7 Habits of Highly Effective People at a Glance



Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is one of the greatest books on personal development.


Because it provides a firm foundation for personal effectiveness.   Even better, it provides habits and skills you can build to realize your full potential.

The 7 Habits

Here are the 7 habits of highly effective people, according to Stephen Covey:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win/win
  5. Seek to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people can help you in work and life.  They are evergreen patterns and practices that the most successful people use to be effective.

7 Habits Summarized

Here are quick notes for each habit to help you adopt them that can help you throughout life.

1. Be Proactive

Act or be acted upon.  Don’t wait for things to happen.  Take action and exercise your initiative. 

According to Covey, the difference between those who take initiative and those who don’t makes the difference in effectiveness “about a 5,000-plus percent difference, particularly if they are smart, aware, and sensitive to others.”

2. Begin with the End in Mind

Figure out what you want to accomplish, before starting out.  Get a clear picture of the outcome or end result that you want to drive to. 

Work backwards from this end in mind. 

Covey says, “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.  

It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”  

According to Covey, begin with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice.

3. Put First Things First

Habit #3, Put First Things First, is an exercise in self-management.  It’s the day-in, day out, moment by moment exercise of becoming principle-centered.  Habit #1, Be Proactive, is about taking charge.  Habit #2, is the mental creation of your ideal end in mind.  Habit #3, is the second creation, the physical creation. 

It’s really the art of practicing effective self-management. 

Your priorities and principles serve as the backbone.  

Covey shares two questions to put habit #3, Put First Things First, into practice:

  1. Question #1:  What one thing could you do that if you did on a regular basis would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life? 
  2. Question #2: What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?

4. Think Win / Win

Find a way for everyone involved to win.  According to Covey, “Win/Win is a belief in the Third Alternative.  It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.”

5.  Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Don’t listen with the intent to reply.  Listen with the intent to understand.    It takes consideration and courage.  According to Covey, “Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood requires courage.”  Covey recommends practicing empathic listening, which means to listen until the other person *feels* you heard them.

6.  Synergize

The challenge of synergy is to apply the principle of creative cooperation.  According to Covey, “The highest forms of synergy focus the four unique human endowments, the motive of Win/Win, and the skills of empathic communication on the toughest challenges we face in life.  What results is almost miraculous.  We create new alternatives – something that wasn’t there before.”

7. Sharpen the Saw

Habit #7, Sharpen the Saw, is preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.   According to Covey, taking time to sharpen the saw is the habit that makes all the other habits possible.   Covey recommends renewing the four dimensions of your nature – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.

The 7 Habits in Real Life

Interestingly, these habits serve me well in just about any job or any situation.

I’ve always been a self-starter, which is critical for the Program Manager role.

Similarly, whenever I set out to do significant work or put any time into significant things, I begin with the end in mind.

A big part of project success, product success, or personal success comes down to putting first things first.

I very naturally go for the win/win because it’s the key to influence without authority.  I learned long ago that you have to first seek to understand, then to be understood, or you’re just fighting for air time, and without rapport, there is no influence.

Synergize also comes naturally to me because I want more from the whole than the parts, and I want more out of the time I and energy I invest. 

As a life-long learner, sharpening the saw is how I continuously re-invent myself and stay relevant as the game changes under my feet.

Of course, it’s one thing to “know” the habits, it’s another thing to do habits.   Here are some tips on how to change habits and making them stick.  If you want to get hard-core about habit change, here’s how to use Agile Results to change a habit.

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