Featured image of post The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - book review

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - book review

Be effective, start today!

Many of us either in the school, or at work, or in any of the great speeches would have heard of the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. Give it a thought, pause for a minute and think about what effectiveness is and what efficiency is? Think of your own daily activities… can you name at least one activity in which you are very effective and one activity in which you are very efficient? What difference does that make?

Well, in very simple terms, being effective is doing the ‘right’ thing and being efficient is doing the thing ‘rightly’. So, it, essentially, is the purpose that differentiates effectiveness from efficiency. Assume you are a team leader, you are effective only when you and your team is aligned to the company’s vision, mission and goals — more the alignment more effective you will be. If you are not aligned with the vision, mission, and goals then you are not effective, all your efforts are of no use no matter how good you are at doing what you do. On the other hand, you are efficient if you are good at doing what you do, doesn’t really matter if it is important, or if it solves any problem at all. You are efficient in doing something if you are good at it irrespective of it being useful or not.

For example, assume you work in a company which manufactures ‘Moulded Dies’. If you make 1000 dies a day, you may be the most efficient person in the company to make dies. But you are completely ineffective if you make circular dies while the company wanted you to make square dies. All your efforts are waste and do not solve any problem, there is no purpose to what you do. In another example, a tablet for headache is ineffective if you use it if you have a stomach ache. No matter how many tablets you eat, unless you take the right tablet you will not be cured of the ailment. So, effectiveness is determined by taking the final goal/result into consideration.

In fact, in my own case, I have taken a resolution to read 24 books this year. I will be fully efficient in reading 24 books if I complete reading all of them. But, will I be effective? I will be effective if I read good books and take lessons from those books rather than just reading them. As a matter of fact, I have realized that ‘24 books a year’ is quite some benchmark and I am falling short by a large margin! So, my efficiency has gone for a toss. However, I think, as I am able to take lessons from these books I am getting better at being effective in my life, each page at a time.

So, stop for a moment. Think. Why are you doing what you are doing? Is that what you really should be doing or are you doing it because you are told to do so? Is that what your goal is? Is that what you seek in your life? Is that your ultimate purpose? In our lives, we are all paid for being efficient, for being good at what we do. In fact, we strive to be the best in the business. And someone else is paying for it because someone sees that you are effective for him/her… you are giving them the results they want. But, are you giving yourself the results you want? Are you really effective for yourself?

Stephen R Covey is widely known for his famous book — “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I finished reading the book recently and it has a great impact on how I think, how I talk and everything I do. So, here I am, sharing my views and lessons from the book. These are either the habits Stephen described in detail in the book or the habits that I seek to inculcate in my life. I do not really intend to review the book, as this book doesn’t require any review and it just is a great book for everyone out there who aspires to become a better self, every day.

When we say habits, all we recollect are the typical habits like getting up early in the morning, or reading a newspaper regularly or greeting your colleagues, or being punctual always, etc. These are just behavioral habits which can be practiced and displayed at a physical level and may not necessarily reflect a change or improvement at a deeper level. A level at which you truly believe in displaying them, and have complete integrity between your belief and actions. This change requires a stronger will and takes a huge character-building exercise. The 7 habits described by Stephen use that character-building.

Stephen uses the terms ‘Personal Ethics’ and ‘Character Ethics’; personal ethics are the ethical standards which are set to keep your behavior or personality in check. Behavioral or personality traits are visible to others and you rely on others’ feedback to measure your progress or improvement. These are all outward signs and projections others can notice. You, however, may not have a strong desire internally to keep up to these standards or you may lose interest if others stop giving you the feedback. These can be easily affected if they do not yield the required results.

For example, assume you determine to go to the gym regularly. You start going to the gym for 15 days and after 15 days if you notice that there is no change in your physique or if nobody has appreciated you for your efforts to go to the gym daily, you will lose all the interest and desire you had in the beginning and you stop going to gym. There was no real desire for self-improvement, only an attempt for outwardly change for immediate results to continue further. If results are not seen, you may never continue and no habit is formed. On the contrary, habits are formed by doing them, again and again, every day, and they then drive results, not the other way round. This requires a deep resolution that gets etched in your character.

Character ethics are your standards which you truly believe in. They are not set at a superficial physical level. They are basic principles of effective living and people can experience true success and happiness when they integrate these basic principles into their character. These principles are like guiding light, like lighthouses, they give direction and show the destination. These are the basic principles like integrity, humility, patience, simplicity, modesty, etc. It may sound very absurd and you may even think how can these help form habits! But, your character, fundamentally, influences everything you do — influences others and the environment around you. Your deep motives manifest into reality. So, unless there is a resolution to correct yourself deep down, at a fundamental level, you cannot form a habit that will be sustainable and help you experience true success.

