7 Habits Of Highly Effective People Review & Summary | Stephen Covey

Welcome to my ‘7 Habits Of Highly Effective People’ Review and Summary by Stephen R. Covey. This book is known to be one of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written. It has transformed the lives of millions of people of all ages and occupations. In fact, Stephen R. Covey is recognized as one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential Americans.

Inside, 7 Habits Of High Effective People,  Covey argues that in order to change our results and situations, we have to first change ourselves. And in order to change ourselves permanently, we have to focus on building empowering habits.

As you can tell from the title, you’ll also discover 7 powerful habits that highly effective people all have. One thing to keep in mind when going through these habits is to understand that you may have heard of all of them before and that they seem like common sense. It’s such a classic (first published in 1989) so there’s no doubt you would have heard it in one way or another. But the real question isn’t whether you know it or not, the question is, do you apply it? More specifically, do you apply it often enough to call it a habit? The secret to this book is to turn what you learn into embedded habits.

My Opinion Of  ‘7 Habits Of Highly Effective People’

Overall, this book is definitely a must read. Not because of its popularity or anything like that but because it addresses the one thing that really matters. Habits. I truly believe that if we can just change our habits, we can change our lives. The only problem with changing habits is that it’s so common sense that no one takes it seriously.

That’s why I love this book because Covey breaks everything down into a step-by-step process. Before even diving into the 7 habits, he explains the psychology of what we do and how our paradigms affect our daily actions. He then proceeds to really nail the fact that we are not who we think but instead just acting on who we think we are. This really sets the stage on why the 7 habits are so important.

Who I Recommend The Book To

This book is a classic and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to improve themselves. Especially if you’re new to Personal Development, this book will be quite an easy read.  Unlike more advanced personal development books, which may dive deeply into the neuroscience of our brain, this book focuses more on actionable concepts. My only advice is to take each concept seriously so that you don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s common sense. Because it’s definitely not common practice for most of us.

Now, if you would like to read and enjoy the book with no spoilers, feel free to stop reading this post and grab a copy of “7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” here. On the other hand, if you would like to study the book, continue reading below, as I will share my study notes designed to help you feel like you’ve read the entire book and understand the top key concepts without even actually reading the book. Below I’ve chosen my top 7 Big Ideas (The 7 Habits) to break down for you.

The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People Summary & Study Notes

Big Idea #1: Be Proactive

By definition, proactive people control situations by causing things to happen rather than waiting to respond after things happen (reactive). People who are proactive don’t sit around waiting for answers to appear; they stand up, put one foot in front of the other, and find the answers.

But what makes a person proactive anyway? Covey argues that the underlying factor of what makes a person proactive is that they take 100% responsibility for their own life. Because if you believe that everything (from your actions, your thoughts, your behavior and your results) is 100% your responsibility (i.e. that you can control it), you’d be more likely to do something about it.

And here’s the thing. You might be thinking “But I can’t possibly control everything that happens to me. What about natural disasters? car accidents? sicknesses? What about those?” Yes, you can’t control absolutely everything that happens to you. I get that. But since you can control your thoughts and actions; no matter what happens to you, you can still control how you respond to the situation. In fact, Covey breaks up the word responsibility to ‘response-ability’ – the ability to choose your response.

A famous example of this is Nick Vujicic, who was born with no arms and no legs. He couldn’t control what happened to him, but he takes full responsibility of how he responds to the situation. In fact, he got his first speaking engagement at age 19, traveled the world, became an author, musician, and actor.

This is why when things go wrong, highly effective people hardly look for the person or situation to blame. It’s ineffective. Instead, they change their mindset to believe that they are 100% responsible for what they do or don’t do, after each situation. This makes them take action immediately to resolve the issue at hand.

Have a look at the table below to see whether you’re living more as a reactive or a proactive person:

Reactive PersonProactive Person
There's nothing I can do
Let's look at our alternatives
That's just the way I am
I choose a different approach
They won't allow that
I control my own feelings
I have to do that
I create an effective presentation
I can't
I choose
I must
I prefer
If onlyI will

Big Idea #2: Begin With The End In Mind

Covey starts off this idea by giving us a visual exercise. Let’s do it right now:

In your mind’s eye, see yourself going to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there. As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life…

One by one your family members and friends come up to speak about you at your funeral. And the question is: What is it that you want them to say? What is the one thing you would like to be remembered by? What accomplishments would you like to be remembered for? What would they have to say about you for you to feel no regrets?

