By Anis Abdelkhalig
Since its debut in 1989, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has withstood the test of time and is still referenced as one of the best business books today. Stephen Covey walks us through the habits that most contribute to people’s “effectiveness.”
First, let’s define what he means by effective and habit. These topics are the main theme of the book and there is no room for confusion.
It is important to understand the difference between effective and efficient. Often times we confuse the two and we try to be efficient with people. Efficiency is a term best used to describe machines and processes.
With people, effectiveness is key. To produce the desired result from someone requires taking things slowly and appreciating the other person’s interests. It’s a cliché, but taking a walk in the other person’s shoes really does work.
We tend to think of habits as physical behaviours that we repeat often without much thought. It’s true, waking up early, going to the gym, and keeping an organized calendar are great habits, but these are the fruits of something much deeper.
Paradigms are the frame of mind or lens from which you perceive the world and make decisions. Changing your paradigms and habitually thinking in a different way is the underlying message in this book. All of the habits involve a paradigm shift.
The 7 Habits described in this book appear in the order in which they should be adopted. Furthermore, they are divided into 3 distinct categories:
· Self (Habits 1-3)
o 1: Be proactive
o 2: Begin with the end in Mind
o 3: Put first things first
· Other People (Habits 4-6)
o 4: Think Win-Win
o 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood
o 6: Synergize
· Continuous Improvement (Habit 7)
o 7: Sharpen the saw
This strategy follows the principle that to be effective with other people, you must first be effective with yourself. Becoming an effective or successful person is compared with the growth of the Chinese bamboo tree. For the first 4 years, all of the tree’s growth is beneath the soil, hidden from plain view. However, in the 5th year, the tree shoots up 80ft. A lot of work is first done below ground to develop complex root systems and a strong foundation allowing the tree to grow so high.
Once you have gotten better at being effective with yourself and others, the growth shouldn’t stop there. The 7th habit preaches Continuous Improvement. Investing some time in things that will not provide an immediate result, but will be beneficial in the long run is an important concept. Education, exercise, seminars, reading, and networking are just a few things that make the list. The term Stephen uses is “Sharpening the saw”. There are four fundamental areas where you should try to create meaningful activities:
· Physical (Exercise & Sports)
· Intellectual (Education & Reading)
· Spiritual (Religion & Meditation)
· Social (Family & Friends)
Putting First things First
Whether you are the CEO of a fortune 500 company or someone just starting out in your career, one thing is certain: you have the same amount of time in a day to accomplish things.
The secret is not only time management, but task management. In life, tasks can be separated into important or not important and urgent or not urgent. Applying this simple filter to your commitments can dramatically free up a lot time and allow you to focus your efforts on what matters.
Consider the matrix below:
Quadrants 3 and 4 – This is the easiest one. Commitments and tasks that you have filtered into this category should simply not be done. There is absolutely no reason to be spending time on things which are not important to you. However, if the task is important to someone else, and that person is important to you, then by default the task is important.
Quadrant 1 – It should be no surprise to anyone that tasks and commitments which you have labelled Urgent & Important should take priority. However, since urgent things usually come up unexpectedly, it is difficult to plan for them in advance and they will be dealt with as they come along. The idea here is to not stress yourself out with these items and their complexities until the moment of urgency.
Quadrant 2 – This is the critical quadrant. Most people spend their time doing urgent things regardless if they are important or not. The trick now is to replace the time you have saved from all of the “Not Important” tasks in quadrants 3 & 4 and focusing the time on quadrant 2. As we discussed “Sharpening the saw”, preparing, and planning does not provide instant gratification, but do go a long way in becoming effective and reaching your goals.
The take away
Breaking big goals down into smaller more manageable parts increases the likelihood of success. Try using these principles and techniques a little bit at a time to get the ball rolling and build up from there.