7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Book) – Thoughts and Notes

This week I read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (book) by Stephen R. Covey. What a great book with tons of insight into life-long habits and practices and the foundation behind them.

7 Habits

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 9.00.17 AMThere’s a lot to this book and certainly more than I will put into a blog post. But I want to get some of the main thoughts I had on the book.

Many of the habits are somewhat “common place” now – not to say they are any less potent but since it came out in 1990, the wisdom of this book has permeated much of society and business that they may not sound new. Though it’s still good to read “the source” of the 7 Habits.

The start of the book, before the 7 habits, is Part 1: Paradigms and Principles and the overview. Those might have been my favorite parts…

Here’s some concepts and ideas that I really liked…

Character Ethics vs Personality Ethics

In 7 Habits Covey discusses that through his research he found that after WWI the focus of ethics changed from be character based (i.e., have honest, have integrity, the Golden Rule, etc.) to being personality based (i.e., your reputation, people’s perception, etc.).

Primary and Secondary Greatness

You can cram for a test and get a good grade but you can’t cram a wheat harvest. Some things take time including real success and development of character. There are no short cuts.

Paradigm Shift

If you have the wrong map, it won’t matter what else you do – you’ll get lost and never reach your destination. We always need to be checking our paradigms and perceptions (our worldview) to make sure we’re using the right map for where we want to go.

Principle-Centered Paradigm

Principles are fundament and don’t change: fairness, integrity, honesty, human dignity, services, excellence – base your paradigm on these things. It’s not practices or even values though they can be related.

Maturity Continuum

You start with dependence (e.g., children, new employee, etc.) and move to maturity (e.g., you can do things for yourself) and hopefully move on to interdependence (e.g., working well with others as a sum greater than the parts).


Production needs to be in balance with Production Capability – shortcuts to increase PC may come at the cost of P and vice versa. If you cut open the goose that lays the golden eggs to get to them more quickly (i.e., increase Production), you’ll kill your goose (i.e., destroy Production Capability).

“That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its goods.” ~ Thomas Paine

7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Habit #1: Be Proactive

Viktor Frankl, during his time in a Nazi concentration camp realized, for humans, there’s there ability to make a choice between stimulus and response. We have a “response ability” – responsibility. We can choose how to respond as opposed to react out of instinct or pure emotion. It’s very freeing.

Given that responsibility in how we respond, we shouldn’t blame outside stimuli for what we do. We can respond and change by increasing our circle of influence on what we can affect (mostly ourself).

Habit #2: Start with the End in Mind

In this section of 7 Habits, Covey gives the reader an exercise to write out what you’d hope various people would say at your funeral. He also asks you to think about your “center” – what gives you your security, guidance, wisdom and power.

I took a few minutes to write out some notes on what I’d hope people would say – it’s not something I spent a ton of time on but I didn’t want to just blow past this exercise:

My funeral speakers:

  • Family: that I was a living, caring and fun husband and dad. That I always had time for them, always listened, helped and shared dreams, was patient, always helped, cared for health and hopes physical, emotional and spiritual. A great example, encouragement and inspiration.
  • Friend: same
  • Church: same
  • Work: did a great job, was responsible and considerate.

Another exercise in that section is to determine a mission statement. These things lead you in how to start things with the end in mind. How can you determine how to get there or when you’ve arrived if you don’t know where you’re going?

I created my mission statement based on my roles. It’s not something I spent a week or weekend on but it was what I felt at that time and might be better than what I’d “wish” I wanted…

Mission statement: Love God and find my joy in Him while being light and salt. To love others and make them better and closer to Him especially my family. To lead by example with a life fully characterized by love.

My roles:

  • Child of God – kingk Him, know and hide His Word in my heart, make Him my center and source of joy. To find such joy in Him that it’s borderline inappropriate.
  • Husband – to lay down my life, to lead by example, to love with time, listening and seeking her joy
  • Father – to lead by example, invest in their souls, to craft a view of life in joy and love
  • Church/friends – to love with care, to seek to know and reveal self
  • Provider – to trust God and have integrity in excellent work, to seek ways to expand revenue without too great of a sacrifice of time, trust Him and plant seeds
  • Me – slow down, do less, be more, cut the fat, balance disciple and fun, value joy and beauty

He also encourages the read to create affirmations that are personal, positive, present tense, visual and emotional (e.g., I (personal) am (present tense) honest (positive) and enjoy (emotional) looking people in the eye (visual)). Visualization is also encouraged.

Habit #3: Put First Things First

The third of 7 Habits is about priorities. If habit 1 is “you can write the program” and habit 2 is “write the program” then habit 3 is “run the program.”

