Stephen Richards Covey was an educator, writer, speaker, author, businessman, and academic. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, an MBA, and a Doctor of Religious Education (DRE). Covey was a professor at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University for several years, helping to establish the Master of Organisational Behaviour program, which has since been merged into the MBA program. Covey built a huge training and consultancy products and services business – Franklin Covey. Stephen Covey at one time or other also consulted with and provided training services to most of the world’s leading corporations. Covey produced a substantial body of educational and teaching work.

Habit 1: Be proactive.

Put simply: In order to be effective, you must be proactive.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

Start with a clear destination in mind. Covey says we can use our imagination to develop a vision of what we want to become and use our conscience to decide what values will guide us. It is important to identify our centre. Whatever is at the centre of my life will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom, and power.

Habit 3: Put first things first

In order to manage ourselves effectively, we must put first things first. We must have the discipline to prioritize our day-to-day actions based on what is most important, not what is most urgent.  In order to maintain the discipline and the focus to stay on track toward our goals, we need to have the willpower to do something when we don’t want to do it.

Habit 4: Think win-win

In order to establish effective interdependent relationships, we must commit to creating Win-Win situations that are mutually beneficial and satisfying to each party. Win-Win: Both people win. Agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying to both parties. To achieve Win-Win, keep the focus on results, not methods; on problems, not people.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Before we can offer advice, suggest solutions, or effectively interact with another person in any way, we must seek to deeply understand them and their perspective through empathic listening. We typically seek first to prescribe a solution before we diagnose the problem. We don’t seek to deeply understand the problem first.

Habit 6: Synergise

By putting forth a spirit of trust and safety, we will prompt others to become extremely open, and feed on each other’s insights and ideas, creating synergy.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

This is focused around renewal. Reflect on and evaluate performance of all habits. Thus chapter can be summarised in this quote I read recently – “You are only as young as the new things you do, the number of “firsts” in your days and weeks”

Here are some of the most relevant practical takeaways I got from this book:

  • Start by replacing reactive language with proactive language. Convert reactive tasks into proactive ones.
  • Break down different roles in my life – whether academic, health, social – and list three to five goals I want to achieve for each.
  • What scares me? Write down the worst-case scenario for my biggest fear, then visualise how I’ll handle this situation. Write down exactly how I would handle it.
  • Create my own time management matrix to start prioritising (urgent and not urgent / important and not important). Implement the Pareto Principle.
  • Think about an upcoming interaction where I’ll be attempting to reach an agreement or solution. Write down a list of what the other person is looking for. Next, write a list next to that of how I can make an offer to meet those needs.
  • Identify three important relationships in my life. Think about what I feel the balance is in each of those relationships. Do I give more than you take? Take more than I give?
  • Listen with the intent to understand, both intellectually and emotionally. Watch two people communicating, cover my ears and watch. What emotions are being communicated that might not come across through words alone? Was one person or the other more interested in the conversation? Write down what I noticed.
  • Next time I give a presentation, root it in empathy. Begin by describing the audience’s point of view in great detail. What problems are they facing? How is what I am going to say offering a solution to their problems?
  • Write a list of who irritates me. Now choose just one person. How are their views different? Put myself in their shoes for one minute. Think and pretend how it feels to be them. Try to understand their point of view. Try to understand their concerns and why they disagree with you. Write down a situation where I had excellent teamwork and synergy. Why? What conditions were met to reach such fluidity in these interactions? How can I recreate those conditions again?
  • Put forth a spirit of trust and safety
  • Eat well and get sufficient rest and relaxation
  • Exercise on a regular basis to build endurance, flexibility, and strength
  • Keep a journal of your thoughts, experiences, and insights
  • Limit television watching to only those programs that enrich your life and mind
  • Practice daily meditation or prayer
  • Communicate with nature
  • Immerse yourself in great literature or music
  • Seek to deeply understand other people
  • Make contributions to meaningful projects that improve the lives of others

Covey’s Seven Habits are easy to understand, but are probably a little more difficult to apply in practice. They seem very simple, and in many ways they are, yet to varying degrees they may entail quite serious changes to thinking and acting.

This is a classic self-help book that has been around for decades. I think that this book contains timeless wisdom and the habits within it have become even more relevant in our modern world. I don’t think I can compare this book to any others yet, as most self-help books I have read don’t give as much practical advice as this one has.