If you don’t have the time to read this life-changing book, read our 7 Habits of Highly Effective People summary, take our free course and/or use our free worksheets and planners to help you understand the 7 habits and how to use them.
The 7 Habits
The way we see the problem is the problem,” according to Stephen Covey, author of the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. In order to achieve true change, we must allow ourselves to undergo paradigm shifts – to change ourselves fundamentally, and not just alter our attitudes and behaviors on the surface level. That’s where the seven habits of highly effective people come in.
What are the 7 habits?
The most meaningful way to improve your life and become more effective is to develop strong habits based on guiding principles. As an effective person, you should develop the following 7 habits:
- Be proactive about taking responsibility for your life (habit 1).
- Begin every task with the desired outcome (habit 2).
- Prioritize by putting first things first (habit 3).
- Always look for a win-win scenario and ensure everyone has a positive outcome (habit 4).
- Seek first to understand people and then to be understood (habit 5).
- Value the differences between people and be open to listening to and understanding them (habit 6).
- Make sure you take time for yourself (habit 7).
When you internalize these 7 habits and live according to them, you will live an effective life.
Habit 1: Be proactive about taking responsibility for your life.
One of the differences between humans and animals is our capacity for self-awareness. When something happens to animals, they usually react in a pre-programmed way. Humans, on the other hand, can pause, reflect, and decide how to respond.
When you’re proactive, you have the option to choose how to respond. Your response will determine how your life evolves. For example, say you make plans to go on a picnic and then it rains. You can either let the rain ruin your plans or you can turn lemons into lemonade and find a fun way to spend the day despite the rain.
This approach works no matter how bad the circumstances are. Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, is proof of this. His entire family was murdered (except his sister) and he was imprisoned in a German concentration camp during World War II. Under these terrible circumstances, he became aware of what he named “the ultimate human freedom”, which not even the Nazis could take away from him. They could control his external circumstances, but it was he who chose how these circumstances were going to affect him.
Even if you are not able to control the circumstances that life presents to you, you can always choose how you respond to those circumstances. Your response will have a huge impact on your life.
The thing that determines our life is not what happens to us, but how we RESPOND to what happens to us. This takes practice. However, with practice, you, too, can actively determine your response to any given hardship.
When you encounter an obstacle, stop to consider your response. Instead of reacting automatically without even thinking, stop for a moment. Consider the root causes of the problem (see the 5 Whys Template to uncover the root cause) and then focus your energy on the things you CAN do.
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind
Are you doing what you dreamed you would do? Are you living the life you always wanted? Are you the person you wanted to be?
You have to first imagine where you want to be and then you can reach that place.
In the 7 habits book, the author asks you to do a slightly morbid mental exercise. Imagine you are at your own funeral three years from today. You look at the program and see there are to be four speakers. The first is from your family. The second speaker is one of your friends (someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person). The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your community.
What would you like them to say about you?
This exercise forces you to think about your relationships, accomplishments, and what you would like to leave behind. When you consider the end result you would like to achieve, then you can organize things so that they result in the way you want them to. Considering your ultimate outcome is an essential aspect of organizing your life.
That is why the second habit is to begin every task with the desired outcome. In order to know what your desired outcome is, the author suggested you create a personal mission statement. This will describe what you truly hope to achieve, what values you want to uphold, and what you define as a real success. Your personal mission statement will serve as a guide to help you make decisions. It will also determine your weekly goals since they should support your mission statement.
Stephen Covey encourages you to write your own personal vision statement. Focus on what you want to be and do. It is your plan for success.
See the 7 habits worksheets PDF below to print the following questions.
My personal vision statement
My greater purpose is:
Set some goals. Your goals must be connected to something important. If they aren’t, they won’t get done. Write 3 long-term goals that support your mission statement above.
- Long term goal 1
- Long term goal 2
- Long term goal 3
With every goal you set, it’s important to ask yourself what, why, how, and when.
- What? This is your goal and it should bring your life into alignment with what you have defined as your greater purpose.
- Why? Why is each goal important to you and your mission?
- How? How will you know when you have reached your goal? How will you reach your goal? How will you empower yourself to achieve your goal?
Ask yourself how for each step. Choose one of your long-term goals. Ask yourself how you are going to achieve it. Each time you write “how” ask yourself “how you are going to do that?” When you write how you are going to do that, ask yourself how you will do the next step. Keep going for as long as you can. This will force you to get very specific.
My goal is:
For example, my goal is to run a half marathon.
- I will start running 4 times a week. (but how?)
- I will run 1 km and then I will increase this distance by 10% each week. (but how?)