He breaks down tasks into four quadrants

7 Habits Quadrants
7 Habits Quadrants

The main idea is to spend time in Quadrant II as much as possible. It will prevent things from going to Quadrant I. Quadrant III and IV are deception and waste. I didn’t get the sense in the book that he meant never do them, but as far as when you’re trying to “be effective”, those are the tasks to avoid.

He also encourages planning your day accordingly and find the right tools to manage this type of prioritizing including delegation. He describes how delegating with stewardship (not delegating and micromanaging) increases your productivity (output) with less change to work/effort (input).

Habit #4: Think Win/Win

Before starting this 7 habits section, Covey describes the Paradigms of Interdependence. People have “emotional bank accounts” – if you make regular deposits, there’a balance there for when you need a withdrawal (e.g., hurt someone).

Deposits come in forms of understanding the individual, attending to the little things, keeping commitments, clarifying expectations, showing personal integrity and apologizing sincerely when you make a withdrawal.

Every P (Production) problem is a PC (Production Capability) opportunity.

In number four of the 7 habits, Covey explains how we need to shoot for win/win deals. That’s commonly understood today, I believe. It’s also interesting how he points out the other options. In particular, lose/win stood out to me. That you “sacrifice” something for the sake of someone else.

That might be fine, but if you’re really on the “lose” side it’s not a true sacrifice. There can be bitterness and worse.

So a way you can approach things is “Win/Win or No Deal.” Choose to see it such that if you can’t get a win/win situation, you’ll walk away.

I actually use this a lot in my work: if it’s really not best, it will result in something worse than just walking away. Many times it leads to referring a client to someone else or similar such that it can come back around later in another win/win somehow.

The path is character leads to relationships which leads to agreements. Then you need supportive systems and processes to maintain it.

Another great concept he points out in 7 habits is the “scarcity mentality.” I have to admit I’m guilty of this. It’s the idea that there’s maybe not enough to go around. If one person succeeds, it means others (me) can’t.

I don’t feel like I practice this in business on a large scale – I’d rather refer work to someone else than take the wrong client. But on a smaller scale, I think I do it. If someone gets a certain gig I wanted, I’m disappointed. That’s fine, but I need to remember that there’s plenty for everyone. So far I believe my experience is that it’s true. Maybe it’s just a negative aspect of a healthy dose of drive and competitiveness. #justification

  • Character – integrity, maturity (consideration and courage)
  • Relationships – care enough to work through issues
  • Agreements – desired results, guidelines, resources, accountability, consequences (good and bad)

Supportive Systems – shift to systems that support win/win cooperation


  1. See the problem from the other point of view and seek to understand
  2. Identify key issues and concerns
  3. Determine results that would be a solution
  4. Identify options to achieve results

Habit #5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

This is a great habit for me – not because I need it more than the others, but because it goes against my personality. When I ask a question, I typically want “yes” or “no.” I often specifically aim to ask it in such a way. My wife and I are different. 🙂 Thank God.

Covey encourages in 7 Habits to practice “Empathetic Listening.” Listen to understand and communicate back understanding. It’s not mimicking what they said but communicating back that you understand their meaning.

No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

The Greeks have three artistic proofs or modes of persuasion: ethos (character), pathos (feeling) and logos (logic). A good communicator will use all three. Listen, empathize/understand, share.

Habit #6: Synergize

The idea here is that no man is an island. The sum is greater than the parts. 1 + 1 = 3 (or more)

On the graph of trust and communication, as both increase you reach synergy and win/win. So earn trust, give trust where deserved, communicate empathetically and work together. Value the differences in others and work towards each using their strengths.

Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw – Principles of Self Renewal

Covey breaks down the dimensions of renewal into four groups:

  1. Physical
  2. Social/Emotional
  3. Spiritual
  4. Mental

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous
consequences come from little things…
I am tempted to think there are no little things.
~ Bruce Barton

We all need to improve ourselves, take time out, weed the garden, get R&R, etc. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. Each area of our life contributes to our effectiveness. If we drop off in one area, we’ll be out of balance and all areas will suffer.

Sometimes you need to stop and sharpen the saw. Stopping the “work” in that case is actually for the greater good.

At the end of 7 Habits Covey shares a bit of his faith with people and how he believes God is the creator and author of the principles he’s been writing about. It’s not heavy handed, but it’s a good admission of his center.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” ~Teilhard de Chardin

It’s a great book. I wish I had read it years ago. Because I didn’t, I’ve learned some of this content over the years – from others, the “hard way”, etc. But his insight comes through and is very encouraging.

As a list the 7 habits are…

  • Habit #1: Be Proactive
  • Habit #2: Start 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: Synergize
  • Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw

I believe the one I need to work on the most is #5. I hope to become a more empathetic listener.

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