I’m a longtime fan of Covey’s Habits of Highly Effective People. What I like most about the habits is that they are a system. The habits are not a simple set of best practices, but a rich network of interrelated behaviors that reinforce one another.
Here’s the habits, which I like to remember in the form of a litany:
“Be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and put first things first. Seek first to understand then to be understood, think win-win, and synergize. Sharpen the saw, teach the habits, and introspect.”
There are three sets of behaviors within the habits: public, private, and renewal, which I express in the three sentences of the litany.
- Personal: Be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and put first things first.
- Public: Seek first to understand then to be understood, think win-win, and synergize.
- Renewal: Sharpen the saw, teach the habits, and introspect.
Originally, there were seven habits, but after a while, Covey realized that there was a eighth habit, always implied, but not called out separately: “Teach the habits.”
Ironically, Covey himself practiced “Teach the habits” by writing the original seven habits book, but had to go back and practice it once again in an “eighth habit” book.
Likewise, in the litany, there is added a ninth habit: Introspect.
In the Seven Habits, there is a key question that Covey asks us to consider:
- “What is one thing you could do, that, if you did it on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal or professional life?”
(Or: What am I not doing that I should be doing in order to be more effective?)
In my mind, asking this question goes beyond a background process. The question helps us choose which jungles to harvest. I see “Introspection” as a separate habit, a final link in the chain. A thoughtful answer to the “regular-basis” question closes the loop and brings us back to Habit 1: Be proactive.
Brother Covey also numbers the public habits slightly differently than the order found in the litany. The canonical order for the public habits is “win-win”, “seek-first”, and “synergize” (4, 5, and 6). But, from a systems perspective, that order seems sideways to me.
The order of the personal habits (1, 2, 3) lead us from bootstrapping, into goal setting, and onto prioritization. Likewise, the public habits should lead us from empathy, into collaboration, and onto teamwork.
With the litany, I’m never stuck when someone asks me: Can you name the seven habits? The litany walks through the internal creation of an idea and its external manifestation, step by step.
Just don’t get me started on remembering the NATO AlphaBravo alphabet. :)