- I will make time 4 times a week and make sure I go for 4 runs (but how?)
- I will ask a friend to run with me so that I have an accountability buddy (but how?)
- I will call Susan and ask her if she wants to commit to this goal with me (but how?)
- I will sign up for a race so that I have a goal and I feel committed (but how?)
- I will sign up for the x race.
When? Set a deadline for each of your long-term goals.
Now that you have broken your goal into steps, you can schedule those steps in your planner. Ask yourself what you can get done each day to complete each step. Print a monthly planner and schedule each step.
Start each day with the vision of that goal in mind and get the tasks you have scheduled done. We offer a free weekly planner below that will help you do this every single day.
Habit 3: Put first things first
To reach your goals and to live a balanced happy life, you need to recognize that you cannot do everything and that’s okay. Focus on your highest priorities and say no to all other things. To do this, you need to be clear about what your highest priorities are. These are the goals and vision you established in habit 2.
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Stephen Covey
Stephen Covey suggested you do this through weekly planning. Choose a weekly planner that works for you. It can be a paper-based planner, a bought planner, a digital planner, a bullet journal, or whatever works for you. The important thing is that it helps you keep balance in your life by helping you identify your priorities. You need a tool that will help you focus on what you do each day and what you plan for each week. Invest some time each week to plan your week. Write down your goals, and your highest priorities, and schedule your tasks and appointments. We have created a free weekly planner based on the 7 Habits. It will help you apply each of the 7 habits every single day. You can download or print it below.
The Covey time management matrix
The idea is to prioritize tasks according to their urgency and importance. The real secret to working effectively is organizing your tasks by priority with the Covey time management matrix.
A time management matrix is a grid where you list all your tasks according to two dimensions: urgency and importance. See the time management matrix template below.
- Quadrant I includes tasks that are urgent and important (such as a sudden crisis that can’t be ignored).
- Quadrant II includes tasks that are important but not urgent (such as long-term projects like building relationships with clients). This is the most crucial quadrant.
- Quadrant III includes tasks that are urgent but not that crucial (such as answering emails).
- Quadrant IV includes things that are neither urgent nor important (such as social media).
When you divide all your responsibilities this way, it’s easier to see where to focus your efforts. Stephen Covey went into great detail in his book “First Things First”.
When you spend your time focusing on quadrant 1, you are focusing on crises and problems and are essentially putting out fires. If you only focus on this quadrant, it will lead to stress and burnout.
Focus on quadrant 2. Even though the items in quadrant I are important, you should focus on the tasks in quadrant II. These are often overlooked because they don’t feel as urgent. However, if you address them early on, you’ll help prevent new items from appearing in quadrant I.
If you focus on quadrant III, then you are focusing on matters that seem urgent but they are not. Their urgency is based on other people’s priorities and not your priorities. This will lead you to a loss of control since you are not managing your time and priorities. Someone else is. If you stay in this quadrant, you won’t achieve your goals since you are only focused on the very short term. Since you cannot do everything alone. Delegate things that you can pass on. Responsibilities in quadrant 3 can often be delegated.
Quadrant IV includes things that just waste your time and serve no purpose.
Habit 4: Think win-win and ensure everyone has a positive outcome
Win-win means reaching agreements or solutions that are mutually beneficial and satisfying.
The best way to ensure situations are win-win is to adopt an abundance mentality. An abundance mindset assumes that there is enough of everything for everyone.
Stephen Covey explained how you can make these relationships more beneficial for both sides. To do this, you will have to look for the good in other people. You will need to communicate clear expectations and be honest in communication. You need to treat people with respect and respond to the needs of others.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Communication is the most important skill in life. People often focus more on expressing themselves than listening to others. An effective communicator will first seek to understand another’s views before seeking to be understood.
Highly effective people listen before they talk. Good communication is the biggest part of any meaningful relationship. Unfortunately, most people talk more than they listen. However, to cultivate good personal relationships, you must also understand, and to do that you must learn to listen.
The best way to listen is called ”empathetic listening”. This requires you to tune into someone’s frame of reference both intellectually and emotionally. It means not only hearing the person’s words but also understanding what lies behind them. To do this, you need to listen to everything they have to say. Don’t interrupt them to offer advice until you clearly understand what they are trying to say to you. Don’t reply with a story of your own.
Instead, identify the feeling the other person is trying to articulate and make a comment related to that person such as “that sounds very difficult to deal with”. For this to work, it is important that your interest is sincere.
