Being Effective (part 4)


Habit 3 would be the second (physical) creation, fulfilling and actualising Habit 1 – that we are the creators who write our own script – and Habit 2 – the first (mental) creation of who we want to be.

Habit 3 consists of discipline and time-management. Discipline is to say ‘yes’ to certain things for the very mission or purpose Habit 2 visualises, and ‘no’ to other things (i.e. activities in Quadrant III & IV) – even if we may often not like it. Time management is about organising and executing priorities. However, Covey and Tolkien offer an enlightenment here:

“the challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves.


Here, we should not forget to focus on maintaining the P/PC (production/production capacity) balance, because Habit 3 is ultimately about maintaining relationships and achieving results.

So how exactly do we go about organising and prioritising?

But before that, if we find that we are either: 1) unable to prioritise; 2) unable or unmotivated to organise around these priorities, or 3) lack discipline to execute our priorities; we have actually not internalised Habit 2. So let’s go back and review it! … …

I would like to add here that when we say we don’t have time to do this this this, we actually mean that this this this is less of a priority. Given the New Year, when we loudly exclaim to all our friends that we will shed those excesses and reduce our weight, and then later whine about how we don’t have the time to go exercising or whatever, what this means is that losing weight is less of a priority than gorging down all those doughnuts and sweet sugary stuffs and whatnot. But is that really what you think?

This is also why a principle centre is important, as it provides a paradigm to that of Quadrant II. Only when we see our mission/goal as of utmost priority, would we direct our “independent will”, and devote time into Quadrant II matters.

[c] May seem unrelated, but for those who follow the series, you’ll know what I mean ^^ WILLPOWER YEAHHHHH!!

Prioritising helps put first things first, but how do we carry them out? No! Don’t get out your daily planners or to-do lists. Scheduling our time on a daily basis, warns Covey, merely focuses on the urgent – the “now”. It only presents a myopic perspective and ignores the bigger picture, of organising activities in the context of principles, mission, goals and roles.


I won’t go into the ‘Delegate’ part, but anyhow, Covey opens our eyes into the way we do things:


Admittedly, we usually tend to focus on addressing Quadrant I & III activities which are “urgent”, thinking that striking a to-do one after another on our list means that we have achieved a lot. However Covey reminds us that we merely react to urgent matters. With Habit 2 establishing our long-term goal and what is important, we should proactively tackle Quadrant II of important matters, which contributes to our mission, values, and high-priority goals. Yet because Quadrant II activities are not urgent, we unfortunately don’t give much attention to them.


Putting first things first, we write down our ultimate roles and goals for that particular week. Because of the ‘nature’ of each individual Monday, Tuesday, etc., arrange your priorities for the week for each day. By ‘daily adapting’, i.e. taking into account whatever you really need to do for the day (such as meetings so forth), consciously leave some time for completing those Quadrant II priorities. There are many free downloadable variations of the weekly planning worksheet here:

How will you make full use of your time, contributing to a greater purpose and by extension, a deeper sense of fulfilment in life?


Being Effective (part 2)

Part 2, or chapter 2, begins Habit 1: Be Proactive

Be Proactive
Be Proactive [a]
We need to recognise that we have the freedom and power to choose how we respond to stimulus (e.g. our situation, misfortune, circumstances, people’s behaviour towards us, etc). Unless one’s mental capacity is severely incapacitated or one’s autonomy is controlled by others, we are all responsible for how we act. Our behaviour is a product of our conscious choice, based on values. If our lives are a function of conditioning and conditions, it is because we have – by conscious decision or by default – chosen to empower those things to control us, i.e. by being reactive.

Covey quotes two notable figures, whose quotes are worth quoting here {okay sorry for the lack of word choices}:

“No one can hurt you without your consent.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

“They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.”

– Mohatma Ghandi

These simple sentences give us important life lessons, that we all have the power to determine how something/someone impacts us, and whether we allow them to do so.

I think we all tend to let our present emotions and impulses rule over our heads. And even if we may later on think about how we should have reacted instead, we still succumb to that usual, unconstructive response. Asking us to turn this impulse/feeling-based reaction to a value (or a response more positive I guess) sounds ridiculously naïve and simple-minded. But then, without trying how can we know we can’t do it? We are, in Covey’s words, “response-able”. We can choose to start learning today on how to change our emotions-based reaction to be more rational, and Covey does explain and guide us on how to do so.

