I read the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” back in 1990 and it helped change my life. You could say that the advice is just obvious and you are right. But the greatest truths are usually simple things that “everybody knows” but doesn’t seem to appreciate. In many ways, it is like a diet & exercise program. Everybody knows how to lose weight and get in better shape, but not many people do it right.
You are only really changed by the people you meet and the books you read and then only if you think about them. Reading the 7 Habits made me think about my priorities in life. I was reading a lot of similar things at that time. I did the usual Peter Drucker and Tom Peters books popular at the time and read a lot about organizational theory in general. Covey’s book was certainly not the only influence on me and I am not attributing to the book magical powers, but it helped me. For example, that the book helped me work less and get more done. At the time, I consciously and specifically thought about my work life in relation to the 7 habits. I used to work a lot but not always highly effectively. I often would put in 16-hour days when I was building my career. It was not working well for my health, my family and even for my career. After reading the book, I felt I had a defensible reason to work less, work smarter and put more balance in my life. I started to “start with the end in mind” which made me quit doing a lot of things that were not very useful and avoid lots of meetings. I still don’t think that you can expect to be successful if you work only eight hours a day, but on most days 9-10 hours is enough if you do them right. Covey’s practical time management techniques made my shorter hours possible and his principles gave me reason to do it.
Even before reading the book, I believed in the idea that you should “serve the principle, not the master.” This made me unpopular with some of my bosses in the short term, but a life where you make decisions based on principles is better than one where you are pushed around by expedients or pulled along by your ephemeral desires. Good people recognize this as do good bosses and you really should not care about the opinions of others. Stephen Covey talked about a principle centered life and that made sense to me. He was right. In fact, I can trace almost all my mistakes and regrets to instances when I cut corners or did not act in clear accordance with my principles. You really cannot be happy if you violate your principles and you don’t deserve to be.
The other thing that the book confirmed for me was to be proactive. Don’t cry about your problems or become a victim; figure out what to do to change the situations you don’t like and then do those things.
Critics of Covey say that his ideas were simplistic. Life is indeed complex, but the basic structure of our responses really can be simple. They must be simple if we are to make them work. It worked for me for more than twenty years. I think that the “secret” of life is indeed the simplicity of thinking through and adhering to strong principles. Of course, simple solutions are not always easy ones.
Stephen Covey is dead. We should not mourn for the life well led, but I feel a loss. I met him only once in person and we talked for only a few minutes, but I felt I knew him from the work he shared. You can know people through their work and I am a better person for having known Stephen Covey. He left a legacy.