7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleFor this book review I thought I would comment on Stephen Covey’s popular work The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I must admit that my main reason was to make myself read a book that has been on my shelf for quite some time (I am too embarrassed to admit to how long…) which I have used as a reference book but not read it from end to end.

First some facts:

  • to date over 25 million copies have been sold!
  • 85% of reviews on Amazon are either 5* (73%) or 4* (12%)

(NB: When I got the book I was pleasantly surprised by title! For years I thought it was titled ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People’ which I always found rather off-putting. I prefer the idea of becoming more effective as this suggests a more practical approach to life.)

When I started reading the book for this review I remembered why I never completed it all those years ago. The contents page shows a step-by-step approach to effectiveness and not every step grabbed my attention so I dipped into those that resonated with me and skipped the others!

The habits are collated in three main areas:

  • Independence (I think of this as self-management);
  • Interdependence (or relationship management); and
  • Continual improvement (i.e. personal development).

In later books Covey added an 8th Habit - Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.

My favourite habits are:

  • Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind: This habit explains the importance of having a clear vision of where you want to go (in life or work) and how to do this. As someone who tends to jump in and ‘do’ rather than thinking and planning ahead, this struck home.
  • Habit 3: Principles of personal management: In this habit Covey describes how to create the vision you have made in Habit 2 in a very pragmatic way. I see found some useful advice on how to get started on a project in this chapter and have adapted the weekly work sheet. I especially liked the idea to plan weekly and tweak daily.
  • Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood: My favourite! I would advise anyone who wants to improve their communication skills to read this chapter. Covey explains the principles of empathetic communication brilliantly and how to apply this to your own life.

Not that the other habits are not important but they did not grab my attention in the same way. They include:

  • Habit 1: Be proactive: This introduces the concepts of Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern and explains how you should start from the centre of your influence and work to expand it. Covey recommends a proactive approach to handling problems rather than being reactive and waiting (within your Circle of Concern) for problems to happen before taking action.
  • Habit 4: Think win-win: Covey provides a good argument for finding mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Win-Win isn't about being nice but is about developing an ethical code for human interaction and collaboration.
  • Habit 6: Synergize: This chapters describes the benefit of working to the strengths of individuals, through positive teamwork, in order to achieve goals that may have been impossible for one person to achieve on their own.
  • Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw: This is an importance chapter explaining why you should take care of your whole self if you want a sustainable, long-term, happy life and discusses physical, spiritual and mental renewal. However Covey is not a health expert and his suggestions for spiritual development are quite narrow (reflecting his own beliefs). Whilst the topic is important I believe that each individual should find their own way to get this balance right.

I gained quite a lot from this book so, why the early resistance?

Well, the book was first published in 1989 and this is reflected in the language which does seem a little old-fashioned. I also found the style paternal and moralistic (as in Habit 7) but, by the time I had reached chapter 2, it became less of an issue and easier to read.

It is clear why this book has sold well (over 15 million copies according to the front of my book). If you are looking for a push, and some structure, to get your life on track the 7 Habits are easy to learn and apply.