The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is NOT an Effectively Written Book

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the business books that everyone says you must read.

Well, I’m not everyone. There are some worthwhile bits, but so much terrible padding that I’m going to tell you not to read the book. So, don’t read the book look here and get some of the key points and save yourself the eye pain from rolling them so hard and so often.

Seven Habits Has Terrible Padding

One of the things that gets more and more on your nerves as you read the book will be the stories Stephen Covey uses as illustrations of the habits. They’re almost always so contrived as to be laughable.

He talks to his kids about internalizing the habits, and they willingly say okay? No fighting and he never has to talk to them about it again?

I’ve got kids, that’s just not how it works. Kids argue and fight, and you have to have the same discussion with them over and over.

The second thing that gets progressively worse in the book is buzzword bingo. The last short chapter is so bad that after three reads my only note from it is “I don’t know.”

Yes after a single read, then a second read more carefully, then a third read, I have no idea what point he was trying to get across in the final chapter. But man can Covey use buzzwords.

So, don’t read the book, but there are some great ideas in the book. I can see why this was a revolutionary book when it came out; it just doesn’t hold up well against so many other padded business books. So let’s dig into what Covey says, with fewer buzzwords and no stupid stories.

Before he dives into the foundation of the book, Covey talks about the importance of habits.

Habits are powerful factors in our lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness…or ineffectiveness.

If you’ve ever tried to break a habit, you know the power it can have over you. We need to be very careful about the habits that we let get into our lives. In fact, more than just trying to “be productive” I rely on habits and routine to all but guarantee that my day will be an effective one. I shape my path to ensure that the day goes well1.

Key Concept of P/PC Balance

P/PC Balance is one of the key concepts that Covey will come back to in an effort to show that we need to follow his seven habits to be effective.

Effectiveness lies in the balance – what I call the P/PC balance. P stands for production of desired results, the golden eggs. PC stands for production capability, the ability or asset that produces the golden eggs.

So P would be all the work you get done. If you pull a bunch of all-night work sessions, you’ve got a bunch done, but you’re going to pay the price for it because your PC is gone.

You’ll need days to rest and get back to effective production capacity. Did you get all that much more productive work done in the long run? Quite probably not.

There are organizations that talk a lot about the customer and then completely neglect the people that deal with the customer — the employees. The PC principle is to always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customer.

The seven habits, focus right on developing PC knowing that production will follow from having taken care of production capacity.

The Seven Habits

Clearly, since the book is called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, there are 7 habits that Covey feels you must develop. They are:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win/Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

Let’s look at each one.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

While the word proactively is now fairly common in management literature, it is a word you won’t find in most dictionaries. It means more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and responsibility to make things happen.

Being proactive is you planning your tasks the night before and focusing on the items that you know have the highest potential to move your business forward. It’s asking yourself: “What is the single thing I can do that will make the rest of my work easier or irrelevant.”

If you want to get more work done, plan ahead so that you don’t get derailed by the “important” things that want to jump up and steal your attention. Tim Urban would often refer to these interruptions as the instant gratification monkey. We get a reward from jumping on an email. That dump of happy brain chemicals rewards us for not planning ahead and working on email.

It’s only at the end of the day that we sit back and feel a general lack of progress and disappointment in our day that we realize our day was crap. Future you, has very little influence on you currently. Future you just has to deal with the crap you left for them.

Many people wait for something to happen or someone to take care of them. But people who end up with the good jobs are the proactive ones who are solutions to problems, not problems themselves, who seize the initiative to do whatever is necessary, consistent with correct principles to get the job done.

If you want something awesome to happen to you, then get in the driver’s seat and start making sure that you’re focused on the right work where you bring the most value.

There is no one to blame for your crappy day of tasks but yourself. If you’re blaming someone or something else, stop being a child, adults take responsibility.

It is so much easier to blame other people, conditioning, or conditions for our own stagnant situation. But we are responsible — “response-able” — to control our lives and to powerfully influence our circumstances by working on be, on what we are.

Being proactive means, you take responsibility for your actions or your lack of actions. You know the results rest squarely on the activity you took and that if you want different results, only different action on your part can make that happen.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Insert the old, and getting lamer, story about yourself at a funeral and what people will say about you. Somehow, Covey takes this story to a new level of eye rolling. Not sure how because I generally like the analogy.


To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.

In my 8 Week Business BootCamp we walk through a few different exercises to get at this idea because when you know where you want to go, you can filter all your current decisions through that lens. You can look at a business activity and see if it will help you get to your goal or not. If not, drop it.