This is a powerful exercise that forces us to really think about what it actually is that we want at the end of our life. As Steve Jobs once said:

All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. Once we have clarity about our end goal, we’ll not only be able to pinpoint what exactly we want but more importantly, we’ll be able to pinpoint what we don’t want. That’s when we can confidently say ‘no’ to things that don’t matter. Often, we don’t know what matters so we say yes to too many things that take up our time but aren’t important to us.

And the best way to make sure we start with the end in mind is to create what Covey calls a “Personal Mission Statement”. A good affirmation has five basic ingredients: it’s personal, includes positive language, is present tense, is visual and emotional. This is similar to Napoleon Hill’s “goal card” in his book Think & Grow Rich as well as Maxwell Maltz’s “new identity visualization” in his book Psycho-Cybernetics. Of course, to make sure we embed our personal mission statement into our mind which will govern everything we do, we should read out the mission statement daily and really feel like we have achieved it (hence present tense).

For example, when I first heard of the concept of affirmations from Think & Grow Rich, I would take my goal card (in Covey’s case, my ‘personal mission statement’) and read it out aloud every single morning, while looking in the mirror after I brushed my teeth. My siblings did think I was a bit nuts but they got over it. Not only did it remind me of what’s important to me, but it governed everything I did for that day and the activities, tasks and even opportunities I would say ‘no’ to. More importantly, without knowing, it was embedded into my subconscious mind (as per Psycho-Cybernetics). Because there’s nothing more ineffective than working towards something and in the midst of working towards it forgetting why you did it in the first place.

Big Idea #3: Put First Things First

This habit is all about taking action. Think of habits 1 and 2 as being the mindset habits (i.e. having the mindset to be proactive as opposed to reactive and also keeping the end in mind for everything you do). Now comes the action bit.

But to be highly effective, it’s not just about taking action. It’s about taking the right actions. That’s where “put first things first” comes in because we have to prioritize which actions we should take. The more we can spend our time on tasks that matter, the more effective we’ll become.

Covey splits the types of activities we can spend our time on into 4 quadrants:

  • Quadrant 1: Important & Urgent Tasks
  • Quadrant 2: Important & Non-urgent Tasks
  • Quadrant 3: Not Important & Urgent
  • Quadrant 4: Not Important & Non-urgent.

Have a look at the table below for examples of activities in each quadrant:

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantQuadrant 1
Pressing Problems
Deadline-Driven Problems
Quadrant 2
Relationship Building
Recognising New Opportunities
Planning, Recreation
Quadrant 3
Some Mails & Reports
Some Meetings
Some Phone Calls & Emails
Quadrant 4
Trivial Stuff
Time Wasters
Pleasant Activities

We have to remember that this table represents tasks which are important and urgent relative to our mission statement. Since we already established that our mission statement is our ultimate end goal in life, we need to rate the importance and urgency of our daily tasks on our mission statement. To be highly effective, the aim is to spend most of our time in Quadrant 2, less in Quadrant 1 and eliminate Quadrant 3 & 4 activities as much as we can. E.g. we can delegate tasks in Quadrant 3 and avoid Quadrant 4 activities altogether.

For example, my 4 quadrants would look something like the table below. I find that I spend most of my time in Quadrant 1 and do neglect my Quadrant 2 activities, especially when I’m working on larger projects. I definitely need improving there.

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantQuadrant 1
All deadlines I place on
myself for different projects
I’m working on (e.g. filming a product)
Quadrant 2
- Long-term goals for my business
- Personal growth (e.g. reading)
- Spending time with family & friends
- Resting well (e.g. holidays)
- Exercising & keeping healthy
Not ImportantQuadrant 3
- Emails & other messages
- General chores
- Admin tasks (e.g. paying bills)
Quadrant 4
- Procrastinating (e.g. social media)
- Games (except when I use it as a reward)

Big Idea #4: Think Win/Win

Now how often do we hear about the saying “think win/win” but we’re not in the habit of thinking like this? Because if you’re anything like me, I’m more in the habit of thinking “How can this benefit me? And how do I convince them ?”.  I remember when I was still in corporate and wanted my boss to approve my 5 weeks worth of leave. I’d express how much the approval would mean to me and kept telling him what big of a favor he’d be doing for me. It wouldn’t instantly cross my mind to think “How could the leave actually benefit my boss?”. Covey says that in order to be highly effective, we must be in the habit of thinking win/win.

