Every now and again you come across a book that has a significant impact on you.   “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” profoundly changed the way I operate in both my personal and professional life and I think it could do the same for anyone who reads it and applies the lessons within.

Written in the late ‘80’s by leadership and organisational expert, Stephen Covey, its classic messages never go out of style. The demands of the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world in which we live makes the book perhaps even more relevant now than when it was first published.

For me personally and professionally, I’ve found that the messages in the book ground me and help keep me tracking towards how I want to live and what I want to achieve in my life.

The first three habits are about “private victory” – self-management. The next three are about “public victory” which means becoming interdependent – positive relationships for greater effectiveness. The final (7th) habit deals with how to ensure sustainability of the previous six habits.  In this post I’ll be talking about the “private victory” habits. The rest will be discussed in my next blog.


Private Victory – Self-management for clarity and personal effectiveness


Proactivity is based on the principle that we are all responsible for our own lives and that our behaviour is a function of our decisions not our conditions.

You see, when something happens (a stimulus), we get to choose proactively how we’ll respond. In so doing we’ll effect the next stimulus.  Something like this:

Stimulus          –>        Freedom to choose        –>           Response

If we really pause to consider the implications of this, it can be really inspiring to realise that in choosing our response to circumstance, we powerfully affect our subsequent circumstances.

What do we mean by being proactive?

  • Take the initiative
  • Act or be acted on
  • Focus on what you can control (you, your conduct, responses and actions) and let go of what you can’t control (everything else, including other people – their conduct, responses and actions).  And yes, this can be really tricky if this it’s something we’ve become accustomed to doing.
  • Listen to the language you use – is it reactive or proactive?  If you’re not sure, ask a trusted friend and you can do the same for them.  You can make a game of calling each other out when you’re using reactive (or “victim”) language.



This means thinking about where you want to go, what you actually want and why you want it – the end goal or outcome.

To do this we can ask ourselves some important overarching questions such as:

  • How do I want my life to be?
  • Where am I headed and maybe even more importantly, WHY do I want to head there?
  • What is important to me (my values)?

A couple of important points to bear in mind in regards to this:

You have to be aware of not being too “busy” to achieve something, which in the end, once attained is not even meaningful or relevant and/or is against your principles.

I love Covey’s words here:

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder, leadership is determining whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.

Many of us can spend days (or even years) of our lives working towards something that may in fact have little meaning or value for us, only to then realise that we “wasted” time we could have spent working towards something more personally valuable and relevant.  Covey urges us to consider this ahead of time.  I agree.

How I interpret these points is something like this: if you’re not satisfied with how you’re currently tracking, you need to devote some time and headspace to identifying how you want things to be instead. You’ll need to get really clear about this, which can be quite a challenge if you’ve never thought about it before.  From personal and professional experience, I can say that the time and effort spent on this is most definitely worth it.


HABIT #3 PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST “Practicing effective self-management”

Once you’ve decided on where you want to head, make sure you put structures, systems and practices in place to ensure that you can work towards this, otherwise the immediate pressing needs of life/work/other people will prevent you from moving in the appropriate direction.  Also, fear, doubt and uncertainty (sometimes unconscious) have a nasty habit of throwing up all sorts of roadblocks in the guise of urgent tasks and distractions, and these will make it even harder to attain your outcome.

To get yourself started you could ask yourself something like:

What one thing could I do (that I’m not doing now) that if I did it on a regular basis would make a tremendous difference to my life?

In the words of Covey himself we need to: “Organise and execute around balanced priorities”.

But how do you decide what’s a priority?

You can judge an activity’s importance based on the results it will yield. If something is important it contributes to your mission, values and high priority goals. This lies at the heart of effectiveness.

This type of focus creates a kind of simplicity and it certainly helps prevent overwhelm by making it easier for us to say “no”.

Of course, important matters that are not urgent require more initiative and pro-activity. We need to act on them. If we don’t have a clear idea of what is important, of the results that we desire in our lives, we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent.

To counteract this, Covey suggests focusing on weekly rather than daily planning for maximum effectiveness. You can try a variety of systems until you find one that works. I personally swear by my trusty kikki.K A4 diary which I am devoted to! It looks and feels good (yes that is important for me), it’s the right size and layout for my needs and I have plenty of room to scribble notes and write “to do” lists.  I know that for my bigger-picture, longer-term goals I must schedule them and make time for them, otherwise they don’t happen.