10 Big Ideas from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

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image“The law of the harvest governs; we will always reap what we sow—no more, no less” – Stephen Covey

Are you ready for some powerful and profound change in your life?

Stephen Covey reveals proven practices for change in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.

This is one of those books of truths that has forever change the world.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey presents a holistic, integrated, and principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems.

The 7 habits are based on principles, and with the principles, Covey provides us with a simple and reliable way to adapt to change, along with the wisdom and power to take advantage of the opportunities that change creates.

With that in mind, here are 10 big ideas from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  …

1. The Seven Habits Habits of Effectiveness.

Here are the 7 habits of highly effective people, according to Covey:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win/win
  5. Seek to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

Here is a summary of the each of the 7 habits of highly effective people.

The habits are principle-based and empower people through more continuous learning and growth.

Via The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“Because they are based on principles, they bring the maximum long-term beneficial results possible.  They become the basis of a person’s character creating an empowering center of correct maps from which an individual can effectively solve problems, maximize opportunities, and continually learn and integrate other principles in an upward spiral of growth.”

2. The Four Quadrants of Time Management.

Covey introduces a simple matrix of Urgent and Important to look at our daily activities and how we spend our time:

  • Quadrant I: Urgent, Important
  • Quadrant II: Not Urgent, Important
  • Quadrant III: Urgent, Not Important
  • Quadrant IV: Not urgent, Not Important

Here are example activities based on each quadrant:

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantQuadrant I

  • Crisis
  • Pressing problems
  • Deadline-driven projects
Quadrant II

  • Prevention, PC activities
  • Relationship building
  • Recognizing new opportunities
  • Planning, recreation
Not ImportantQuadrant III

  • Interruptions, some calls
  • Some mail, some reports
  • Some meetings
  • Proximate, pressing matters
  • Popular activities
Quadrant IV

  • Trivia, busy work
  • Some mail
  • Some phone calls
  • Time wasters
  • Pleasant activities

Here is a simple way to think about the quadrants and how you characterize your time:

  • People who manage their lives by crisis spend 90% of their time in Quadrant I and most of the remaining 10% is in Quadrant Iv, with only negligible attention pad to Quadrants II and III.
  • Other people spend a great deal of time in Quadrant III, thinking they are in Quadrant I.
  • People who spend time almost exclusively in Quadrants III and IV lead irresponsible lives.

Where do effective people spend their time?

They spend their time in Quadrant II.

Via The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“Effective people stay out of Quadrants II and IV because, urgent or not, they aren’t important.  They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II.

Quadrant II is the heart of personal management.  It deals with things that are not urgent, but are important.”

3.  Character Ethic vs. Personality Ethic.

The Personality Ethic is based on attitudes, skills, and techniques.  The Character Ethic is based on values, attributes, and principles.

Based on his research, Covey concluded that, while Personality Ethic provides some useful tools, Character Ethic is the key to lasting success from the inside out.

Via The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“In stark contrast, almost all the literature in the first 150 years or so focused on what could be called the Character Ethic as the foundation of success–things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule.  Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is representative of that that literature.  It is, basically, the story of one man’s effort to integrate certain principles and habits deep within his nature.

The Character Ethic taught that thee are basic principles of effective living, and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character.

But shortly after World War I the basic view of success shifted away from the Character Ethic to what we might call the Personality Ethic.  Success became more a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques, that lubricate the processes of human interaction.  This Personality Ethic essentially took two paths:  one was human and public relations techniques, and the other was positive mental attitude (PMA).  Some of this philosophy was expressed as ‘Your attitude determines your altitude,’ ‘Smiling wins more friends than frowning,’ and ‘Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve.'”

4. Increase the Gap Between Stimulus and Response.

The more space we can create between the stimulus and the response, the more we can choose more effective responses.

Otherwise, we are just in constant reaction mode.

By creating some space, we can engage more of our rational thinking, evaluate options, and think through our outcomes.

In essence, we can go from reacting to responding.

The gap between stimulus and response is our opportunity to choose more effective responses.

Via The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.

Within the freedom to choose and those endowments that make us uniquely human.  In addition to self-awareness, we have imagination–the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality.  We have conscience–a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, of the principles that govern our behavior, and a sense of the degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them.  And we have independent will–the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences.

