Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book Review - The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Back in October I recommended this book and now here's a review I did of it. I hope you enjoy!

One of the things that stuck with me from this book was the example of thinking ahead to your own funeral many years from now and wondering what people would say of you. What would your family say. How would co-workers and friends remember you. To me it likened back the story of Scrooge getting a a visit from the third and final ghost. After seeing what would happen if he stayed on the same path what would happen he had what Stephen Covey calls a paradigm shift. A Paradigm is a term to describe a theory, perception or way of thinking. A paradigm shift then is a shift in that thinking or belief. Stephen Covey discusses this in great length in the beginning of the book. I found out about this book through a college course whose textbook* borrows and quotes Stephen Covey's ideas heavily. Though it wasn't required for my course I decided to check out the book because I liked the ideas it presented. I read through it once already and I'm now going through it a bit more slowly the second time. Granted even though Stephen Covey even says it's not a book just to read once and tossed aside and expect miracles. It's a book to learn from and be reference guide in the future.

For those who don't know Stephen Covey is. Besides The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People he has also written follow up books like First things First, The eighth habit and so on. At last count I believe the seven habits book has sold over fifteen million. He also has a M.B.A from Harvard and a Doctorate from Brigham Young University. He is well respected speaker with engagements around the world.
In the book he covers the now famous seven habits of highly effective people. The seven are:

1. Be Proactive - He talks of being proactive rather than reactive to situations and tasks. In his own Proactive model we have stimulus->response vs. Stimulus->Freedom to choose->Response. Stephen describes it from the book as " It means that as human beings , we are resonsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions."** In other words we should not be effected by outside stimuli but rather be guided by our values and beliefs. Reactive people are affected by outside forces. An example would be a reactive person having a lousy day because it's raining where as the proactive person would not be affected or would find a solution around it rather than let it effect him. The chapter does go much deeper into such things as taking responsibility for our decisions and that where we are today is due to decisions we made in the past. You are not forced to do anything and that you always have a choice. He also talks about what he calls is the circle of concern/circle of influence. He contends that many of us spend way too much time with stuff that is the outside circle of concern. Much of this is stuff which is out our circle of influence which is in the middle. We should work on what we can influence and change not what is only a concern. I've seen this many times at my current employment with many people worried or concerned what others are doing rather than being just concerned with what they can do. To me this is just a trememndous waste of time and energy.

2. Begin with the end in mind - I kind of covered this in the introduction. His basic idea is the have an idea or or picture in mind of where you want to go and how to get there. This is where you make your goals and then figure out how to get there. Much like planning a trip on a map. You begin with point A which is where you are today and then point B where you want to go. You then map out your best route. You also make your own mission statement in each of your life roles.
A particular quote from this chapter that struck me was "Through imagination, we can visualize the uncreated worlds of potential that lie within us".** To me that tells that we can create our own potential and that the only limit to our potential is ourselves.

3. Put first things first - This one is about setting priorities in our lives. This is where come to find out about the four quadrants of time (or self Management)>. In quadrant one we have Important/Urgent. Quadrant two we have Important/Not urgent. Quadrant three we have Not Important/Urgent. In the Fourth Quadrant we have Not Urgent/Not Important. In the first quadrant we have Urgent and Important which are items that need our immediate attention. These are things we can't ignore. In quadrant two we have which are Important but not urgent. These are items that though are important but they can be put off. These are preventative actions, planning ahead and maintenance type of items. In Quadrant three we have items that though are not important to us personally they are made urgent. These can be urgent meetings that have nothing to do with us and our goals. Doing urgent favors to cover for a friend or coworker may fall into this category. In the fourth quadrant we have the unimportant and not urgent. These are what I call time wasters. These can be trivial items such as playing too many video games , watching endless ours of TV or surfing for hours on the internet (I stand guilty as charged).
Of course Stephen urges us to concentrate our activities in quadrant two activities. Though Quadrant one activities will still have to be dealt with. As time goes by these urgent activities(or crisis) will be fewer and when they do arise you'll be better prepared.

4. Think Win/Win - This is the philosophy and frame of mind that seeks mutually beneficial outcomes to all our interactions. This is opposed to the idea of Win/Lose, lose/lose, Win,Lose/Win and so on. It means means both parties walk away satisfied and feel good about the agreement or outcome.

