After the first couple of pages, I almost stopped reading Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Jam-packed with information, it reminded me of a college textbook.
I’m not in school anymore, I thought. Why am I reading this?
But I’m so glad I continued on. The insights gleaned from the book have been very influential in my life. But if you don’t have time to read all 432 pages, I’ve got you covered with my primary takeaways.
Personality ethics don’t help usCovey contends that success in the late 1900’s was largely attributed to things such as personality traits, skills, techniques, and maintaining a positive attitude. Instead of this “Personality Ethic” thinking, he argues that we should return to the philosophy’s predecessor — the Character Ethic — which emphasizes the alignment of one’s values with “universal and timeless” principles like fairness, integrity, honesty, and treating people with respect.
Covey’s seven habits are deep fundamental truths that guide long-term relationships and have universal application.
The Production (P)/Production Capability (PC) BalanceTo illustrate the P/PC balance, Covey refers to Aesop’s fable of the goose and the golden egg. The golden eggs are the P and the goose which produces the eggs is the PC. After becoming wealthy from the profits of the golden eggs, the farmer becomes greedy and impatient. He kills the goose in hopes of extracting all of its eggs at once, only to find that there are no golden eggs nor any means of producing more.
The key to effectiveness lies in the balance between P and PC. Too much focus on P, which looks only at the short-term, results in “ruined health, depleted bank accounts, and broken relationships.” On the other hand, excessive focus on PC is like someone endlessly going to school but never producing, all while living on other people’s golden eggs — the “eternal student syndrome.”
As someone who finds it difficult to slow down, this visual has taught me that in order to have a long, fruitful life — to produce “golden eggs” over the long-term — I mustn’t “kill the goose” today.
The first three habits focus on self-mastery, moving us from dependence to independence.
Habit 1: Be proactiveA reactive person spends valuable time complaining about the weaknesses of those around them or how their circumstances are unfair, whereas a proactive person chooses to act on things they can control.
We must be able to discern whether stimuli fall within our Circle of Influence or our Circle of Concern. Our Circle of Influence is exponentially smaller than our Circle of Concern, as we can concern ourselves with virtually anything but we can only influence a select few things. By focusing more on what we can control, we’ll find that the disparity in size between our Circle of Influence and our Circle of Concern will shrink. In other words, we become “concerned” only with those things we can “influence”, making us more effective.
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mindJust like a business, our lives need strategy. As the CEO of our lives, we must visualize what we want to become and use our conscience to decide which values will guide us.
It’s easy to busy ourselves, but we don’t often stop to think about the meaning behind the busyness. In everything we do, we should begin with the end in mind. That way, we can make sure the steps we’re taking are in the right direction.
But before we set goals, we must identify our center. Whatever is at the center of our lives will be our source of security, guidance, wisdom, and power. Many people are centered on things like money, pleasure, career, spouse, family, or ourselves. However, Covey asserts that none of these are optimal. Instead, we should be principle-centered, identifying the timeless, unchanging principles by which we live our lives. This will give us the guidance needed to align our actions with our beliefs and values.
Habit 3: Put first things firstHere we carry out the strategy determined in Habit 2. All activities can be categorized as important and/or urgent. Thus, there are four types of activities:
Quadrant 1 activities are important and urgent;
Quadrant 2 activities are important but not urgent;
Quadrant 3 activities are not important but urgent;
Quadrant 4 activities are not important and not urgent.
We spend a lot of time in Quadrant 3, reacting to urgent matters that may not be most important. This means that we often neglect Quadrant 2, which is actually the most crucial of them all.
The heart of managing effectively, Quadrant 2 deals with things like building relationships, long-term planning, exercising, and preparation — things we know we need to do but don’t get around to doing because they don’t feel urgent.
In order to manage ourselves effectively, we must have the discipline to prioritize our day-to-day actions based on what’s most important, not what’s most urgent.
This is an area in which I struggle. I can’t stand to have work pile up on me, so I tend to treat every email or task that comes my way as urgent and in need of a quick response. In order to manage more effectively by focusing on Quadrant 2 activities, I have to learn how to say “no” to other tasks that seem urgent.
Once we’ve incorporated these three habits into our lives, we’ve become independent. However, this isn’t the ultimate destination. Next week, we’ll examine Habits 4 through 7 and learn how we can achieve interdependence.