Our unique human endowments lift us above the animal world.  The extent to which we exercise and develop these endowments empowers us to fulfill our uniquely human potential.  Between stimulus and response is our greatest power–the freedom to choose.”

5. All Things are Created Twice.

First we envision it, and then we make it happen.  We see it in our mind’s eye or we create it in our imagination, and then we figure out how to bring the idea to life.

Along the same lines, we need to think through what we want to accomplish or what the outcome is that we want to achieve.

Otherwise, we climb the wrong ladder or go through the motions, only to find out that it’s not what we had in mind at all.

We can save a lot of time and energy, by thinking through and getting clarity of what our desired outcome is.

In essence, we should “begin with the end in mind.”

Via The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“’Begin with the end in mind’ is based on the principle that all things are created twice.  There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.

Take the construction of a home, for example.  You create it in every detail before you ever hammer the first nail into place.  You try to get a very clear sense of what kind of house you want.  If you want a family-centered home, you plan to put a family room where it would be a natural gathering place.  You plan sliding doors and a patio to play outside.  You work with ideas.  You work with your mind until you get a clear image of what you want to build.

Then you reduce it to blueprint and develop construction plans.  All of this is done before the earth is touched.  If not, then in the second creation, the physical creation, you will have to make expensive change that may double the cost of your home.

The carpenter’s rule is ‘measure twice, cut once.’  You have to make sure that the blueprint, the first creation, is really what you want, that you’ve thought everything through.  Then you put it into bricks and mortar.  Each day you go to the construction shed and pull out the blueprint to get marching orders for the day.  You begin with the end in mind.”

6. The Five Dimensions of Win/Win.

Here are the five dimensions that enable Win/Win:

  1. Dimension 1: Character
  2. Dimension 2: Relationships
  3. Dimension 3: Agreements
  4. Dimension 4: Support Systems
  5. Dimension 5: Processes

Via The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
“Think Win/Win is the habit of interpersonal leadership.  It involves the exercise of each of the unique human endowments–self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent will–in our relationships with others.  It involves mutual learning, mutual influence, mutual benefits.

It takes great courage as well as consideration to create these mutual benefits, particularly if we’re interacting with others who are deeply scripted in Win/Lose.   That is why the habit involves principles of interpersonal leadership.  Effective interpersonal leadership requires the vision, the proactive initiative and the security, guidance, wisdom, and power that come from principle-centered leadership.

The principle of Win/Win is fundamental to success in all our interactions, and it embraces five interdependent dimensions of life.  It begins with character and moves toward relationships, out of which flow agreements.  It is nurtured in an environment where structure and systems are based on Win/Win.  And it involves process; we cannot achieve Win/Win ends with Win/Lose or Lose/Win means.”

7. Expand Your Circle of Influence.

If we want to increase our effectiveness, we need to expand our sphere of influence.  To expand our sphere of influence, we start by focusing on what we control and let the rest go.

If we worry about everything that we don’t control, then we give up our power to act and make a difference.

This also means thinking globally, but acting locally—acting on the things that we have control over, which, often times, really is our self.

The fastest way to change any situation is to change yourself.

If you want to improve your effectiveness and improve your influence and impact, then focus on being a proactive person by focusing your efforts within your Circle of Influence.

Via The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“Another excellent way to become more self-aware regarding our own degree of proactivity is to look at where we focus our time and energy.  We each have a wide range of concerns–our health, our children, problems at work, the national debt, nuclear war.  We could separate those from things in which we have no particular mental or emotional involvement by creating a ‘Circle of Concern.’

As we look at those things within our Circle of Concern, it becomes apparent that there are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about.  We could identify those concerns in the latter group by circumscribing them within a smaller Circle of Influence.

By determining which of these two circles is the focus of most of our time and energy, we can discover much about the degree of our proactivity.

Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence.  They work on things they can do something about.  The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.

Reactive people on the other hand, focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern.  They focus on the weakness of other other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control.  Their focus results in blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language, and increased feelings of victimization.  The negative energy generated by that focus, combined with neglect in areas they could do something about, causes their Circle of Influence to shrink.”