Habit 6: Synergize
By understanding and valuing the differences in other people’s perspectives, we have the opportunity to create synergy. Synergy is celebrating differences and finding new and better ways together. By working together we can discover new possibilities that we didn’t have when we worked on our own. The idea is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When people begin to interact together genuinely, and they’re open to each other’s influence and they then begin to gain new insight. This means you can produce something with another person that neither of you could have produced separately.
Habit 7: Sharpen the saw
You are the only tool you have in life so invest in yourself so that you can deal with life and have the strength to contribute and reach your goals. To be effective, we must devote the time to renew ourselves physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially. Continuous renewal allows us to increase our ability to practice each habit. You need to make a conscious effort to feel good. To live a life in balance you need to take the necessary time to renew yourself. It’s all up to you so take the time to “sharpen the saw.” This habit 7 makes all the other habits possible by preserving and enhancing your greatest asset – yourself. See more on “Sharpen the Saw”
There are four dimensions of our nature (physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional), and each must be exercised regularly, and in balanced ways:
The goal of continuous physical improvement is to exercise our body in a way that will enhance our capacity to work, adapt, and enjoy life. To renew ourselves physically, we must:
- Eat the right kinds of foods
- Get sufficient rest and relaxation
- Exercise on a regular basis to build your body in three areas: endurance, flexibility, and strength.
Focusing on the physical dimension helps us develop habit 1 and be proactive and take responsibility.
The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, and your commitment to your value system. The goal of renewing our spiritual self is to provide leadership to our life and reinforce our commitment to our value system.
To renew ourselves spiritually, we can:
- Practice daily meditation or prayer
- Renew yourself through relaxation. Don’t burn yourself out by overdoing everything.
- Communicate with nature
- Immerse yourself in great literature or music
Focusing on the spiritual dimension helps us develop habit 2 by continuously committing ourselves to our values so that we can begin with the end in mind.
The goal of renewing our mental health is to continue expanding our minds. To renew ourselves mentally, we can:
- Read good literature
- Keep a journal of your thoughts, experiences, and insights
- Limit screen time and only watch TV when a program enriches your life and mind
Focusing on our mental dimension helps us practice Habit 3 (put first things first) by managing ourselves effectively to maximize the use of our time and resources.
Social / Emotional Dimension
The goal of renewing ourselves socially is to develop meaningful relationships. To renew ourselves emotionally, we can:
- Seek to deeply understand other people
- Make contributions to meaningful projects that improve the lives of others
- Maintain an Abundance Mentality, and seek to help others find success
Renewing our social and emotional dimension helps us practice Habits 4, 5, and 6 by recognizing that Win-Win solutions do exist, seeking to understand others, and finding mutually beneficial third alternatives through synergy.
To get a quality life, you have to plan and work for the results. Determine which activities will renew yourself. Ensure you do these activities by prioritizing them in your daily planner and weekly planner. Stephen Covey suggested you spend one hour a day making this happen. Be flexible. If you set a plan and it doesn’t work for you then make another plan that does. Just make sure that it happens and that it works. Your activities need to make you feel good. Address your physical, spiritual, mental, social, and emotional needs.
As we focus on renewing ourselves along these four dimensions as described above, we must also seek to be a positive scripter for other people. We must look to inspire others to a higher path by showing them we believe in them, by listening to them empathically, and by encouraging them to be proactive.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People Workbook
This workbook includes 11 pages of 7 Habits Worksheets PDF format.
7 Habits Planner
The following 7 habits weekly planner is based on the principles of the 7 Habits and includes items that Covey suggested tracking on a weekly basis in his book. The weekly planner prints on two full pages and is very comprehensive. I should note that I included a gratitude list which was not mentioned in the 7 Habits book. Covey doesn’t specifically mention keeping a gratitude list, but he did mention the importance of wellness and gratitude helps with that. The weekly planner can and should be used with the workbook above.
There are two versions of this planner, for one week only or for one month (5 weeks). The 5 week version has a section to type your vision. This vision will then automatically appear every week in order to ensure you set your priorities according to it.
This free online course will take you through each of the 7 habits and show you how to use them.
Living the 7 Habits
You must have a continual improvement process in your life in order to reach your potential. Avoiding the conditions of mediocrity, stagnation, and complacency requires great initiative, vision, and discipline, and can occur only if you are willing to pay the price to live your dream life.
To start living the 7 Habits, Stephen Covey provides the following steps:
1. Learn to be still, to meditate, and to live with some silence in your life. Give thought to your mission statement. Start by making small commitments so you don’t get overwhelmed.
