7 habits of highly effective people – By Stephen R. Covey Book Summary

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People written by Stephen R. Covey is a cracking great self-improvement book and can be used as  a guide to observing top performers behaviours. In a nutshell, real effectiveness comes from clarity about your principles, values, and vision. Covey believes that the way we see the world is based entirely on our own perceptions. In order to change the world, we must change ourselves, and in order to change ourselves, we must be able to change our perceptions. Change is only real when it becomes a habit.

Everyone wants to succeed. And the first path to success is to identify effective habits that can help us on our journey. The book opens with an explanation of those who achieved a high degree of outward success but still struggling to develop personal effectiveness and growing healthy relationships with other people. Covey regarded real greatness as the result of the slow development of character; our daily habits of thinking and acting. 

Covey’s book strikes a nerve because it shows many people what genuine responsibility is about. To blame ‘the economy’ ‘my job’ or  ‘my family’ for our troubles was useless. To be happy and achieve well, we have to decide what we will take responsibility for, what is in our ‘circle of concern’. Only by working on ourselves could we hope to expand our ‘circle of influence’. 


Covey’s 7 Habits

  1. Be Proactive 
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put First Things First 
  4. Think Win-Win 
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood 
  6. Synergize 
  7. Sharpen the Saw

Every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change. Albert Einstein

Habit 1: Be Proactive 

The first habit that Covey discusses is to be proactive. Being proactive is about taking responsibility for your life. You’re in charge. You write the story by which to live your life. You write the script and change the chapters as you see fit. And it is you who is responsible for that book.  You must accept full responsibility for your life the way your conscience tells you that it was meant to be lived. 

So in order to be effective one must be proactive.  Proactive people, recognize that they have responsibility  which Covey defines as the ability to choose how you will respond to a given situation. Instead of reacting negatively to or worrying about conditions over which you have little or no control over, proactive people focus their time and energy instead on the things they can control. 

  • I can change the way I feel 
  • I will succeed in life no matter the circumstances 

In order to be proactive, we must work on the things we can do something about. Convey mentions the problems, challenges, and opportunities we face fall into two areas–Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. 

The Circle of Concern is the area that we have no control over.

The Circle of Influence is the area that we have control over.

Proactive people focus on the circle of influence  and concentrate on the things they can do something about.  Such examples include health, education, lifestyle, career and at home life. Reactive people however, focus their efforts on things of which they have little or no control falling into the Circle of Concern.  Examples include terrorism, the weather, and the economy. Gaining an awareness of where your energies go to is a giant step in becoming proactive.  In other words concentrate you energies to things you can change.

The way to bring about change is to be proactive and active.”  –   Octavia Spencer.

Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind

Habit 2 is based on our imagination–the ability to visualize in your mind what you presently don’t have. There are two creations involved – first a mental creation, and second a physical creation. You must create a mental vision first before you can create the physical one, just as you would build a house, you follow a blueprint. If you don’t visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you allow other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. So use your imagination to develop a vision of what you want to become and use your integrity to decide what values will guide you.

Covey mentions a good point – our self-awareness empowers us to shape our lives. He suggest to “visualize your own funeral”.  Imagine the people in attendance ? Who is there?  What are they saying about you –  about how you lived your life? What do you want them to say?. What would each of them say about you? How do you want them to remember you? Think about it. What legacy will you leave behind?

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Habit 3 is the actual creation of our goals, dealing with time management and prioritizing things, what is most important when it comes to achieving our objectives. In order to manage ourselves effectively, we must put first things first. We must have the discipline to prioritize our day-to-day actions based on what is most important. 

Eisenhower  methods for time management  and productivity have been studied for year by many people. His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now.  Using the decision matrix below, you will separate your actions based on four possibilities.

  • Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  • Important, but not urgent (tasks you can schedule to do later).
  • Urgent, but not important (tasks you can delegate to someone else).
  • Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you can eliminate).

Habit 4: Think Win-Win 

One person’s success does not need to be achieved at the expense of others. Think Win-Win isn’t about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It’s based on our principles and values which should never be compromised.  We should try not to play a “dirty” game to win and risk our very core values or the company’s ones.  What we can do is must commit to creating win-win situations that are mutually beneficial and satisfying to all parties. In other words there is enough pie for everyone to go around.  If you both walk away happy with what you’ve gained from the deal, then that’s a win-win!

Covey recommends the best option is to create Win-Win situations. A person or organization that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude possesses three vital character traits:

  • Abundance Mentality: believing there is plenty for everyone
  • Integrity: sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments
  • Maturity: expressing your ideas with consideration for the ideas and feelings of others


Get yourself to start thinking Win-Win situations:  For example think about an upcoming meeting where you’ll need to reach an agreement or solution. Write down a list of what the other person is looking for. Then next to that write a list of how you can make an offer to meet those needs.

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities

Habit 5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood 

“You’ve spent years of your life learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening?” 

Being able to communicate is the most important skill in life. You spend so many years learning how to read, write and speak. But what about listening?  Communication is a two way process and it involves both how we send and receive messages. People spend more time listening than using any other form of communication, yet many were never taught the skill. Many of us never had a lesson in truly listening or given any guidelines about deeply understanding another human being?

The problem mostly begins that when we listen to people while they are talking, inside our brain we are preparing our response and therefore not actually listening to that person fully.   Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating.

Listening is more than just hearing the words. It’s about truly understanding other people’s messages as well as understanding their circumstances and feelings.  So before we can offer advice we must seek to deeply understand them and their perspective through empathic listening.

Communication is one of the toughest issues in organizations.  True communication is a conversation, not a presentation.  Open communication between company leaders, teams and members helps companies become more successful. No leader is skilled unless he or she is effective in communication.

Empathy is the ability to envision oneself into the personality of another person in order to better understand that person’s emotions or feelings. More or less step into that persons shoes for a while. Through empathic listening the listener lets the speaker know, “I understand your problem and how you feel about it, I am interested in what you are saying and I am interested in being a resource to help you resolve this problem.”

HABIT 6: Synergize 

To put it simply, synergy means “two heads are better than one.”  Synergize is the habit of creative cooperation. It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. But it doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a process, and through that process, people bring all their personal experiences and expertise to the table. Together, they can produce far better results that they could individually.

When people begin to interact together genuinely, and they’re open to each other’s influence, they begin to gain new insights.  

HABIT 7: Sharpen the Saw 

Our health is our wealth and we must nourish and look after the greatest asset we have – our body.  There are four dimensions to the body, and each must be exercised, maintained regularly and in sync with each other. physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Example of how we maintain each area include the following

To look after ourselves physically we must eat well, Get sufficient rest and relaxation and exercise on a regular basis to build endurance, flexibility, and strength 

To look after ourselves spiritually we can practice daily meditation, communicate with nature, immerse yourself in great books and music. 

To look after ourselves mentally and continue expanding our mind, it’s great to always read. Keep progressing forward.  Keep a journal of your thoughts, experiences, and insights, Limit television watching to only those programs that enrich you.

And finally to look after our social and emotional side we can seek to deeply understand our self and  other people, Make contributions to meaningful projects that improve the lives of others. We must look to inspire others to a higher path by showing them we believe in them, by listening to them empathically, by encouraging them to be proactive. 

As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life. Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other six habits. You get better at handling challenges around you. If you don’t focus on these 4 dimensions, the body becomes weak, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish. Feeling good doesn’t just happen. Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. It’s all up to you. All it takes is the desire, knowledge, and skill.