Want to learn new, more productive and effective ways of working? We recommend you adopt these proven habits.
It’s not that difficult, especially at times like a new year or the day after a poor work review, to vow to work smarter or more effectively from now on. But sticking to resolutions is much tougher.
Breaking well-worn habits isn’t always easy, so it’s no surprise that a Cancer Research survey showed that almost half of us will abandon our New Year resolutions within just two weeks.
Seven habits to adopt if you want to be highly effective
Whether you’re trying to stick to New Year resolutions, or just want to become a more effective version of yourself, there are ways you can increase your chances of success.
And to help you, we share some wisdom from Stephen Covey’s famous Seven habits of highly effective people, and suggest ways you can implement them in your daily life.
Habit 1) Be proactive
To be effective you need to take responsibility for your life. And that means not blaming external circumstances – your upbringing, lack of childcare, restricted work opportunities – for your situation.
Yes, life many not always be fair or equal, but successful people don’t let that stop them. They don’t allow themselves to become paralysed by circumstances beyond their control, and instead take responsibility for their life. They seek out and make opportunities instead of waiting for them to appear.
They understand that they can’t always control what happens to them, but they can control their response to it – and with that choice comes power and freedom.
So how can you tell a proactive person from a reactive person (the opposite)? A proactive person will use active, positive language, such as I can, I will and I prefer. A reactive person, however, will use language like I can’t, I have to and if only.
When you’re proactive, you focus your time and energy on things you can control. You feel more empowered and are more effective. However, reactive people often waste energy fretting over things that are beyond their influence – such as national politics, terrorism, or the weather.
So if you notice yourself using reactive language, or focusing on issues that you cannot change, make a conscious effort to be more positive. Change your focus to things that are in your control, or you can reasonably have an influence on, and start taking responsibility for your life and work.
Habit 2) Visualise the future you want
When I trained as a hypnotherapist we used a simple but powerful exercise to help clients who wanted to make a change in their lives – we would ask them what their desired habit or outcome was, and would help them to visualise themselves experiencing it.
Basically we showed their brain what it would look, sound and feel like when they were living the lifestyle they desired, and helped them to lay down a positive new template to work towards.
So it wasn’t terribly surprising to discover that Stephen Covey identified this as a habit of highly effective people. His theory was that all things are created twice – first in your mind and then in the physical world, just as a building follows a blueprint.
He asserted that if we didn’t make a conscious effort to visualise who we are and what we want in life, then we empower other people and circumstances to shape us and our life by default.
And the great thing is that of all the habits this is probably the easiest and most pleasurable to adopt. All you need to do is spend a little time each evening (or morning) to visualise the next day, or day ahead exactly as you would like it to pan out. What goals do you want to accomplish, activities to complete, and how do you want to feel?
Create a movie in your mind of the perfect day, and set a blueprint for your mind to follow – and remember to use your new proactive approach to creating and taking opportunities to bring it to life.
Habit 3) Organise your day
As well as proactivity, you’ll need to be highly organised to achieve your daily goals. Mess and chaos don’t just distract and exhaust us, but they prevent us from identifying and following a clear path to success.
In order to be organised, you need to be clear about what you want to achieve that day, then break each aim down into separate tasks which, when completed, will deliver the desired result. You’ll also need to spend some time prioritising tasks, identifying what needs to be done first, and which tasks would be better tackled when.
By spending 15 minutes every morning planning out you day you’ll find you can achieve much more in the time you have available, and enjoy an increasing feeling of satisfaction.
Habit 4) Think win-win
Many people approach business (and indeed life) with the mistaken impression that if they are to win, someone else has to lose, and vice versa. So if you see a competitor doing particularly well, by default it means you are losing. You assume that there is one pie to share out, and if they’re earning more than you or acquiring more clients, there’s less left over for you.
In this scenario, the only way for you to win is to do the reverse, to out-perform your competitor. And if that means that they end up going out of business, all the better. There’s more of the pie left for you!
But that’s not how a win-win approach works. Win-win works on the principle of collaboration rather than competition, and involves ensuring that every interaction has mutual benefit – in other words, everyone wins (yes, including your business competitor!).
According to Stephen Covey, a person or business that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude has three essential character traits:
- Integrity – you stick to your true feelings, values and commitments.