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. - What this boils down to is to listen with empathy. To fully understand the other person totally before making yourself understood. I know I catch myself trying to but get across my idea or thought before the other person has finished what he or she has said. Therefore I wasn't totally listening or trying to understand them first. How can you fully make someone understand you if you don't understand what they want first? That I believe is what Stephen tries to get across.

6. Synergize - To me this comes down to is teamwork. Stephen's definition is that the "the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts".** An example of this can be the New England Patriots football team. As of this writing they had just completed a perfect sixteen wins in the regular season and are heavily favored to win the Superbowl. They weren't always like this for many years in there infancy they went through being a laughing stock, poorly managed, cheesy stadium and so on. In the mid 1990's new ownership took over with a commitment to win and build a dynasty. Through a series of coaching and player changes they started winning Superbowl wins didn't come at first. Then it seemed with coach Belichek and quarterback Brady things seem to come together. Now they have a state of the art stadium complex, three Superbowl Wins and looking for a fourth and now have management that's committed to win.

7. Sharpen the Saw- This one is about self renewal. This is about taking a break once and awhile to maintain your balance. It talks of renewing yourself not only mentally but physically, spiritually, socially and emotionally. Physically you should take time to take care of yourself. To eat well, get checkups and of course exercise. Mentally we should be reading,visualizing, planning and writing. Spiritually would should be studying, meditating renew or strengthen values. Socially and emotionally we should be emphatic to others. Taking time to develop relationships and such.

A basic them through the book is to work from being dependent on others. To independent then finally interdependent. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it it to others. There are many more inspirational and deep thoughts that Stephen comes up with throughout the book. I carry the book wherever I go now. I've got ton's of stuff outlined underlined and so on through out the book. I don't look at it like some kind of bible but more as a reference book. I read through the book and had countless "aha" moments when ideas or thoughts I agreed with or had discovered something new. This book won't be on my bookshelf long enough to collect dust as it generally goes where I do.


* - "On Course" 5th Edition by Skip Downing

** - "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Voices in my Head

You lock the door

And throw away the key

There's someone in my head but it's not me

-Pink Floyd “Brain Damage”

We all have an inner conversation going on within in ourselves. It’s probably going on right now as you read this deciding whether to read on or not. Just right now mine told me to go take the chicken out of the freezer, like my wife asked before she comes home and kills me for not doing it. Some of you may hear voices that give a constant running commentary, criticism or guidance. What I hope to explain here is the different types of voices and perhaps some guidance on which to listen to. I recently learned about these through a book called “On Course” by Skip Downing. Which I read for recent college course I took called Student Success. Although it was geared for college success it also has good advice for other aspects of your life. Why is it important to learn these? These are the voices we tend to listen to the most and base most of our decisions on them.

The first one we’ll cover is called the Inner Critic. This is the voice that deems us weak or inadequate. This one tells us I’m no good at math, I’m ugly and, my nose is too big. It blames you for whatever is going wrong in your life. It's not to say that the inner critic is always wrong, but it does tend to go overboard with self criticism. Self awareness is a good thing if done with care. The idea is to learn from your mistakes and not to do the same thing again.

What creates the inner critic? You may say it sounds like an adult criticism from your younger years. Perhaps you can even recall the specific incident when it happened. I know a lot of my life I've been called shy and quiet. Many times I found myself using this as an excuse to not perform my best or at least speak up when I should have.

On the other end of the spectrum we have the Inner Defender. This guy is the poster child of passing the buck. Instead of looking to ourselves for responsibility it plants the blame squarely on others. Like say blaming a teacher for a lousy grade. Another is blaming your boss or coworker because his job stinks. Basically not taking responsibility for ones own situation.

I see this one as the most prevalent at my current job unfortunately. One fellow I worked with for awhile would groan and complain about a job and constantly ask why another shift hadn't (in his opinion) done the job. In fact he seemed more concerned about what they were doing (or not) than what he himself was doing. Which to me is worrying about something that is out of your control and one should be focused( in my opinion) on your job at hand. He would spend quite amount of energy asking why or complaining to anyone who would listen about what someone else had or hadn't done right. To me it was silly and a waste of time and energy.

