Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Club: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Oh, how I heart Stephen R. Covey! It's not that I think he's a particularly good writer (I find the prose of most self-development books to be pretty mediocre). It's just that his ideas are so good!

As I've said over and over, I read the first three habits several years ago and have been trying to implement them ever since. The "Put first things first" habit of effective personal organization and time management is something I've been practicing a lot. I love it so much I've even presented workshops on some of these ideas.

First, I think the four quadrants are absolutely revolutionary. It's so easy to see that many of us spend our time in the urgent quadrants. I see this so much with things like e-mail. People tend to check their e-mail first thing in the morning and then use it to drive their to-do list for several hours. Then they check it frequently throughout the day, even while trying to focus and concentrate on other important work. I also find that things like Facebook and TV can really distract us from accomplishing all the things in our "Important but not urgent" category.

I am most proud of myself when I am working in that quadrant. (Oops, I just flipped over to check my e-mail, which then makes writing this post take longer because I have to take time to figure out where I was.) To me, the most interesting projects and my most ambitious dreams lie in that quadrant, as well as all the habits that help me develop as a person (like studying Spanish, making time to read self-development books, writing letters, etc.).

I'm not saying that we should work, work, work all the time, but I do think if we're working, we should be working effectively and efficiently. That way, we free up more time for leisure or the pursuit of other passions.

I loved to Goethe quote at the start of the chapter: "Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least." The four quadrants are a lens through which I try to evaluate everything I'm doing.

I also love Covey's system for personal organization and time management: Mission statement --> Roles --> Goals --> Plans

Every New Year's Eve, I list out all my roles and the things I want to accomplish within each of those roles. Then at the beginning of each month, I look at the list of goals and decide what I want to accomplish that month. Finally, at the beginning of each week, I look at my monthly goals and plot out when I'm going to do what.

I think it's amazing how Covey explains how the first three habits build off of each other. In Teach For America staff training, we complete an exercise called "The Compass Points." The idea is that there are four different types of leaders: North people want to get things done; West people want to focus on the details; East people focus on the vision (I may be mixing up east and west); and South people want to focus on relationships and people. Covey's so right when he explains that you have to have the vision (right-brain) and then you have to execute all the smaller steps aligned with the vision (left-brain). I think it can be challenging for one person to be skilled at both those things, but it's so, so important when it comes to personal effectiveness and being able to make a dream become a reality.

I also enjoyed reading the story about Covey's wife, Sandra, who unwittingly took on a committee chair position. It reminded me of how important it is to say no to things that are not directly aligned to our goals. The more we clutter our lives with those things, the less time and energy we have to pursue our passions.

Finally, I loved the distinction between "Gofer" and "Stewardship" delegation. I think that concept has huge implications for my leadership style. The story of his son taking care of the yard was the perfect anecdote to illustrate his point. I need to be conscious of focusing on results instead of methods when managing people. I hope to remember the components: desired results, guidelines, resources, accountability, consequences. And I absolutely agree with the idea that "trust is the highest form of motivation."

I have really enjoyed the first three habits, and I look forward to delving into the next chapter next week!

Next Steps:
  1. Clean out my Life Binder. It's getting too full!
  2. Make a conscious effort to say no to opportunities that are not directly aligned with my goals. This is going to be particularly hard because I'm on unpaid maternity leave, and I might start to get desperate for money. However, when I get too absorbed in other people's projects, I don't have enough time for my own. And my time is so precious and rare these days (and that's with Henry sleeping more than he ever will again!).

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Melanie said...

i used to be a die-hard franklin covey organized person....while i've softened a bit i still use a lot of the principles and feel so much better when i do my A-list first, my b-list second, etc. and email is such a devil of a distraction!!!! thanks for the reminder

Kate S. said...

I'm loving this book! I really appreciated Habit 3's "just do it" mentality. I think Covey did a great job of setting the stage for Habit 3 with Habits 1 & 2 so I feel more ready to get to work on my "second creation" with the help of 4th generation time management. I've been using the Franklin-Covey planner for the first time this year, but I'm still not using it to it's full potential, largely because I wasn't trained in how to use it. After reading this chapter I really understand the idea of weekly planning along with using my goals and roles to identify how to spend my time. I think Covey's thought that "time management is really a misnomer - the challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves" is going to be super helpful to me.

The discussion on the 4 quadrants was also really helpful, especially because I find myself spending WAY too much time in Quadrant I. I've always been a super busy person, but when I look at it in this light I've realized that I have a lot of work to do in "organizing and executing around priorities."

I really liked the analogy of being a disciple to your own values. I really like how Covey takes words like discipline and responsible and turns them into action.

Lastly, I also really appreciated Covey's distinction between gofer and stewardship delegation. I do a fairly good job of doing stewardship delegation, but Covey's instructions on how to do it effectively were really helpful. I definitely plan on going through the 5 steps of delegation next time I need to.

Can't wait for the next chapter!

Megan said...

I've fallen a bit behind. I have set a goal to catch up this weekend.

Katie Z said...

So let me start by saying I really loved a lot of the aspects of this chapter in principle, and I learned a lot about myself from the reactions that I had to this chapter.

I think that the framework Covey provides is a really helpful way to organize tasks, and it really helps put things in perspective. I also think it could be reasonably executed for some people. The challenge I have with this chapter is that though I think the exercise make a lot of sense, I don’t think it works for everyone. Although I do think that planning at a higher level is essential for being effective, and I do think the four quadrants are an amazingly effective tool to help get people to do that, I don’t think that creating a highly structured plan works for everyone and I think there are many people out there with different approaches that still allow them to prioritize effectively.

For me planning is a big challenge, I hate doing it because I always feel like I am wasting time planning rather than doing. At the same time I think a certain amount of planning is essential so I spent some time exploring this within Covey’s context. First, I dislike making lists I get very little satisfaction from crossing stuff off lists and I get caught up in the unevenness of tasks (for example some take longer than others and lists don’t account for this). I get frustrated by planners because when you constantly have to change priorities it’s really annoying to have to constantly erase and rearrange things, it feels like such a waste of time to plan only to have to replan. I do however, like thinking about the picture that I want to see in the end and moving toward that picture and I feel like the combination of thinking in quadrants and doing weekly planning, is a good starting point.

I don’t think I will ever be as intentional as he suggests but I will definitely draw in the perspectives to help ensure I continue to be effective. For me, I tend to be really effective until I committ to to many things, often times these things fall within my goals but I just can't do it all. So in the exercise my one thing that would change things is saying "no" more often. In addition to planning more efectively I also need to figure out how and when to say no.

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