- Maturity – you express your ideas and feelings with courage, and consider the ideas and feelings of others.
- Abundance mentality – you believe there is plenty for everyone.
Unlike the traditional approach to business in which you’re either nice or tough, a win-win approach requires you to be both. You need to be courageous and considerate, empathetic and confident, sensitive and brave.
It’s not always easy, but practised well it makes business and work more enjoyable, and can deliver much greater rewards. As other people notice and appreciate your mature and considerate approach, they will often respond in kind and instead of fighting an ever-growing army of competition, you’ll be part of a team in which everyone can win.
Habit 5) Listen before you speak
At school, we spend years learning how to communicate to people – how to read and write, and how to speak. But what about listening? When did anyone teach you how to really listen to and understand another person?
All too often in life (and business) we focus on making ourselves understood. You have a point you want or need to get across and you’re looking for opportunities to make it. But in doing so we often miss what other people are saying to us. We had listen to them, catching parts of the conversation but missing the real meaning.
That’s because we have learned to listen for the purpose of replying, not understanding. As Stephen Covey says:
“You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating.”
Just consider how often you respond to something someone has said with the following type of statement:
- “I know exactly how you feel. I felt the same way.”
- “The same thing happened to me.”
- “I’ll tell you what I did when that happened.”
That’s because, when we listen autobiographically (measuring what is being said against our own experiences), we often respond in one of four ways:
- Evaluating – we judge and then agree or disagree.
- Probing – we ask questions from our own frame of reference.
- Advising – we give advice or solutions to problems.
- Interpreting – we analyse motives and behaviors based on our own experiences.
Of course there are some situations when an autobiographical response is absolutely the right one, for example if the person you’re talking to specifically asks for help from your perspective or experience, or you know them well.
But other times, try to make a conscious effort to really listen to what someone else is saying, without filtering it through your own experiences or desires, and respond without diverting the conversation back to your own agenda. So the person you’re talking to feels understood and trusts that you genuinely are considering their feelings or needs.
Habit 6) Work in a team
Ever heard the expression two heads are better than one? That’s exactly what this sixth habit is based on.
Working in a team involves open-mindedness, creative cooperation and collaborating. By working together we pool our experiences, skills, perspectives and strategies, and find new solutions to old problems.
When we interact with each other honesty, openly and are willing to accept the influence and ideas of others, we gain new insights. We are capable of inventing many more new approaches to problems because of our differences. We can produce far better results, and discover more that we can separately – as a whole we are truly greater than the sum of our parts.
But for teamwork to really work, you must genuinely value the mental, emotional, and psychological differences between other people. You need to listen to the opinions and perspectives of others – even people you consider to be less knowledgeable or experienced. Differences of opinions (when expressed positively!) are often when the seeds of really ground-breaking ideas are sown.
So if you work in a team, get into the habit of bringing everyone together to brainstorm solutions to tricky problems or new directions. And if not, look for opportunities to gather a group of people together to pitch thoughts to them, and listen to their feedback and suggestions.
Habit 7) Take care of yourself
Stephen Covey’s final habit of effective people involves preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – yourself. And to do so, he recommends having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life:
- Physical – eat well, exercise and rest.
- Social/emotional – enjoy meaningful connections with others.
- Mental – keep your mind alert by learning, reading, writing and teaching.
- Spiritual – spend time in nature, and expand your spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer, or service.
Stephen Covey believed that as you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life – and are able to better practice the six other habits.
When you are mentally and physically healthy, your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you is increased. But when you don’t take the time to renew yourself, your body becomes weak, your mind mechanical, your emotions raw, your spirit insensitive, and you risk becoming selfish.
Feeling good doesn’t just happen. You need to look after your body and mind by taking the necessary time to renew yourself. And the great thing is that you don’t need to make any grand, complicated plans to practise self-care.
Every day offers new opportunities for renewal – by choosing healthy foods, making time for a short stroll, prioritising an activity that relaxes you, whether it’s a quiet cup of tea first thing in the morning, 10 minutes of meditation or reading a novel in bed at night.
It’s easy, enjoyable and by practising regularly will ensure that your future is more productive, effective, successful and happy.Hannah Martin