This has it's root probably in childhood when we were scared or defensive. We all know many children will blame siblings for things they have done. My grandmother would say “Did Gigi do it?” when asking who did something wrong. Assigning blame to an invisible person. Sure we went along with it when we could.

The last one we'll look at is the Inner Guide. Like Luke Skywalker had the ghost of Obi Wan Kenobi as his inner guide in Star Wars. It's usually the voice of reason and wisdom. It seeks to make the the best of a situation. Think of it as the “No Spin Zone” inside your head. Often giving you the impartial truth. Do I always listen to him? Not always. I've made just as many mistakes as anyone else.

The Inner Guide often finds the middle ground between the Inner Critic and Inner Defender and usually asks how you can find a sane solution to your problem. Instead of spending a lot of time blaming others or criticizing themselves, the Inner Guide almost takes a step back and analyzes the situation to find a solution.

So who should we listen to? Most often enough the Inner Guide is the one we should listen to most often. Many times in haste we turn to the inner critic or defender for advice. Not all of us are perfect but it does help to be aware of these inner voices inside our head that guide us in our daily lives. Remember that the inner critic tends beat ourselves up over issues. The inner defender will be blaming everyone else, including President Bush for there situation. The Inner Guide is your best bet in my opinion. He tends to be the voice of reason. It usually makes the most sense in many cases if we are listening. How many times have you realized you did something wrong and said I should have listened to myself beforehand? I know I have.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

All the presidents men

I've never read this one but it should be interesting. It's a Christmas gift I got today. I love reading in general and I'm on vacation this week so I could catch up on my personal reading. Hope your all having a great holiday. Talk to you later.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Final Grade - Student Success

I just checked online and I found out my final grade in my Student Success class. I got an "A" !!! Boy that made my day! I'm still waiting on my Oral Communications class final grade. Hopefully I'll find out by the end of the week. What a Christmas present.

Three rules of success

Ever wish you had a simple plan for success? I recently read about in a book about three simple rules for success. They do make sense and maybe they could help you out. This was done by polling college professors and they identified three rules of success. These can not only be applied to school but in the rest of your life at work, play, family etc. Here's the list:

Rule #1 Show up. - Kind of makes sense doesn't it. If you skip classes miss work you miss out or have to play catch up when you come back. This past semester I missed the the first class of exch class because I didn't read the schedule correctly. I had to play catch up for a couple of weeks after. After that I made it a goal to attend every class after that. The only class I missed was canceled because of snowstorm. I also did well in both classes to boot.

Rule #2 I do my best work. Another no brainer perhaps. Granted your best work isn't always possible but you should make it a goal. In doing some assignments this semester it was acceptable to hand some papers hand written but many times I went the extra mile to type and print them out to make a better appearance. I felt more pride handing those in then handing in a sheet of notebook paper for an assignment.

Rule #3 I participate actively. Be committed to participate actively in your tasks and roles in life. If you don't your just being reactive and have no control over the outcome. Be prepared in class or work, Listen attentively and plan ahead. Like Stephen Covey would advise to be proactive. Don't be a bump on a log.

Even though I haven't perfected these three I've at least got some guidelines to go by. To me they make sense and can be applied to all facets of life. Remember to show up,do your best and participate! Thank you and have a Merry Christmas!

*Sources: On Course (5th Edition) by Skip Downing, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lessons learned

Well this past week I had my final Oral Communications class this week. I took the final and I believe I did ok. Probably will know within the next week what my final grade is. I haven't heard anymore on my Student Success class yet. It's the holidays so I probably won't find out the final grades until after Christmas. I liked both of my teachers and felt I came a long way since September. Even the Oral Communications teacher was very positive and felt I had come a long way. The whole experience itself was personally uplifting. I feel energized by feeding my brain is one way to describe it. I'm hoping in the next couple of weeks I hope to share some of the things I learned before my next classes start in mid January. I actually going to miss school in a way but a break isn't bad to recharge my batteries. I'll be able to catch up on some personal things and enjoy a week off from work and spend time with my family as they are the most important things to me. Being on the opposite shift that my 5 year old son goes to school is tough. I miss him a lot and many times go all week with seeing him. He's growing so fast and he's doing well in Kindergarten. I got to see him at school sing for a Christmas program. I was so proud of him as he sang with his class. You definitely can't pass up those moments. Not to forget my wife I miss her too. I see her a bit more during the week so we try and catch up on things then. She's very understanding about me going to school and gives me a lot of slack even when I don't deserve it. Well I hope you all are able to enjoy this Christmas season. I'll be a away for Christmas for a couple of days but I'll be around online just not as much as usual. Take care and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Plan ahead

