Habit 1: Be proactive. To succeed, you need to have vision and then to take action based on it. Who are you and what do you want to become? Visualizing your goals will help you reach them, as a compass tells us directions and a beacon draws us to it. The North Star served this purpose for ancient sailors. Knowing True North helps you find the route you need.
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. Covey asked his readers to imagine attending their own funeral and ask themselves what they would like to be said about them in the eulogy. What would we want to be remembered for? How would we view our life in retrospect? In the shorter-run, we have projects we undertake that would prosper more fully if we started out with a clear idea of where we wanted them to end. Granted, some undertakings cannot have their outcomes clearly envisaged, but the end results become clearer as the efforts progress.
Habit 3: Put first things first. Set priorities and keep to your plan to meet them. Covey quoted the great Goethe, German writer and statesman and philosopher, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
Habit 4: Think win/win. Make your interactions with others such that both you and they come out ahead, the Golden Rule applied. Set incentives for your team such that cooperation is rewarded, interdependence promoted. In negotiations, aim for “win/win or no deal,” and avoid “win/lose,” where you benefit and the other does not. In a civil dispute, try to get something for both sides, and resist the temptation to “sue the bums.”
Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Covey called communication “the most important skill in life.” That dovetails with his belief in the need for interdependence rather than independence. Reading, writing, talking, listening are the four major aspects of communication, and we are trained in all but listening. Often we advise before we understand.
Habit 6: Synergize. Synergy is when “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Beneficial interactions take place. Creativity increases, as in group brainstorming to solve problems. Cooperation introduces new ways of accomplishing goals. Here, diversity pays off, through specialization, diversification, division of labor and cooperation.
Habit 7: Sharpen the saw. To cut wood, sometimes it is more effective to take time out to sharpen the saw, rather than continue to labor with a dull blade. Similarly, in our lives in general, a certain amount of “balanced renewal,” Covey’s term, is needed: physical, social/emotional, spiritual, and mental. We “sharpen the saw” in these four areas when we exercise and eat more carefully, interact with others empathetically, study and meditate, read and write and plan.