It is only after you resolve yourself at an inner level, which is in your complete control, will you be able to move further and work on resolving other external factors which are not in your complete control, but which can be influenced. If you yourself are fundamentally flawed, without any respect to your own set of ethics, then you can never expect others to respect you. Without this respect and influence, you lose the sanctity in the interpersonal relationships and never be able to be effective which involves others.

An interpersonal relationship is as much important as your own ability to do things, as your effectiveness is not just a function of how you do things. In this world of interpersonal dependence, your effectiveness is fundamentally a function of you and other factors around you. In fact, in many cases, the factors around you play a major role to determine your effectiveness and if you can influence these factors around you, you can create synergy and be more effective.

In Stephen’s own words, you have two circles you find yourself in. The first is the ‘Circle of Concern’ and the second is the ‘Circle of Influence’. The circle of concern is where the problem is, where there is constant pain and worry. Unable to meet the targets is a concern for a sales manager or a child playing too much video game is a concern for a parent. In every difficult situation, you find yourself trapped in a circle of concern and deeply absorbed in the nuances of the problem. By being engrossed in the circle, you do not solve the problem. It only adds to the worry you already have and doesn’t take you away from it. However, solving this problem requires a completely new paradigm, which Stephen calls as ‘Circle of Influence’.

Circle of influence is where you have your influence, where you can actually control things which can affect your circle of concern and thereby solve the problem. You cannot really solve a problem by focusing on the problem, you can only solve it by focusing on the solution. It may sound very rudimentary and cliched, but this needs a completely different mindset — a mindset which is positive, problem-solving, creative, open for change, open for suggestions, and open for trial and failure. It takes a lot of courage to work with this mindset, as you may not necessarily see light at the end of the tunnel, but you stay positive and keep moving. By working in your circle of influence, you make positive progress. You know that you are working on a solution and any small positive effect will boost your confidence. Your confidence will be a cause for more progress leading to more positive effect. This builds a positive spiral and over time, you make so much progress that you don’t realize you are already out of the problem and take one positive step towards being effective.

As you work on the things you can control, things you can influence, you will be able to solve the problems in the circle of concern and eventually you notice that the circle of concern becomes smaller and smaller. So, you have to work in the circle of influence and grow your circle of influence. Bigger the circle, better will be your chances to be more effective. You are the center of the circle of influence. You form the essential core. As mentioned earlier, you can only influence others if they trust you, if they respect you and if they find you credible. So, it is important that you win yourself first — make yourself credible, before you make an attempt to win others or influence others. Stephen calls this ‘Private Victory’. Private Victory is the starting point of gaining others’ trust. And only Private Victory can lead to ‘Public Victory’, winning others. Private Victory always precedes Public Victory. No individual would show any interest in you or respect you if you don’t do it yourself. Effectiveness always starts with Private Victory, followed by Public Victory.

Stephen lays out the 7 habits with the first 3 focusing on Private Victory, the second 3 focusing on Public Victory and the last one on how to get better at these habits. With the context given above, let us look at these 7 habits.

All these habits are briefly given below. I wrote them in the shortest way possible. If you want to read them in detail, you must read the book. It is worth its time.

Habit 1: Be proactive

Being proactive is often confused with being fast or being quick. Being fast or quick is just one part of it. You are truly proactive if you are responsible and reliable. You make conscious efforts to ensure that are on top of the things which are expected from you. By doing so, you tend to be fast and quick. For example, assume you work in an IT firm and your client is a big deal for your company. Your team is working on a product and the release date is just a week away. You are NOT proactive if you do not really care about the quality and longevity of the product. You may just ensure that the product is working well in all test cases. But being proactive would mean, you take the complete responsibility of the product — even those aspects which otherwise would not be evident to the client. In the worst case, you will proactively communicate to the client about all the ‘invisible’ aspects of the product. But, never find discomfort in telling the truth, rather find comfort in not hiding anything. Taking responsibility is a huge mindset makeover. You do not usually own anything unless you are absolutely convinced about yourself and your ability to take ownership. And taking ownership in everything you do keeps you on top of things and tests your ability to take them to closure. You do not complain about how others were responsible for your failure. You take the beating if you fail and enjoy the fruit if you succeed. You own the failure as much as you own the success.

Habit 2: Start with the end in the mind

Start with the end in the mind means that you are clear with what your expectations of the end outcome are. You know exactly what you want. You know the outcome you are working for. This outcome is something that you feel very well connected to. This outcome could be an immediate activity you are working on, or a short term goal of a year or a long term goal of 20 years or anything which you do. The idea is, unless you know what you are working for, you cannot prepare yourself for it and you may not be moving in the right direction to complete it. In many cases, the outcome you intend is only possible with right efforts from different people around you and you cannot ensure that all are moving in the right direction if you are not clear of what you want! Without having any goal or end result in mind is like a cat chasing its tail — the cat may find itself busy but is utterly pointless for others.

