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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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