Again, one of the keys in this chapter is that you must take responsibility for your actions if you want to get to your desired result. Covey seems to be focusing your proactivity in this chapter.

He wants you to write a multipage mission statement, not just a sentence, and then spend a day or so every year evaluating it and rewriting it over a number of hours.

I do this when I start my new notebook for a year, but somehow the way Covey explained the process made it seem like a terrible endeavour. Not sure how he did that because I have always enjoyed the two or three hours I spend working on my plan.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

But as we examine the endowment in the context of effective self-management, we realize it’s usually not the dramatic, the visible, the once-in-a-lifetime, up-by-the-bootstraps effort that brings enduring success empowerment come from learning how to use this great endowment in the decisions we make every day.

This section lines up very, very well with The ONE Thing2, which I loved. While much of the media glorifies the flash in the pan and popular people, that is almost never the case for work that lasts. In fact, much of what we view as amazing work decades later was a result of long, arduous work day in day out3.

Covey also spends a bunch of this habit talking about how always going for ‘more’ work means we break relationships. We can deal with people and emotions faster and expect to do an effective job.

The efficiency focus creates expectations that clash with the opportunities to develop rich relationships, to meet human needs, and to enjoy spontaneous moments on a daily basis.

Scheduling every minute of the day leaves no room for relationships, and I firmly believe that business success with relational failure still means you’ve failed. A broken marriage as the price of business wins is way to high a price to pay.

Many people seem to think that success in one area can compensate for failure in other areas of life. But can it really? Perhaps it can for a limited time in some areas. But can success in your profession compensate for a broken marriage, ruined health, or weakness in personal character? True effectiveness requires balance, and your tool needs to help you create and maintain it.

You must spend your time on the right things, those that are not urgent but are essential. It’s not critical for me to finish my next book. I have no deadline, but these books do more than just create some sales for me. They help frame my thinking and force me to dig even deeper into my thoughts so that I can wrestle them out in a coherent way.

I’m a better thinker and business owner for writing. That’s why they often fall into the single thing I can do to make the rest of my business easy or irrelevant.

With that covered, we jump into Covey’s Public Victory Habits.

Public Victory

You can’t be successful with other people if you haven’t paid the price of success with yourself.

There is a tendency to want the outward results of success without putting in the work first. I was talking a friend a few weeks ago, and he wants a great job with an awesome company. What he has is a mediocre job with an okay company. The thing is that is all he’s currently ready for.

He has a mediocre attitude, so he’s going to get average work.

You need to be in the right spot for those opportunities you long for, or you’ll squander them.

You’re reading this, so I can fairly confidently say that you’re working on yourself. Which means you might be ready to move on to the next habits.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

This is where Covey really goes off the deep end regarding buzzwords and things that just don’t seem to mean anything. Specifically in his explanations of his Six Paradigms of Human Interaction.

Six Paradigms of Human Interaction

  1. Win/Win
  2. Win/Lose
  3. Lose/Win
  4. Lose/Lose
  5. Win
  6. Win/Win or No Deal

This was the first section I read through once, then twice and just gave up on. The reasoning between the different options is so convoluted that I felt I understood them better from just the list above than from the explanations of the list.

Now I’m firmly with Covey in the last category, Win/Win or No Deal. That’s what all consulting is. You find something you can do that provides value to the client, and they pay you for that value. You both win, and if you can’t figure out a way that you both win, you don’t do the work.

Covey uses way too many contrived stories and buzzwords to say that one paragraph though.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

We have such a tendency to rush in, to fix things up with good advice. But we often fail to take the time to diagnose, to really, deeply understand the problem first.

Many freelancer’s start here. They say “yes” to everything. They can fix any problem under the sun and don’t even bother to figure out if it’s really the problem that will change the prospects business. The see some complaint from a prospect and they say “yes” they can solve it.

But just like a doctor that prescribed a medication before doing any diagnosis would be considered malpractice, I believe that not diagnosing the problems your clients have before offering options is malpractice. It also makes you worth so little that you get to race to the bottom on pricing.

Deeper than that though, listening is one of the best ways to build up relationships. Listening and empathizing is one of the key ideas in No Drama Discipline4, which not only changed the interactions in my house but changed how I speak to clients5.

Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.

I’ve tried to stop waiting for my turn to speak, and this is not my first time with a kick at the can. In fact the first time I started to try this was when watching Fight Club years ago.

As a freelancer, clients can tell when you’re just saying yes to everything that you probably don’t have the chops for the work.