From what I’ve gather, Covey advises us to:

  1. Take the initiative and to use our resourcefulness and initiative in each situation. Attitude is key in this.
  2. Act or be acted upon. Step up and take the first action to work something/event/situation to your advantage.
  3. No matter how desolate the situation is, it can be made more optimistic if we do not always seek to shift the blame on something/someone other than ourselves. Throw away all thoughts that begin with “if…”, “only…”, and “have…”. For example “if only I was born this way…” or “Had he not done this, I would have…”. Instead, work on how you could have acted, on “be…” – “I can be more positive about…”.
Reactive & Proactive Language [b]
Reactive & Proactive Language [b]
  1. He asks us to focus our efforts in the ‘Circle of Influence’, working on things we can do (influence) something about. Accept the things/situational realities (which affect us in this ‘Circle of Concern’) we have no control over; and not try to change/manipulate how others should behave/be like. One problem we do have control over is our own selves. We should work on our attitude, behaviour, responses, etc. to complement others/address the problem instead of complaining about others, the latter which counteracts any progress into alleviating the situation.
Circle of Concern & Influence
Circle of Concern & Influence [c]
  1. The problem is not “out there”, and we can do/be something else to effect positive change out there.
  2. We also need to realise that we may make wrong choices – called mistakes – bringing about consequences we have no decision over. Hence a proactive approach would be to acknowledge it, correct it, and learn from it.

These (so-called) unique human characteristics of self-awareness, conscience and consciousness, can be used to identify areas of weakness, improvement and talent that could be developed or that needs to be changed. We can use our imagination and independent will to act on that awareness by making promises, commitments and developing integrity to these commitments. According to Covey, this helps build strength of character, honour and ability to accept more of the responsibility for our own lives.

Proactive VS Reactive
Proactive VS Reactive [d]
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Being Effective (part 1)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (cover)
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (cover) [a]

Aloha! For this series of posts I’ll be delving into the lessons provided by Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The title itself is self-explanatory: the book is one out of many self-help books for individuals seeking to cultivate good behaviours and being effective – not productive – in what they do[1]. The path towards greater productivity has been greatly criticised if one has not realised (just an easy google search will produce many sources overthrowing productivity). Productivity simply does not work; in fact it distracts us from what we really want to achieve. The attempt to find ways of being more productive also fails most of the time, doesn’t it? ‘Being productive’ merely gives us more output than input or the same output with fewer units of input, but in the process of doing so, we neglect to take care of the producing capacity (I’ll get to that later) or asset that produces this output. To the extreme, we become single output-minded people pursuing endlessly for more and more; for the less disciplined or motivated of us, we get demoralised and ultimately achieve little or nothing.

Effectiveness, on the other hand, also means greater productivity, but with a sustainable idea behind it (you know, like sustainable development..?). Alternatively, if we succeed at being effective, we create a self-perpetuating or reinforcing cycle that produces greater success.

{Disclaimer: I’m not sure if I got that right, but it’s based on my admittedly superficial and shallow understanding of the concept thus far.}

Anyhow, since the book is titled the 7 HABITS of blabla, my previous post, “The Power of Habit”, or fundamentally the cue-routine-reward concept, may come in useful. This book has its own definition of habit, which is:

“the intersection of knowledge (what to do & why), skill (how to do), and desire (the motivation/want to do).”

Habit: Knowledge + Skills + Desire [b]

Covey also says that happiness is partially defined by the willingness to sacrifice or subordinate what we think we want now for what we want later – “change that is motivated by a higher purpose” – which seems rather enlightening (at least to me). When we forego the need for instant gratification for longer term, more enduring and rewarding goals, doesn’t it feel like an achievement? Both in our definition of success and self-discipline?

He then goes on to introduce the idea behind true effectiveness. He brings up an Aesop(!) fable of the Goose and the Golden Egg, delving into a deeper meaning behind this story. True effectiveness is a function of two things: what is produced (the golden eggs), and the producing asset/capacity to produce (the goose). If we are too focused on getting the golden eggs for money, forcing the goose to produce more and more, the goose may suffer in its health and eventually produce fewer and lower quality eggs. In fact the greediest of us may cut open the goose for the golden eggs, and in the end find none, and cannot have any more eggs produced. {Since I’m a student…} if we keep on cramming and memorising huge stacks of notes day and night without adequate rest and nourishment, in a bid to pass or ace our tests and exams, in a similar way we (the producing asset) may burn out and not be in our peak performance on that actual big day. At the end of the day, single-mindedly pursuing more and more output, neglecting the producing assets (either workers or yourself), is a big whoop-de-fail. Instead of seeking productivity, we should seek true effectiveness. When we want something from or through something/someone, we should care for that something/someone as well.

So hopefully I’ve summarised the ideas in just the Introduction as comprehensively as possible. Anyways the book is really a good read and understandable, with many examples and analogies to clarify certain ideas. However, reading and absorbing the contents is one thing, applying the concepts is another. Hopefully the book will strike a chord with you personally and inspire improvements of the self. The next post in this series will be on chapter 1!

The 7 Habits
The 7 Habits [c]

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[1]: Reviews! Reviews! Reviews everywhere!: ; ;

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