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What Stephen Covey Taught Me About Work and Life

What Stephen Covey Taught Me About Work and Life


    My heart is heavy today. I just learned of the death of one of the most influential individuals in my life, a man who changed the way I think about the world and who guided me toward my current career as a workplace author, speaker, and consultant.

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    That man is Stephen Covey.

    I first came across his most famous work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, when I was researching my first book and was still struggling to succeed as a driven twenty-something in a complex business world.

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    Several years later, I would be thrilled to collaborate with Stephen on an article for the Wall Street Journal and a webinar I produced on career change.  He graciously wrote the forward for my third book, New Job, New You, and we then co-hosted two events to bring Stephen’s most important ideas to a new generation of professionals.  Throughout our relationship, I was in awe of Stephen’s wisdom and very grateful that he was willing to serve as a mentor to me.

    Stephen was turning 80 this year and I hoped he would have many years left to contribute plentifully to the field he pioneered decades ago.  But unfortunately, it was not meant to be.   As I remember him today, I thought I’d call out some of his lifehacks that resonated most with me:

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    Draw your big picture with a personal mission statement

    Too often, we drift through our lives like sailboats – meandering aimlessly from one thing to another. This is how I operated for my first few years out of college – until Stephen came into my life. He taught me to be purposeful about my life and work and to think hard about what I wanted to be (character), what I wanted to do (contributions), and the values I held dear. I have adjusted my personal mission statement over the years, but I’ve never forgotten about it. It’s my compass, and it reminds me where I’m going during bad days and setbacks.

    Act rather than be acted upon

    We are responsible for making things happen in our lives. If you wait around until the economy gets better or your kids are grown up to pursue your dream career, you may never get there. I used to complain that circumstances were preventing me from my goals, until Stephen showed me that I would be more successful if I focused on generating solutions rather than calling out problems.  And to this day, I try never to get stuck in what Dr. Seuss calls “the waiting place.”

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    Get people to cooperate through win/win

    People don’t care what you need to do – they want to know what’s in it for them. When you don’t have direct authority over people, think about what would make them want to do what you’re asking. By devising a win/win proposition, you get what you need and the other person gets what she needs. Everyone benefits and feels good about the interaction.

    Revitalize your life and work by sharpening the saw

    Stephen’s concept of taking time for self-renewal in times of stress and change is of particular importance today when the business world is tougher than ever. When you work so hard that you burn out, you’re not helping anyone. Thanks to Stephen’s influence, I have tried to lead a balanced life, carving out time for my physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual pursuits so that I bring my most authentic and effective self to my work.

    Thank you Stephen Covey for the difference you’ve already made and will continue to make in millions of lives. You will be missed.

    (Photo credit: Thinkers50.com)

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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