The first business book I ever read was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People* by Stephen R. Covey. I was taking a Business Communications class in college, and each group of students was assigned a different book.
Our group read this book and then created a presentation to teach the rest of the class about its principles. In theory, the class would learn about five books in the time it would take to read one. Realistically, though, we really only got to know the book we read. Luckily, I loved the book we read.
Covey goes into detail about a system that helps people be more effective, both at home and at work. As the title suggests, there are seven steps to reach maximum efficiency. And in normal Built by Books style, we will highlight the strategies of the book and how they can be directly applied to your career.
If you do not want to read the details of the steps, use this graphic to get the gist. If you want details, read on!
Before we go through the steps, you need to be open to a paradigm shift. Generally speaking, a paradigm shift happens when you adopt a new or different way of thinking. Old habits die hard, and old paradigms do, too.
For example, I am a serial dieter. Every winter, I find myself going through some fad diet to prepare for a summer event (or for summer in general). I have counted calories, done the Dukan Diet and Arbonne 30-Day Cleanse, cut carbs, eaten Paleo, exercised, and a combination of those strategies. For me, diet was a tool to get down to my desired weight. After the event, I would go back to my normal, fast-food loving ways.
For some reason, the word “diet” had a whole new meaning for me this past winter. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of the word “diet” is about what people eat and drink on a regular basis. Diets are not meant to be fads or temporary; they are meant to be habits.
In January, I got into the habit of trying new recipes and adjusting them for my taste. I was disciplined and noticed results after a week. That part was normal. The new revelation came when I realized that healthy eating was holistic.
If we went out with friends, I did not deprive myself of the food I loved. I enjoyed my meal then used the next meal as a chance to get back to no carbs. I did not guilt myself, I did not just throw the whole diet out. Instead, my new frame of mind was about eating in general. So what if I ate carbs this meal? Or four times in a row? Just shake it off, and start again.
Your paradigm shift can be about anything: how meetings are run, how you conduct feedback, how your work processes go, how household chores get delegated, etc. The point is that if there is an area of life you want to improve, you need to open up your mind and shift your way of thinking about it.
Okay, now onto Covey’s system. The seven habits he describes are:
- Be Proactive
- Begin with the End in Mind
- Put First Things First
- Think Win/Win
- Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
- Sharpen Your Saw
In this world, there are things you can control and things you cannot. You control your reaction to outside forces and actions put upon you, but you cannot directly control them.
Covey stresses the importance of focusing your time and energy only on things you control. When something out of your control hits you, do not dwell on it. It is easier said than done, but when you can do this, you can become more efficient. You focus on the stuff that really matters in life.
Begin with the End in Mind
For me, this is all about reverse engineering your goals. Think about the goal you want to achieve, then figure out how to achieve it. Better yet, write it out.
We have a career development planner in the resource library, so if you have not already checked it out, we highly recommend using it to write out your career goals. The planner allows you to visualize your goal, evaluate where you are now, and then brainstorm ways to reach your goal.
Put First Things First
Think about what needs to get done now then do that. Best practices include doing the most dreaded tasks first, the small important ones in little spurts of time between big tasks, and outsourcing tasks that are urgent but not important for you to do.
Many people use an urgency/importance grid to outline which task is which. We have that free worksheet for you, too, if you want a head-start! Just click the picture or sign up at the end of the article.
As a former consumer packaged goods salesperson, I had to constantly find win/win solutions. I went into people’s stores and gave them recommendations on how to grow their business. They could quickly see when I was simply pushing something on them that was only good for me. But when I really understood their problem (more on that next) and presented solutions that helped them, there was true accountability and collaboration.
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Have you ever been guilty of thinking of what you want to say next while someone is talking to you? Yeah, me too. When we do this, we are missing key points of the other person’s problem, struggle, or situation.
Only after you understand the other person should you try and explain your stance.
One way to plan your synergies is to map out what and who you can use in your project. We have an example mind map in the resource library (click the picture or sign up below), but it is as simple as grabbing a scrap piece of paper and drawing out the web.
Sharpen Your Saw
All good machines need regular maintenance, and people are no different. Be consistent with evaluating your skills and goals then re-calibrate to stay on track for success. The aforementioned career development planner is great for re-planning. No matter which tool you use, just make sure you are keeping track of your progress.
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*This post contains an affiliate link for the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As a bookworm, I only recommend the books I love. I hope you like it, too!
Additional Resource: Book Summary