Covey does admit that thinking win/win is not necessarily the best way in the current situation. Of course, the best outcome would be if you win and the other person loses. For example, in the above scenario, the best case scenario would be if my boss approved the entire 5 weeks leave. That’s the best case scenario for me. However, win/win is just the better way. For example, my boss approves only 4 weeks leave because he needs me for one of those weeks. That’s not as good as the best case scenario for me so my win is smaller but my boss also wins.

In fact, Covey goes on to argue that highly effective people only go for win/win situations. If there’s not an agreement on win/win, they won’t go for the deal at all. That is, they won’t even settle for win/lose. And of course, without saying, they wouldn’t settle for lose/win or lose/lose at all.

This is because win/win has the highest balance of the two character mentalities of consideration and courage. Where consideration is your consideration for the other person and courage is your courage to back yourself:

  • Lose/Lose = Low Courage + Low Consideration (Low courage because you’re not fighting for yourself to win. Low consideration because you’re allowing the other person to lose too. i.e. the Passive introvert)
  • Win/Lose = High Courage + Low Consideration (This time you have high courage because you’re backing yourself to get the win but again you have low consideration for the other person. i.e. the EGO Bound type of person)
  • Lose/Win = Low Courage + High Consideration (This is the person who only cares about others but not themselves i.e. the people pleaser )
  • Win/Win = High Courage + High Consideration (This is the true leader who considers others but also themselves)

This goes for anything from simple things like asking your partner to watch a movie with you to asking your boss for a promotion. The key here is asking yourself “how could the other person benefit?”. So How could your partner benefit from watching a movie they don’t like? Maybe the answer is you could eat at their favorite dessert place after the movie. Or how could your boss benefit from you getting a promotion? You could point out the value you would be giving the company by taking on more responsibility and creating greater team efficiencies which saves your boss more time. Whatever it is, remember that this is a habit. Win/win should be your default go-to thinking mentality.

Big Idea #5: Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood

This is also another classic. It’s not even about the fact that we don’t tend to listen to the other person when things get heated. No, even when we’re 100% calm, we still don’t ‘listen’ or what Covey calls ’empathic listening’.

If you’re anything like me, I have a tendency to rush into conversations, with the aim of giving good advice. With good intentions of course. But if my aim is purely to give good advice, Covey argues that we’ll fail to diagnose and really deeply understand the problem. This is because any advice you give will usually still come from your point of view of your own experiences, not necessarily the other person’s experience.

An extreme analogy would be this. Say you go to the Optometrist and tell them about your problem and how you can’t see properly. If the Optometrist was only there to give you advice, he’d hand you over his own glasses and told you to try them on. Of course, you can’t really see through someone else’s glasses so you tell him it doesn’t work. And the Optometrist insists “No, trust me, if it works for me, it’ll work for you”. This is how people give advice. They don’t think about the other person’s point of view first before giving advice.

Again, most people’s aim in listening to a conversation is to give a reply. But imagine if your only job when listening to someone is to just listen. And after the conversation finishes, you’d be given an examination on the conversation. If this was the case, you would do anything to really understand the other person’s point of view because your only aim is to score high on that exam. You don’t even have to say anything after the conversation. The way you’ll listen and how you ask questions will be totally different if your aim was to just understand (not to reply). That’s ’empathic listening’. It means to go into a conversation with the aim to just understand, really seek to understand the other person.

Empathic listening is made up of:

  • 10% of what they’re saying
  • 30% of their tonality and
  • 60% of their body language.

Empathic listening is not sympathetic listening. There are 4 typical ways that people respond after listening which Covey does not recommend:

  • Evaluate: we agree or disagree what they are saying
  • Probe: We ask questions from our own frame of reference
  • Advise: We give counsel based on our own experience
  • Interpret: We try to figure people out to explain their motives their behavior based on our own motives and behavior

Everyone is different. Some of us are more logical while others are more emotional. Hence the ability to really understand others is a challenge but it’s not impossible. We just need to really want to listen. Listen with the intention of just understanding first, not to necessarily reply.

Big Idea #6: Synergize

Simply defined, synergy is about the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. In other words, 1 + 1 = 3. This is the highest form of win/win situations. For example, two pieces of wood together will hold much more than the total of the weight held by each piece separately.

An everyday example includes working in a team at work. Say, a group of 5 people are given a task by their manager to finish writing a report each by the end of the day. If they all worked separately, they would each spend roughly around 7 hours to finish their report. But if they were to work in a team, they could each specialize in one section of the report and just replicate this 5 times. By working specifically on a section they’re good at and working on that section repeatedly, they’re bound to create efficiencies for themselves. This is something they wouldn’t have been able to do if they worked by themselves. As a result, they could finish 5 reports as a team, a few hours before the deadline.