2. Continually Sharpen the Saw and spend time each day renewing the four dimensions of your life: physical, spiritual, mental, and social/ emotional. As a part of this self-renewal process, at the beginning of each day, ask yourself the following questions, then think about your mission statement, what you stand for, and what your purpose is in life:
What is it that I want to do today?
How am I going to deal with my loved ones today?
How am I going to handle today’s challenges?
3. Make deposits into the Emotional Bank Accounts of your key relationships, and nurture the people you are close to. Success and harmony at home precede all other successes.
4. Decide what is really important to you in life and work on that. Say no to those things that are not as important. Work on empowering others to free up more of your own time and energy.
5. Make sure your mission statement is intact, and work on developing a family mission statement.
6. Take responsibility for deciding what your family is all about, then plan and execute according to your priorities.
7. Regularly review the 7 Habits, and teach them to others, such as family members and work associates.
8. Be patient and kind to yourself in the process; however, realize that to make these habits and principles a part of your life, you must pay the price by actually living them, rather than merely understanding them intellectually.
How do these habits make people effective?
- The Seven Habits become the basis of a person’s character and empower people to effectively solve problems, maximize opportunities, and continually learn and integrate other principles in an upward spiral of growth.
- They are also habits of effectiveness because they are based on a paradigm of effectiveness that is in harmony with a natural law, which Covey calls the “P/PC Balance”. True effectiveness is a function of two things: what is produced (your output or the things you create) and the producing asset or capacity to produce (your mind and body). Effectiveness lies in the balance – or what Covey calls the P/PC Balance TM. P stands for production of desired results and PC stands for production capability, the ability or asset that produces the desired results.
Habits 1, 2, and 3 will increase your self-respect and self-discipline. They will help you become more independent and take responsibility for your current situation. They will help you focus on your highest priorities and values and plan how to best lead your life. These habits all focus on yourself and becoming a better version of yourself.
Habits 4, 5, and 6 will help you become more capable of building rich, enduring, highly productive relationships with other people. Stephen Covey introduces a phrase called your Emotional Bank Account. This is a powerful metaphor that effectively describes relationships.
Habit 7 is focused on continuous growth and improvement and embodies all the other habits.
Covey explained how all the habits are interrelated. The more proactive you are (Habit 1), the more effectively you can exercise personal leadership (Habit 2) and management (Habit 3) in your life. The more effectively you manage your life (Habit 3), the more activities you can do to renew yourself (Habit 7). The more you seek first to understand (Habit 5), the more effectively you can go for synergetic win-win solutions (Habits 4 and 6). The more you improve in any of the habits that lead to independence (Habits 1, 2, and 3), the more effective you will be in interdependent situations (Habits 4, 5, and 6).
Stephen Covey Quotes
Here are some powerful 7 habits of highly effective people quotes:
- The way we see the problem is the problem.
- We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.
- It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busyness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
- Seek first to understand and then to be understood.
- Seeking to understand requires consideration, seeking to be understood takes courage.
- The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
- Each of us is born with the gift of self-awareness. We can stand apart from our paradigms, we can examine them, and we can change them if necessary.
- It’s not what people do to us that hurts us, it’s our chosen response to what they do that hurts us.
- The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.
- You’ve spent years of your life learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening?
- Always start every endeavor with a clear sense of purpose.
- The key to valuing differences is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.
- To go for win-win, you not only have to be nice you have to be courageous.
- You can’t talk yourself out of problems you behave yourself into.
- Organizing your life around the many roles you play will help you maintain balance and focus on your key relationships rather than focusing on tasks and things.
- It doesn’t really matter how fast you’re going if you’re heading in the wrong direction.
- Plan your week, each week, before the week begins.
- The more we see people in terms of their unseen potential, the more we can use our imagination rather than our memory.
- Think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things.
- Efficiency with people is ineffective. With people, fast is slow and slow is fast.
- Your life is a result of your own decisions-not your conditions.
- Not a day goes by that we can’t at least serve one other human being by making deposits of unconditional love.
- See every problem as an opportunity to exercise creative energy.
- The week is the “normal lens” that gives us the most manageable perspective.
- Empathy is the fastest form of human communication.
- The person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read.
Here are some more 7 habits of highly effective people quotes from other people:
- People will pass away, but principles never will; they endure – Abraham Lincoln
- Give a man a fish, you feed him for the day; Teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime – Lao-tzu
- They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them – Mahatma Gandhi
- We shouldn’t get too wrapped up in one aspect of life. If we do, we close ourselves off to new experiences – Zen saying
- Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body – Joseph Addison
- To keep the lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it – Mother Teresa