Habit 3: Prioritize

Stephen very well quotes: “People prioritize their schedules, but in fact, they should schedule their priorities”. Prioritizing things has been one main focus of many people who try to be more effective. However, most of these ‘prioritization’s are on urgent items, burning issues, critical concerns, unexpected escalations, etc. It is understandable that which cannot be postponed, which needs immediate attention should be treated with priority. But, could these cases be avoided? In most of the cases, it is yes! We generally do not tend to focus on fixing a severe problem with long term solution — so the problem repeats itself and consumes our ‘urgent’ time. We do not spend time on creating a robust system, leaving loopholes which require your attention time and again. If you are a process manager, you can relate to how important setting a good process is. If you do not spend enough time creating a foolproof process, you regret spending unimaginably more time fixing smaller issues which occur at a later point in time. This is an ineffective way of doing things though you may be spending your time in firefighting doing something which is both important and urgent. However, you could have avoided this situation if you had spent enough time doing something which was important but not urgent — setting up the process in the first place.

This takes us to the second habit — start with the end in your mind. If you think long and start early, you will be working on something which is important but not urgent. But over time, you will have a robust process in place which will avoid all minor issues which do not need your attention. So, the ideal way of doing things is spending more time on ‘Important but not urgent’ activities. Initially, it will be challenging to move away from doing ‘important and urgent’ activities to ‘important but not urgent activities’, but as long as you have your end goal in mind you will consider the challenges unimportant or work to resolve them. As you do more of ‘important but not urgent’ activities, you notice that your ‘important and urgent’ bucket of activities becomes smaller and smaller and that is the ideal way you can be more effective.

Habit 4: Think win-win

In the majority of your activities, you deal with people either directly or indirectly. And their involvement determines your effectiveness. You cannot win everything with your effort alone. You need others also to support you, in your cause. But, in order to win, you tend to disregard others and think only about how you can win without much concern about others. This will hamper your relationship with others and may not be the most effective way of doing things in the long run.

The ‘win-win’ thinking comes from an abundance mentality. Abundance mentality says that there is enough cake for both the parties to take away. Abundance mentality creates broader and bigger platforms for discussions for both the parties and you both would discover newer ways and newer ideas of doing things which otherwise did not exist. Also, it is not possible to find everyone who is happy with the ‘win-win’ model of working. There are people who only work with ‘lose-win’ mentality — where they win and you lose. The best way in such cases is you convince the other person for a ‘win-win’ deal, else walk away. There is no use wasting your time when you know that it is not the most effective way of doing things in the long run. It will collapse one day. So, refrain from it from the beginning only. At the same time, do not press on others for a ‘win-lose’ deal — this will again hamper your relationship on the long run. Refrain from it as well. Always think ‘win-win’.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand than to be understood

Understanding others is what we think we do, but seldom do it. It is only our perception that we have understood the other person well. It takes an unbelievably long time to actually understand the other person. And it is very much essential that we build this understanding. We do not listen well to understand completely, we listen only to respond back. In our hurry to make others understand, we lose our ability to understand others. We all have our own set of presumptions, our own ideals, our own principles and our own way of looking at things. But to understand the other person well, you need to first know their complete point of view, the reason for such a point of view. Only after you know that will you be able to understand. Only when you understand others will you be able to consider their true point of view and accommodate in your thinking and thereby comprehensively building a more accurate ‘win-win’ situation.

So, stop listening to respond and start listening to understand and empathize. Listen, not just by words, but by tone, mannerisms, body language, and all aspects of non-verbal communication. Everything speaks if you listen.

Habit 6: Synergize

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of individual parts. Assume that in a manufacturing company, two products X and Y are sold at ₹100 and ₹200 respectively. The company then uses some of its techniques to combine X and Y and creates a new product that can be sold at ₹500. Here, an additional value of ₹200 is created! This is synergy. Synergy doesn’t only happen in physical entities or companies. The reason synergy existed in the manufacturing company above is because different people have come together and created a new product. So, synergy can be created when different people come together with a mindset to create something more than what is existing.

In order for you to be more effective, you need to synergize with others. Only when this happens will you be able to do more with less — less time, less money… fewer resources and fewer resources are a crucial part of the effectiveness equation. With this synergistic way of doing things in the right direction, you will be more effective.

Habit 7: Sharpen your saw

Being effective is a never-ending process. There is always more that you can do of yourself, for yourself. It needs an open mind to learn new things, new ways, meet new people and do new things. You need to sharpen your saw, keep getting better at your habits in the area of Private Victory as well as in the area of Public Victory. Visit them, every day and try to be better the next day. It is the only way forward to be more effective. You don’t postpone it to tomorrow, you do it today. With these, I leave you with the 7 Habits I read in the book and find useful in building an effective lifestyle — a minute improvement each day, every day!

Thank you for reading! 🙏🏼

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