Another great example is masterminding. This is also talked about in Think & Grow Rich. Imagine if you asked 5 people to think of a new business idea for you. If each of them worked separately, you’d be given 5 good ideas at the end of the day. However, if you asked the 5 people to team up and create a mastermind, it’s like having 10 brains work for you, not just 5. Because they were able to bounce ideas off each other, they created 5 ingenious out-of-this-world kinds of ideas. And the thing is, none of them could have come up with any of those ideas by themselves. This is the power of synergy.

The key to synergy is to value each person’s different point of views. It’s not about arguing about which person’s view is right or wrong, it’s about really valuing the difference in point of views because this is what gives us new insights. You wouldn’t be able to get these new insights if you worked by yourself. We should also value what different people are good at especially, what people are not so good at so we can assign tasks appropriately to fully take advantage of the concept of synergy.

Big Idea #7: Sharpen The Saw

This is one of my favorite concepts. Covey gives us an example of an old man who works day and night to chop down trees using a saw. Over time the saw becomes blunt and the time it takes to chop down trees just increases. In this case, the old man just works harder and harder just to keep up. Another man sees him and advises him “Hey old man, why don’t you sharpen your saw?” And the old man replies “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

This concept is all about the fact that when we work hard towards something, we forget about our own well-being including our physical, mental, spiritual and social/emotional health. This includes not only taking a rest to replenish our energy but also to take time off to learn new skills or investing in our personal development so that we could do the work even better.

The concept teaches us to be proactive with our own well-being and personal growth. A great example of this was when I used to watch my parents work day and night at our family-owned restaurant. They were working hard and as fast as they could but still sometimes they couldn’t keep up with a number of customers that would walk in. Their only answer was to work even harder and faster. When I suggested that we evaluate our processes and systems for inefficiencies, they simply replied “There’s just no time for that. We just have to keep working”. It took quite a lot of convincing and me explaining to them the concept of having to ‘sharpen the saw’ for them to finally see the benefits of sacrificing time now for huge efficiencies in the future.

So the concept of sharpening the saw is as much about resting well (so that you can be more productive tomorrow) as it is about sacrificing today to invest in the long-term future (i.e. your personal growth or the growth of your business).


7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is a must read not only because it’s a classic but because it talks about the one thing that gives us long-term change – habits. Covey uses a lot of stories and examples to help us better understand the importance of each habit. Unlike other more advanced personal development books, Covey dives less into the neuroscience of our brain and draws out the actionable part of each concept which makes it easy to understand and apply. Especially if you’re new to personal development, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a very good first read.

However because it’s such a classic (first published in 1989), we might run the risk of dismissing each concept as common sense because we’ve heard them before or already know it. But the real question isn’t whether you know it or not, the question is, whether you apply it. More specifically, whether you apply it often enough to call it a habit. So the secret to this book is to turn what you learn into embedded habits.

Your 7 Habits Action Plan

  1. Create a personal mission statement. Perform the funeral test and come up with your own personal mission statement that you can read to yourself every day. Remember, the 5 ingredients of an affirmation that works is: it’s personal, includes positive language, is present tense, is visual and emotional. The key is it has to be emotional (reading it gets you pumped up) and in present tense (reading it gives you the feeling of having already achieved). Read it to yourself aloud every day when you wake up. Napoleon Hill (from Think & Grow Rich) also advises to read it before you go to bed every night.
  2. Draw up your 4 Quadrants. Now that you have your mission statement, write down tasks and activities which would fit the 4 Quadrants. Find out ways that you can delegate Quadrant 3 activities and eliminate Quadrant 4 activities.
  3. Practice Empathic Listening. Next time you have a conversation with someone, just listen. Your aim is to understand them first, not necessarily replying or giving any sort of advice yet. This way you will actually start to learn and understand people and increase your consideration for others, which makes thinking win/win easier as well.

If you enjoyed this review and summary and would like to grab a copy of 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People yourself, please support me by grabbing the book by clicking here. (This is an affiliate link in which I’ll get paid a few bucks)

Your support means a lot and it will help me continue writing more reviews and summaries. Also, please leave an honest feedback below in the comment section sharing what you thought about the book and if you personally apply the 7 Habits in your life. It would be interesting to see how much of these habits are actually applied.

That’s it from me and I’ll talk to you soon,


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