediate deadline so we keep putting them off. Often these are the things that grow your PC (productive capacity). It might be redeveloping your website (it would make it far better, but the current one isn’t broken so it’s not urgent), or it might be taking a Sunday afternoon to reflect and set goals for the week ahead.
Most people cycle between Q1 and Q3, then distract themselves and procrastinate by delving into Q4. Instead, Covey says we need to try to minimise our time in the ‘not important’ quadrants and shifts our focus towards the often-missed Q2. To do this, Q4 should be eliminated – it’s not important and it’s not urgent. Q3 should be delegated – it feels urgent, so get someone else to do it (it’s not important enough for you to waste your time on). Q1 you obviously have to do, because it’s important and needs to be done now. But it’s of vital importance that we schedule regular time for Q2. Because it’s not urgent, we keen kicking the can down the road. We MUST block out time for these crucial effective activities and not get sucked into distractions when that time comes.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win.
Win/Win is the optimal state for any interaction. This is where both parties are satisfied because they feel like they’ve achieved what they wanted to achieve.
Most sporting games push us into ‘win/lose’ – we have to win and the only way to do that is for our opponent to lose. While this is fine for a game of footy, you won’t have many strong business or work relationships left if your only focused on winning at all costs, regardless of the other party. ‘Lose/Win’ might be ok in your personal relationships in the very short term – you’re happy to lose if it means your partner feels like they’re winning. But this is only for small things in the very short term, because it’s not healthy to go on ongoing all of the time and letting the other person walk over you. ‘Lose/Lose’ is cutting off your nose to spite your face – it’s the business relationship gone so toxic that you don’t care if you lose, as long as your opponent loses more.
The pinnacle though is ‘Win/Win’. It’s not enough for you to just win for yourself, if you want healthy, long-lasting relationships, you always need to be looking for ways to help your partner win too. Rather than dividing up the pie equally, first look at ways in which you can both grow the pie so that you both get a bigger portion.
Habit 5: Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply. They’re just thinking about what they want to say next, rather than actually listening. To be effective, you need to be actively and empathetic listening. Having a witty remark doesn’t make you effective, only by seeing the world through someone else’s eyes can we begin to make positive change.
After the important first step of understanding (looking past just the words to interpret the truer meaning behind them), the next step is to be understood. Being an effective communicator means being both and effective listener and an effective talker. Be concise, be courageous, say what you mean, and say it clearly in a way that others will understand. Beating around the bush and half saying things without actually saying what you mean just makes it uncomfortable for everyone. If someone doesn’t understand you, it’s not their fault – it’s yours. It’s YOUR job to convey your message in a way that the other person can understand.
Habit 6: Synergise.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When someone has a different perspective than you, there may be a lot of value to be gained. To synergize is to value differences. It means building on strengths and compensating for weaknesses. If done effectively, one plus one can equal three (or more!).
We are all different people with our own different perspectives, and just because some thinks differently doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. Look for ways to learn from others and to combine your skill sets in order to form a strong team that can achieve more than any individual possibly could. The person who is truly effective has the humility and reverence to recognize his own perceptual limitations and to appreciate the rich resources available through interaction with the hearts and minds of other human beings.
BALANCED RENEWAL: Refreshing the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw.
The single most powerful investment we can ever make in life is an investment in ourselves. We need to replenish ourselves where possible to deal with life and continue to contribute positively to the world around us. The seventh habit looks holistically at refreshing ourselves so that we can bring our best efforts to all six other habits. ‘Sharpening the saw’ is what makes all of the others possible. This covers a wide range of elements of our lives: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social. If we aren’t operating at or near our peaks in any of these areas, our productivity and effectiveness will inevitably suffer. Go for walks, eat well, get enough sleep, take breaks, meditate, get lost in the music, lean on others when you need and be there for them when they need.
As Abraham Lincoln (apparently) once said: “if you give me 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first 7 sharpening the saw.”
This is one of our favourite books that we’ve ever read. Do yourself a favour – grab a copy of your own and read it: