Book Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

6 minute read (1349 words)

TL;DR: Read this Book, when…

  • you’re ready to change the way you think about your interaction with the world around you
  • you want to be more effective in communicating with those around you
  • you want to learn some motives why you should change your habits
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Overview

I read the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey in my quest to shape my habits to be more productive at the things I do. Mostly at the things I do for work like my software developer job or this blog.

However, this book didn’t give me the magic formula of how to become more productive at work. Instead, it’s about changing my own paradigms and my view of the world in order to become more effective, i.e. how to make things happen in the way I want them to, especially in dealing with other people. And the way to do this is to change yourself, as the subtitle “Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” suggests (which I didn’t read before ordering the book, obviously).

Even though the book didn’t directly deliver what I have originally been looking for, it was very enlightening to read and definitely made me think about myself and my impact on the world around me. And ultimately, I’m even certain that this will make me more productive in the long run.

The book was published first when I went to elementary school, so it’s been out there for some thirty years now. As the title suggests, it’s structured around the 7 Habits that Covey has identified as main drivers for an effective and principle-based life.

The paperback edition has around 350 pages, so it’s quite a hunk to read, at least if you’re only used to reading fiction and tech books like me. But the content always drew me further, so I managed to read it completely without skipping anything.

Likes & Dislikes

The writing style is very conversational, without being too casual, which I liked very much. I also liked the sometimes very personal stories the author uses to explain the habits and why they work.

I also liked that the rationale behind each of the habits is explained in a logical way and that each chapter ends with a few valuable suggestions on how we could apply the things we learned in that chapter.

On the “dislike” side is the fact that the chapters are each very long (one for each habit). I would have liked shorter chapters better, each one focused on a certain aspect of a habit. This would have made reading through the whole book easier for me.

At some point in the first quarter of the book, the author mentions how his religious beliefs help him with the habits. As a convinced atheist, I was afraid that the book would now turn into a recruiting text, which luckily was not the case.

Key Takeaways

Be Proactive

  • act, don’t be acted upon
  • work on things within your circle of influence instead of complaining about things outside of your circle of influence
  • don’t think deterministically, as if everything is pre-determined
  • responsibility = response-ability - we can choose how to respond to a situation
  • control your feelings proactively instead of letting them control you
  • work on what you are, not on what you have
  • if you made a mistake, admit it and correct it
  • look at the weaknesses of others with compassion, not with accusation
  • use proactive language instead of reactive language (think “I will …” and “I choose …” instead of “If only …”, “I can’t …”, and “I have to…”)

Begin with the End in Mind

  • identify the different roles you have in life (father, husband, software engineer, …) and define short-term and long-term goals for each of those roles
  • create a personal mission statement defining your most important principles
  • think not only of producing, but also of your long-term production capability
  • visualize what you want to achieve

Put First Things First

  • do the important, not the urgent, in order to keep the important from getting urgent
  • use the Eisenhower Matrix with four quadrants to identify what is important and urgent to you
  • say “no” to things that are unimportant according to your mission statement
  • plan weekly and daily to make sure you do the right things
  • invest in training people to be able to delegate to them

Think Win/Win

  • thinking win (for yourself) / lose (for your counterpart) is a low-trust attitude
  • thinking lose / win is a “nice guy finishes last” attitude and is not healthy in the long run
  • thinking win / win frees up the mind for new solutions that are good for both
  • “win / win or no deal” is an option to make both sides concentrate on win / win
  • a win / win attitude requires the “abundance mentality” (there is enough for everyone) as opposed to the “scarcity mentality”
  • as a manager, win / win greatly increases the number of people you can manage since you set goals for them instead of micro-managing them
  • companies have great leverage to create a win / win attitude by setting up a suitable compensation system (among other things)

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

  • communication is the most important skill in life
  • listening without interrupting allows the speaker to open up
  • empathic listening is listening with the goal to understand
  • don’t use autobiographical responses (responses comparing yourself to the speaker) like “when I was your age, I …”, or “I would do it differently …”
  • instead re-phrase what you heard and repeat what you understood about how the speaker feels
  • without understanding your counterpart you cannot create a win / win situation
  • if you want to persuade someone, you have to understand him / her first (and then create a win / win situation)

Synergize

  • synergy allows 1 + 1 to be 100 instead of just 2
  • embrace different opinions as a chance to find a third win / win alternative to synergize on
  • you cannot synergize with people that have the same opinion as you do
  • synergy is only possible when understanding your counterpart and thinking win / win

Sharpen the Saw

  • “investment in yourself is the single most powerful investment you can ever make in life”
  • investing in all dimensions of yourself is the basis to becoming a principled person that is able to follow the 6 habits above
    • physical dimension (sports, exercise)
    • spiritual dimension (reading, music, religion, meditation)
    • mental dimension (reading, organizing, planning, journaling)
    • social / emotional dimension (understanding others, creating win / win situations)
  • a daily “private victory” (investing in yourself in the physical, spiritual or mental dimensions) is the basis for personal security and thus allows for a daily “public victory” in the social / emotional dimension

Conclusion

Even though I was a little sceptical about “7 magical habits” at first, the habits are explained in logical order and made perfect sense once I understood them (the “logical” part is especially important for me, since I’m a very rational person). They are backed with stories from the author’s life which are interwoven with the text in a natural way, without disturbing the reading flow.

This book gets my definite reading recommendation. In the least, you’ll go through life a little more self-aware after reading it. At best, you might change yourself to become more secure in life and more effective in defining and achieving goals. I’m still deciding on which of the two it was for me… .

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