The author and speaker, who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989, died tragically in a bike accident in 2012. His son, Stephen M.R. Covey, has continued the legacy of disseminating productivity strategies in the workplace and is also a book author and speaker. Recently, I talked to him about his latest research on how to stay efficient at work.
What’s the biggest takeaway from your current productivity research?
We’ve been in deep conversation with many of the world’s top brain scientists. They’re discovering so much new information about maximizing the brain’s potential. We’ve learned that people are making more decisions than ever but are so distracted by technology and interruptions that they can’t focus long enough to make good decisions.
This paradox truly threatens our productivity. The answer is to change our paradigm about what constitutes productive work. It’s better to accomplish one great thing than 10 mediocre things. It’s better to focus intensely on what matters most than to attend to a thousand things that don’t matter so much.
So, what’s the difference between being productive and efficient?
True productivity is defined by the outcome–it’s the why. Efficiency is the how. If we fulfill our mission in life, if we achieve important goals and contribute what we can in the important roles we play in life, we are truly productive. It’s good to be efficient–to achieve a goal with as little investment of time and energy as possible–but in some crucial things you can’t be both efficient and effective.
For example, you can’t be efficient with people. You can’t schedule finding the love of your life or helping an employee with a problem or supporting a sick friend. The key is to differentiate: learn to be efficient with things and effective with people.
What are the biggest things that prevent people from adopting the seven habits?
The No. 1 killer of the Seven Habits in any day is the failure to practice Habit 1: be proactive. The first step to effectiveness is to take responsibility for yourself, to recognize that you can choose to do a great job, and no one and nothing can stop you. Too many of us, however, blame others for our circumstances or take counsel of our own weaknesses and fail to step up to what we’re really capable of. When we neglect to be proactive, every other habit is negatively impacted.
Which of the seven habits are the hardest for entrepreneurs to apply?
Habit No. 6: synergize. Most business leaders feel they have to be the source of solutions and the providers of answers. They rarely take full advantage of the team that surrounds them. They don’t trust them enough to let them step up, to think with them, to listen to them, and encourage them to talk straight and to confront reality. Leaders who do this will find that, together with their people, they are more than the “sum of the parts.”