If you don’t have confidence in the diagnosis, you won’t have confidence in the prescription.

When you jump straight to pricing work without digging in, you’re telling them you’re worth very little. One of the reasons that I have really high rates is that my conversations focus 90% on diagnosing to the extent that a number of prospects that come to me for a membership site do some business coaching first to make sure they’re even on the right track.

Habit 6: Synergize

What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.

Yeah, I have no idea what is up here. That sentence above is the best I’ve got, and I’m not convinced it says..anything.

I guess Covey is trying to say that if you perform the other habits they’ll continue to compound on themselves and you’ll “synergize” into exponential success.

But I’m totally grasping here.

Habit 7: Sharpening The Saw

This is the final habit, but I’d argue that it’s the most important. It’s the one that tells you to take care of yourself and talks about some ways to do it because if you don’t, you’ll burn out and do crappy work.

According to Covey, there are four areas you need to care for.

1. Physical

This is sleeping right, eating right and getting exercise.

2. Spiritual

This is meditation or prayer and sticking with values that are matched to who you are or your whole being will rebel.

3. Mental

Most of our mental development and study discipline comes through formal education. But as soon as we leave the external discipline of school, many of us let our minds atrophy. We don’t do any more serious reading, we don’t write — at least not critically or in a way that tests our ability to express ourselves in distilled, clear, and concise language. Instead we spend our time watching TV.

So start reading books and doing courses. Make sure that your brain is getting exercised just like any other muscle.

One of the benefits of joining BootCamp is the book club. You can join us in a year of reading dangerously.

4. Social/Emotional

You must build up the relationships that are around you if you want to thrive. You see this in The Happiness Advantage6 as well. Those that have strong social support get through crappy times.

Taking care of yourself is crucial to being around for the long-term. No one should be impressed you pulled an all-nighter. Keep yourself in tip-top shape to make sure that you can do good work over the long haul.

Inside-Out Again

This is the chapter that really brought home the buzzword bingo in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I read it three times and still can’t tell you what it’s about.

Should You Read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?

Nope, you shouldn’t. It’s got some great ideas, but they’re so wrapped up in buzzwords and totally improbable examples that it devalues the entire book. I had to force myself to stop skimming the book and to truly focus on it so I could write this review.

Don’t get The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People on Amazon

Photo by: activars

  1. Shaping the path is from Switch, which I reviewed a while ago. Get Switch on Amazon
  2. Get The ONE Thing on Amazon 
  3. Ryan Holiday does a great job talking you out of flash in the pan success in Perennial Seller. I looked at it here
  4. Here is my look at No Drama Discipline 
  5. Clearly I don’t hug clients or rub their backs like I do with my clients, but the first thing I try to do is show them that I have their best interests at heart when we have a disagreement. 
  6. Here is my look at The Happiness Advantage. Get The Happiness Advantage on Amazon
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change Book Cover The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Stephen R. Covey
Rosetta Books

Good habits, wrapped in buzzword bingo and stories so contrived as to be laughable.

How we integrate kids into life from @bookwormfm

Your job as a parent is to build a good adult. Mike and Joe get into this on a recent episode of Bookworm as they talk about 168 Hours.

Specifically they talk about involving kids in stuff like passing you screws or helping around the house.

You should be getting your kids involved. Stop saying no when what you mean is that it’s not convenient.

The whole episode isn’t about kids but it was all good. Go listen.

The Wall Street Journal and Analogue Productivity

I’ve never tried iCal. I use Google Calendar at work of course—refusing to accept co-workers’ meeting invites would be confusing and rude—but the idea of reducing the rest of my life to tiny cells on my phone screen fills me with dread. – Paper Planners in the Digital Age

Just like Florsheim, I’m all in on analogue productivity. For me it’s a Bullet Journal instead of a day planner.

The only thing I use digital tools for is collaboration with clients. For that I use Trello.

The big draw for me is that no one but me can add anything to my calendar or task list. My wife can’t put anything on it, like she used to when we had a shared task list.

The repetition of writing things down during the migration phase in Bullet Journal helps filter what tasks are important and what are only things I wish I could do.

I eliminate so much more and make so many fewer commitments on behalf of future me, which was always a problem with OmniFocus. I’d bump a due date a month into the future, and still not have the time to do the task.

So I’d kick the can further down the road.

If this whole analogue productivity thing with Bullet Journal sounds like something you’re interested in, watch for February. I’ve got about 40k words coming on how I do everything from planning to goal setting and client management.

