Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Stephen Covey

Having cited Stephen Covey in a sermon on Sunday, I was sad to hear (via Twitter, sign of the times), that he has just died, aged 79. If I had to list the books which have influenced me the most, his '7 Habits of Highly Effective People' would be pretty near the top.

Here are the habits (note, reading this doesn't mean you've read the book! A bit more exposition here)

1. Be Proactive (take responsibility for yourself, your life, your direction)
2. Begin with the end in mind (work out what's most important to you)
3. Put First things First (see 2, then make it a priority)
4. Think Win-Win (prioritise relationships, success by co-operation, not competition)
5. Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood (empathy, listening, the more you appreciate people, the more they appreciate you)
6. Synergise (build on strengths, work in a team)
7. Sharpen the Saw (take time out for personal renewal, mind body and spirit)

There are several bits of the book that have really helped me:

Quadrant 2: everything that needs to be done is either urgent or non-urgent, important or not important. So everything falls into 1 of 4 categorites:
Urgent and important:  e.g. meeting my boss in 5 minutes
Non-Urgent and Important: e.g. my marriage
Urgent and not important: e.g. most email
Non-Urgent and Not important. watching TV

Covey puts these into a matrix of 4 boxes, and argues that Quadrant 2, the important but non-urgent, is what is most easily neglected. This includes things like relationships, skill development, prayer, rest, and most of the things that actually make us function well and grow. Without setting aside time for these things (and being accountable for that), they're easy to neglect. I've found this really helpful and try to book into the diary the people and things which, left from one day to the next, won't get the attention they deserve.

Circle of Concern: we have a 'circle of influence'  - you're in it now, because you're reading this. And a 'circle of concern', which is the things we're aware of,  and concerned about. The problem is that my circle of concern is bigger than my circle of influence. I'm concerned about the state of the UK, but I can only influence a very small part of it. Identifying and focusing on my circle of concern means I end up doing what I can do, rather than fretting about what I can't.

Sharpening the Saw: a woodcutter who stops to sharpen his saw every so often is more effective than one who just keeps hacking away. Plodding on wearily is less effective than being fit, fully rested, mentally alert and well informed etc. This is all 'work smarter, not harder' stuff, but also affects the quality of my family life, relationships, personal mood etc. And in terms of discipleship I'm going to follow Jesus better if I'm sharp than if I'm blunt. So I try to read, stay fit, take time out on retreat, be accountable to others etc. Emphasis on the word 'try' !!

update: how could I forget Putting the Big Rocks in First.......?

The best way to honour his memory? Throw away your 50 Shades of Grey and read 7 Habits instead.


  1. Using this as a training tool in managing your desk I invented this little mnemonic:

    Urgent and important = Do it
    Urgent and not important = Delegate it
    Important and not urgent = Diary it
    Not urgent and not imprtant - Dump it

    Works for me. The way you get to spend time on the importnat and not (yet) urgent strategic thinking is actually to diary time to do it.

  2. His 7 Habits book made a huge impact on my life many years ago. I feel sad that I never had the chance to meet him in person, but he had a full life, and made the world a better place. May his soul rest in peace.

  3. Thank you for sharing. I listened to half of the audiobook last year but found the narration to be a little slow going. I will have another go soon. BTW, can you check the bit where you say that you focus on your "circle of concern"? Maybe I misunderstood but I think you mean that we should focus on our "circle of influence". Rich