The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Part 1) Revisited in a Time of Pandemic

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was first published in 1989 but the ‘lessons in personal change’ are as applicable today as they ever were. It’s packed full of wisdom and timeless principles – which, I believe, are particularly relevant during this time of pandemic.

Many people will be aware of some or all of the habits, but it’s really important to understand the overall context:

First, the habits are not a quick fix. Part one of the book is about understanding our paradigms – that is how we see the world in terms of perceiving, understanding and interpreting. We have internal ‘maps’ of the way things are and the way things should be. Why does this matter? Because “the way we see things is the source of the the way we think and the way we act”. Covey challenges us to shift from an outward focus on how to be successful (focusing on personality, image, positive attitudes, skills and techniques) to an inside-out paradigm that starts with self and seeks to develop character based on the principles that govern human effectiveness – for example, honesty, integrity, fairness, human dignity and service. This is to focus on ‘primary greatness’ – private victory before public victory. The 7 habits are principle-centred and character-focussed.

Secondly, Covey has a really interesting and powerful definition of effectiveness: it’s achieving the right balance between production and production capability (P/PC) – think about the goose that lays the golden egg. The 7 habits bring the maximum  long-term beneficial results possible by balancing the production of desired results and taking care of the asset (physical, financial or human) that produces the results.

The 7 habits are as follows:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first


  1. Think win/win
  2. Seek first to understand…then to be understood
  3. Synergize


  1. Sharpen the saw

The first 3 move us from dependence to independence (you to I); the second 3 from interdependence to the more mature state of interdependence (I to we); and the seventh is about personal renewal, supporting the rest

Let’s take a look at the first 3 habits.

Be Proactive

Proactivity recognises that between stimulus and response, we have the freedom to choose. This is fundamentally important and forms the foundation for effectiveness. It means that we each have the initiative and responsibility to make things happen.

We have response-ability. We choose how we respond to circumstances and events and therefore influence what happens next.

Proactive people focus their energy in their circle of influence – working on the things that they can affect.

In a time of uncertainty, when much has happened that is out of our control, it is so important to adopt this habit – to act rather than simply to be acted on by events.

Begin With The End in Mind

What really matters to us? What is at the centre of our lives? When we look back on our lives how do we want to be remembered? What do we want family, friends and colleagues to say about us?

This principle is based upon the principle that all things are created twice – first there’s a mental creation and then the physical creation.

We need to be clear in any task or project about the endpoint or deliverable. In any undertaking, as in life, we need to know our destination. Unless we have a clear understanding of what is important to us, our personal mission or creed, we cannot be truly effective.

In these times of pandemic and lockdown, many have been taking stock and re-evaluating what’s important – both in relation to their businesses or professions and their personal lives. This is a great time to reflect and plan for the future.

Put First Things First

Once we realise that we can and must take responsibility for our lives and we know what’s important, the third habit is about getting the right things done. It’s about time management, but in reality that’s a misnomer because using our time well has more to do with self-management and self-discipline.

Covey introduced the well-known matrix that catogorises activities against importance and urgency; I have always found this to be really useful.

Quadrant 1 activities are both urgent and important and have to be dealt with – crises, pressing problems and deadline driven projects.

Quadrant 2 activities are important, but not urgent – things like preventative and improvement actions, relationship building, planning and recognising new opportunities. Highly effective people spend time in this area and, in so doing, reduce the size of Quadrant 1.

Quadrant 3 activities are urgent but not important, interruptions, some calls, some meetings, some reports.

Quadrant 4 activities are neither important nor urgent – trivia, some mail, some calls and time wasters. Covey says spending time on Quadrant 4 activities is irresponsible and unproductive.

To find more time for Quadrant 2, working on things that make a difference and move us towards our important goals, means getting out of Quadrant 4 and learning to say no to some of the Quadrant 3 activities.

Many of us while working at home or on furlough have thought about how well we are using our time. The key message is to plan ahead and to organise and execute around our priorities – not to prioritise our schedule but to schedule our real priorities.

Understanding and implementing the first 3 habits enables us to be function independently and effectively as individuals. I’ll look at the remaining habits in a future blog.

If you are thinking about the issues and ideas presented in the 7 Habits and discussed above, you may find coaching helpful. Contact me via this website if you would like me to help you to do some productive (quadrant 2) thinking to clarify your priorities and plans.