Security in Mediocrity as a WordPress Theme Builder

Finding security in mediocrity is an exhausting process. You can only work so many hours, fret only so much. Being a slightly better typist or a slightly faster coder is insufficient. You’re always looking over your shoulder, always trying to be a little less mediocre than the guy next to you. It wears you out. – Linchpin

Recently someone emailed me and asked me this question:

“I want to run a 6-figure WordPress theme building business. How do I do that?”

There are only two ways I can think of, and one isn’t being a theme builder primarily.

Scale it

The first way to turn this into a viable big business is scale. Get faster at your process of theme building, maybe use Genesis or some other theme framework to make it faster.

Get some other people under you and get them to do it for less than you charge.

The problem here is that being just a theme builder puts you in a race with mediocrity. Pretty much anyone can build a WordPress theme. What you’re offering as a theme builder is almost the same as that other PSD slice and dice shop.

You’re likely in a race to the bottom on your pricing. The consumer doesn’t care; they just want the job done right for as little money as possible.

Niche it

The much better path.

Stake out a niche and understand the problems that the customers have in that niche. When you’re looking at their theme, have more ideas about how they can make the site better and thus, earn more money or attract more clients.

Maybe be like my friend Jason, and focus on conversion and drip services. Yes, he builds themes, but he does so much more than that. People aren’t paying him for his theme building really; they’re paying for all the other things that he brings to the table.

He’s a key to their overall business strategy, not some hammer that hits the nail of their theme.

So, which will it be? A race to the bottom or a niche partner that brings so much value to the table?

I’d always go for a niche partner. You’ll be able to charge better. You’ll have clients coming to you because of your reputation as a great niche partner. You’ll be able to do more focused work.

Have an awesome day!


PS: If you’re struggling with your niche, I wrote a book about that you should look at.

Photo by: sagesolar

Save Yourself The Pain Just Don’t Do Anything

You can save yourself the pain of failing by…Never. Doing. Anything. – From Frustrated To Frickin Awesome

Failure sucks.

In the middle of 2017, I failed huge as a parent. My oldest kid was acting her age, and I lost it.

I yelled and scared her. I had little control over how I reacted. In the moment I felt bad, but didn’t think much more about it.

Then two days later, she did some little thing, and I was instantly livid. Not just annoyed, but blowing my top angry.

Kids have a great way of exposing our weaknesses. They owe us nothing at all and demand so much of us.

Pain Teaches

Realizing that I needed better parenting tools I read No Drama Discipline and I can say that things started going better that very week.

Months later, I have better tools to use when parenting. I’m a better parent and a better husband.

Not all pain is at home though. A number of years ago I released a product called “Hope is Not a Strategy”. I had big plans for it. It would rocket me into the realm of the great ‘internet people’, and my income would be set.

Nobody bought it at all.

It was a failure in every sense of the word, but I learned from it.

The Niche Product

From the failure of Hope is Not a Strategy, I learned that I didn’t need to do all that much work up front. When I released Finding and Marketing to Your Niche, I wrote the book and left everything else until I had a sale.

Initially, I never did the videos because no one purchased the $299 version of the product. A year later when someone did, I didn’t have the videos, but I did have The 8 Week Business BootCamp which had a section on your niche, so I offered them access to those videos instead.

They happily took it, and I still didn’t record the videos. That was just a few days ago; I’m not sure if I’ll record the videos or remove them from the sales page. Likely, I’ll leave the decision until I have more than a single person that purchases the expensive version of Finding and Marketing To Your Niche.

We too often try to avoid anything hard. Pain is viewed as something that’s bad. It’s the opposite of Cal Newport’s Any Benefit mindset.

Instead of finding any small benefit and thus justifying the use of a social network, we find any possible pain and avoid the entire action at all costs.

In Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday says:

The fact is, most people are so terrified of what an outside voice might say that they forgo opportunities to improve what they are making. – Perennial Seller

We figure whatever idea we have is amazing and everyone else will fall into place.

It won’t. It’s likely that it will fall flat unless you put yourself through some pain and get feedback to refine the work.

Any amazing endeavour will have points where it feels like you won’t succeed. Anyone can do easy stuff. Only those that are willing to endure pain will do amazing work that everyone talks about.

What type of work are you going to do?

Have an awesome day?


PS: To dive deeper into the pain that it takes to birth awesome products, read Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday or my review of it.

photo credit: 42405591@N02 cc

Last Call to Plan Your Year with @shawnblanc

One of the sites I’ve been reading for years has been Shawn Blanc’s. Good thought provoking content.