Here's some simple advice from motivational author Jack Canfield. Sounds like good advise . I'm working on it my self . I usually email myself a to-do list and I've found it helps. I haven't gotten to the point of planning each hour out.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Final Week

I had my final Student Success class yesterday which I turned my final essay in (70% of total grade). Before we left while we were doing some class work apparently our teacher read our essays. He was very impressed by it and even thought it worthy of being published in the textbook(On Course by Skip Downing)which has similar stories. Needless to say I was very flattered and somewhat speechless. He was going to share it with his department head and see what he or she thought. Not bad for a guy that hasn't written an essay in probably twenty years. That pretty much made my day. Even if nothing else happens with it, it was the highlight of my semester.
I've got one more class on Thursday for my Oral Communications final, and I'll find out my grade from my last speech(i almost don't want to know). So I'll be concentrating on that until then.
I'm actually kind of sad and glad the semesters ending soon. I thought I've learned a lot and actually can't wait to find out what I'm taking next semester. I also know it'll be good to take a break and recharge my batteries. I have another Stephen Covey Book on the way from Amazon called First Things First. That should give me some reading material over the holidays. That's it for now and see you later.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Healthy Stress reduction

Here are some healthy stress reduction tips. These are adapted from my Student Success textbook "On Course" by Skip Downing. I can see the heavy influence of Stephen Covey's 4 quadrants theory. Here we go.

  • Sail Away - Separate your self from your external stress. Seek some solitude to reduce stress.
  • Make a list of priorities you have.
  • Assign priorities to each task : A= important & important, B = important & not urgent, C = All unimportant items.
  • Cross the C's off the list as they are pretty much a waste of time.
  • Delegation- Wherever possible delegate(A's and B's) to someone else to a task. Ask a favor from a friend relative. Have someone help you with some of your items.
  • Complete remaining A's and B's yourself.
  • Look for time savers. Consolidate errands or tasks whenever possible.
  • Just say No - Say no to any unnecessary commitments. Do it in a polite way whenever possible.
  • Keep Finances organized. Finances can be a big stress do best to keep in order.
  • Exercise - Oops I really slack on this one. Helps reduce stress and is good for you to boot.
I hope these can help you out among these stressful holiday season. Thanks for coming by.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Victims and Creators

My Student Success book teaches us about people who are Victims and Creators. This is similar to Stephen Covey's Proactive and Reactive people. Victims tend to keep doing what they are doing whether it works or not. They blame outside forces and or are heavily influenced by them. Creators change beliefs and behaviors to create solutions. They also take responsibility for there actions and such.
The reason for my intro was to bring about this incident at my work place. At my work we have crews of people who work for different supervisors in different trades. Trading of workers does happen from time to time if someone switches a job(sometimes against there will). Our crew short on people many months ago took on some new members several months ago. One such member came from another crew who was interested in our trade and seemed like a good worker. Also it was well known he didn't get along with his last boss. Over the past several months there have been several incidents involving him and other crew members. Not always his fault but he was in the thick of it. Well just this night while leaving for work he shouts over to me and my friend who were headed for out cars "You guys got me switched back to so and so's (back to his old boss) department next week." Blaming us for his departure from our crew. We had ourselves little if any decision or impact on his leaving. I just thought this illustrated the Victim persona so well.
How often do we our selves blame others for our misfortune, rather than looking into ourselves for our own responsibility? This class and book has made me see the difference in my own thinking and seeing it others.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Been awhile

Since I've been around here. Been busy with other things I guess. I've been working a lot at my PC repair blog. As far as school news has been I've been doing pretty good. I gave my last speech last week for Oral Communications. Mine was a speech of persuasion to read Stephen Covey's book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It went ok. My time was a little short and there were a few things like actually using the blackboard for visuals. Not sure what I was thinking not using visuals it may have helped my time issues. It also didn't help that I had changed the subject at the last minute. Oh well. Got my final test next week. My other class Student Success I've got to finish up my final essay this week and that will be last of that one. I wonder what next semesters classes will be?