10 March 2007


Why I <Heart> Covey's Seven Habits?

Over on my MySpace page, Jimmi Swift asked me why I was a fan of Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Actually, when I listed the book on my favorites, I said it had changed my life, and Jimmi asked how.

When I read Seven Habits, I had been out of grad school and teaching for a few years, and we had recently bought our first home. I was always behind: I just had a hard time keeping up with what I had to do for home, for work. I was overwhelmed by life.

Seven Habits helped me imagine that my life didn't have to be like that. That I could successfully identify what I wanted to get done and prioritize when I would do them. Until then, I just used a Day Runner with appointments in it. The idea of weekly planning–which is still a regular activity for me almost ten years later–may have been the key. Just setting some time aside to scope out what the week would be like, to at least make an attempt at arranging it, instead of letting things come as they may.

I also liked the larger framework of the seven habits themselves: (1) Be proactive; (2) Start with the end in mind; (3) Put first things first; (4) Think win-win; (5) Seek to understand, then to be understood; (6) Synergize; and (7) Sharpen the saw (physical, mental, social, spiritual). To be honest, I had never imagined these concepts previously. It helps me be as a college professor, someone who's supposed to have a positive impact on the lives of younger people, to be more directed along those lines. Honestly, I had never heard the word "proactive" at the time.

I did one of the Franklin-Covey training sessions a few years after that. At that time, what they taught was a mixed-marriage from the Franklin-Covey merger. Not only did you get Covey weekly planning and attitudes (and platitudes) that focus on one's roles in life and one's mission statement, you also got the Franklin Quest daily planning and daily prioritizing (PDTL: Prioritized Daily Task List) built on one's values and goals. There's a tension between the two frameworks, between Covey and Smith, and while I really liked the F-C software I used on my Palm at the time, I think I played it to the limit without going to another one of their N-hundred-dollar seminars. Hey, I like activities like that, but wasn't sure that was what I needed. I read several of Covey and team's other books in the meantime.

When I upgraded to the Treo 650 for my PDA, the F-C planning software I'd been using on my Palm wouldn't make the transition, so I went without planning software for close to a year. It was disastrous. Not only did I make less progress towards longer-term and bigger goals, I lost touch with lots of day-to-day responsibilities. I eneded up kloodging together F-C system behavior with memos on my Treo, but it never really worked.

Most recently, I've been trying to do the Getting Things Done system by David Allen. It's much more focused on taking care of things at the lowest level, with the idea that the higher-level things will sort themselves out better when you're not constantly trying to keep details from falling through the cracks. So far, it's working. My inbox stays empty, I stay pretty much on top of my ToDo list items, and I still take time to think about what it is I'm trying to do on a weekly basis. Unlike, the Covey system, Allen says do it on Friday afternoon, since nothing else is getting done at work then. That's cool, because I use time that might not get used as productively at work, and I get back the hour or so of weekly planning I used to give up on Sunday mornings for other things. Like blogging.

And as far as task management systems, I'm using Llamagraphic's Life Balance for my PDA based tasks. I also keep a ToDo folder in my mail.

Covey's systems and framework have lots to offer in the larger areas of how to be a good person, and that's not something to sniff at. But for now, I'm using other tools and another framework for time-management. But I don't think I'd've ever gotten here
–in terms of accomplishment, but more importantly in terms of taking care of myself and others and just being somewhat responsible–without having read Covey's book.

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