Over the holidays he released Plan Your Year which is a course and worksheets to help you have a good plan for the year.

I bought it and went through it with my wife. Good stuff.

Today is the last call for access so Plan Your Year.

PS: Yes I’ve done code work for Shawn. Yes I paid for the course. No I don’t get any affiliate income.

Celebrated Talent is Not The Good Stuff

Are you talented?

What makes you talented?

Typically, we associate talent only with celebrated excellence — with a strong emphasis on the word celebrated. – First Break All The Rules

It’s easy to look at some well-known programmer and say they’re talented. Maybe you’ve never seen their code though, and it’s crap.

I can think of a few ‘popular’ coders that fall into that category. They’re vocal, and many times philosophically right, but man their code is crap.

They get a pass on terrible code that others have to clean up because they’re celebrated for their voice.

You are talented

There is something you can do that I can’t. Something you do better, much better than I do.

You are talented. You can do amazing things. You are Gandalf.

I was at Starbucks recently, and the barista noticed that I was on my bike, so she asked how far I had ridden that day, about 20km.

This distance impressed her. She was amazed that I would commute around that far. My answer was to minimize it because I remember the days a few years ago when I would easily ride 100km or more in a day and 1200km in a month.

You do the same thing with your talents. You live them all the time, so you think little of them. You forget how rare it is to have the skills you have. You discount how awesome you are because you know someone that might maybe be a bit better in some far-flung scenarios.

You are talented! Don’t forget it!

Have an awesome day!


Photo by: clement127

Writing in Exotic Locations via @ryanholiday

“It was a time everyone was pressing wonderful houses on us. ‘I have a perfectly marvellous house for you to write in,’ they’d say. Of course no one needs marvellous houses to write in. I still knew that much. All you needed was one room. But somehow the next house always beckoned.” – Want To Be The Best Writer On The Planet? Do These 27 Things Immediately

Yup the title is click-bait but I really like Ryan’s writing so I’ll overlook it.

I keyed in on this quote today because of my morning. I had three kids on the bed. My 7-year-old was reading to the other two kids while I read (also see Jams Altucher in the same article) and wrote.

Then the 1-year-old fell off the bed. There was tears and so, so much blood. She split a lip and had a bloody nose.

I had 3k words to write for February on personal productivity and by the time it ended an hour less to do it. In a recently bloody room.

One hour and fifteen minutes later I looked up surprised to see 3200 words written and I was at the end of writing time.

While I dream a bit of an office that’s not in my bedroom. Specifically one that’s above a 3 bay garage (not for cars but for a climbing wall and workout room) just beside my house with windows surrounding it so I can look at the forest on my few acres of property. I don’t need that to write.

Stop wishing for the ‘ideal’ conditions and just get down to work.

Behaviour or Goals – Which Matters Most?

Many people set goals, particularly at this time of year, but don’t focus on the behavior that leads to achieving those goals. You have far more control over your behavior than any outcome. And if you focus on your behavior, it’s possible that you’ll end up with an outcome that exceeds your expectations. – Focus on Your Behavior, Let go of Outcomes

It seems easy to say this for someone that seems to have “made it”. Not that I think the author, Srinivas Rao, has a money pit to swim in ala Scrooge McDuck, but he has a level of success and attention that many of us want.

Still he’s right.

I asked myself this question as I planned for the first quarter of 2018:

What would it look like to have a thriving membership site and higher site traffic? What would I need to do to make that happen?

Then I changed the structure of my week to make those actions possible.

I changed how I blog to make it possible.

At least as possible as I can envision right now.

Your job is to go as far as you can see. You will then be able to see far enough to go further. Eat That Frog

What would it look like to go as far as you can see right now? How are your behaviours making that possible?

Mark Schinnerer and The Success Grower

Today I talk to Mark Schinnerer about his book The Success Grower. I read the book the week it came out, and I very much enjoyed the content. The 8 Elements might be something you’ve heard before, but the way Mark threads story through the book, sets it apart from the standard ‘business’ or ‘self-help’ book out there.

We talk about many things, but here are the three quotes I bring up with Mark. Watch for my full written review of the book coming in a few weeks.

If your not continually preparing your mind to accept new information and ideas, you’ll just become an old dried-up field full of weeds.

Success isn’t measured in the end result, it’s measured in the little progress you make every day, and the course changes or corrections you make when faced with an obstacle.

As in all things, a choice will be required of you. Will you choose to let the storm destroy your life and plans, or will you choose to build a shelter from the storm and pick up after it is over to keep moving forward? The only way to weather a storm is to go through it.