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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 June 18, 2019

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Making Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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