8. Principle-Centered Living.

We can leverage principles to expand what we’re capable of and increase our freedom.

Or, we can break ourselves against the principles.

The principles can work against us, especially when we are unaware of them.

By consciously embracing principles through principle-centered living, we can act more wisely.

Via The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“Principles are deep, fundamental truths, classic truths, generic common denominators.  They are tightly interwoven threads running with exactness, consistency, beauty, and strength through the fabric of life.

Principles always have natural consequences attached to them.  There are positive consequences when we live in harmony with the principles.  There are negative consequences when we ignore them.  But because these principles apply to everyone, whether or not they are aware, this limitation is universal.  And the more we know of correct principles, the greater is our personal freedom to act wisely.

By centering our lives on timeless, unchanging principles, we create a fundamental paradigm of effective living.  Is it he center that puts all other centers in perspective.”

9. Four Generations of Time Management.

Covey walks through the evolution of time management and how we can rise above the never-ending To-Do lists.

If we mature to generation 4, then we focus more on relationships and results.

Via The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

Generation 1: Characterized by notes and checklists, an effort to give some semblance of recognition and inclusiveness to the many demands place on our time and energy.
Generation 2: Characterized by calendars and appointment books.  This wave reflects an attempt to look ahead, to schedule events and activities in the future.
Generation 3: Adds to those preceding generations the important idea of prioritization, of clarifying values, and of comparing the relative worth of activities based on their relationships to those values.  In addition, it focuses on setting goals–specific long-, intermediate-, and short-term targets toward which time and energy would be directed in harmony with values.  It also includes the concept of daily planning, of making a specific plan to accomplish those goals and activities determined to be of greatest worth.
Generation 4: Rather than focus on things and time, fourth generation expectations focus on preserving and enhancing relationships and on accomplishing results–in short, on maintaining the P/PC Balance.  It recognizes that ‘time management’ is really a misnomer–the challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves.  Satisfaction is a function of expectation as well as realization.  And expectation (and satisfaction) lie in our Circle of Influence. “

10. Make Meaningful Deposits in the Emotional Bank Account.

The Emotional Bank Account is how we build trust with others by making better deposits.

If we increase our Emotional Bank Account, communication becomes easy, instant, and effective.

When the Emotional Bank Account is low, and, as a result, trust is low, we have no room for error and communication is strained.

Via The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship.  It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.

If I make deposits into an Emotional Bank Account with you through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to you, I build up a reserve.  Your trust toward me becomes higher, and I can call upon that trust many times if I need to.  I can even make mistakes and that trust level, that emotional reserve, will compensate for it.  My communication may not be clear, but you’ll get my meaning anyway.  You won’t make me an ‘offender for a word.’  When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.

But if I have a habit of showing discourtesy, disrespect, cutting you off, overreacting, ignoring you, becoming arbitrary, betraying your trust, threatening you, or playing little tin god in your life, eventually my Emotional Bank Account is overdrawn.  The trust level gets very low.  Then what flexibility do I have?

None.  I’m walking on mine fields.  I have to be very careful of everything I say.  I measure every word.  It’s tension city, memo haven.  It’s protecting my backside, politicking.  And many organizations are filled with it.  Many families are filled with it.  Many marriages are filled with it.”

If you want the power to change, both yourself and any situation, then take advantage of Stephen Covey’s gift to the world.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. You’ve done it again, JD! You’ve done all the hard work and left us with the highlights of this GREAT book from one of my favorite authors and speakers.
    Thanks for giving me a new (and much more economical, time-wise) opportunity to be reminded of all the great wisdom contained in this title.
    Just 2 days ago I was singing the praises of Stephen Covey to one of my very best friends. Her leisure reading time has just been badly cut-back due to a new venture in returning to school.
    I’m so glad to be able to share this abbreviated, yet wisdom-filled synopsis which you have shared.
    Thanks again for all your hard work!

    • Thank you!

      Stephen Covey has been an inspiration for me on so many levels.

      I think he helped me see how we could rise above the daily noise of life and operate at a higher level.

      When I saw him speak, I was amazed by his presence, and his storytelling ability.

      I can see how he has shaped so many lives, and set a higher bar for living our values and practicing the principles of effectiveness.

Comments are closed.