What are you waiting for?

May 31, 2008

Putting first things first is one of the seven esteemed “Habits of Highly Effective People”. On the surface, this may seem vague, yet obvious. If something urgent comes up, we focus our attention on it, and knock it out of the way. However, Steven Covey’s insight is much different, and it runs deeper as well. He encourages readers to place daily activities into a matrix, helping sort out which activities should demand the majority of our time and energy. (Here is a matrix specifically aimed towards bloggers.) In general, quadrant three and four activities are not important, therefore not much time should be spent in them. He notes that it is important to clarify which items are actually in Q3, but are often believed to be Q1. Just because something is urgent does not mean it is important. Covey strikes the nail on the head when he describes matters that seem urgent, but “are based on the priorities and expectations of others.” A simple question to ask if you are always strapped for time is “What would happen if I didn’t do this”. I remember hearing on a radio show a technique a women used for time management. If two events ever conflicted, she would ask herself, “What will the consequences be in 10 mins, 10 days, and 10 years?” This frame of thought gives a nice balanced outlook in the short and long run, helping determine if an activity is important and/or urgent.

Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because, urgent or not, they aren’t important. They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II…Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management. -Stephen Covey

When I read over this passage, I was prompted to examine my daily routine to determine which of my activities were in Q3 or Q4. For example, when a few of my good friends were going out to see the Indiana Jones Premier midnight showing, they really wanted me to go, and they told me that I would not want to miss out on this. Social pressures made this event appear as if it was urgent therefore important, when in reality, it was neither. Sure it would have been great to tag along, but when my sleep would have amounted to only four hours, I knew my studies would suffer, especially during class the next day or two. Other activities that were in Q3/Q4 were video games and aimlessly surfing the internet.

What I really want to stress in this post is this main point, taken from Steven Covey: “What one thing could you do in your personal and professional life that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life?” A few things popped up in my mind right away when I read this:

  1. Read more books
  2. Create a blog
  3. Learn to type 40-50 WPM without looking at the keyboard

Bottom Line:

  • I encourage each of you to determine what parts of your daily routine are not important, even if they seem urgent.
  • Try to minimize these activities, learn to say “No” if you are feeling overwhelmed with responsibilites.
  • Focus your efforts on matters that are not urgent at this point in time, but which would allow “quantum leaps” in effectiveness in either our personal or professional lives.

Will you hurry up and finish so I can talk?

May 30, 2008

This phrase often runs through my mind when I am conversing with people, and I’m sure that I am not the only person that frequently has this mindset. When I enter into a conversation with someone, more times that not, it is because either of us has something that is personally important or interesting that we would like to share with each other: a news story from last night that is particularly important, a tidbit from that book we have been reading, or maybe that new music group that is the best thing since cable internet. It could be anything really.

Sometimes I stop listening to a person a few seconds after they have just started talking. For example, a friend recently came up to me to tell me about this really cool band he had recently started to listen to, but as soon as I heard “cool band” I immediately zoned out, and started raking my brain to come up with an even cooler band that I had recently discovered. When he stopped talking, I tuned back in and started saying “Oh yeah, cool… But I found this really cool band as well. Let me tell you about it.” I’m sure it is obvious how disingenuous I was being, yet I felt that I needed to one up him, and in the process I am sure he became very agitated.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply

-Stephen Covey

He continues to say that our reasons for listening this way is because we want to be understood. What a novel concept. However, there is not a positive correlation between how much I talk in a conversation, and how much people want to actually listen to me. It is unfair to expect our counterpart to listen with an intent to understand, when we do not do the same for them. This insight can be very powerful in establishing deep, effective relationships. I am not talking about manipulating people, or using special “listening techniques” so I can get what I want. That is dishonest, and frankly flat out wrong, even though it happens on a daily basis in every career field.

Often times I wonder why many of my relationships are shallow, where conversational topics only skim the surface, and the most personal thing I know about someone is what they ate they ate for lunch that day. I now realize that this void is just fallout of daily conversational battles, where each person is yearning to be understood, but is never fulfilled. I have been in numerous situations where a person will start to say something, and before they can finish their first sentence, someone has starting talking about a similar experience, leaving the first person feeling dejected. Covey writes that instead of pretending to listen, or flat out ignoring a person, one should use “empathetic listening”. He continues to delve deeper, writing that empathetic listening includes “listening with the ears, but also more importantly listening with your eyes and with your heart.” When a listener takes this course of action, he/she will begin to really understand the speaker, and climb into their frame of reference. It is at this point in which relationships will deepen, and when people will feel more comfortable opening up and talking about more meaningful topics.

The Bottom Line: Genuinely listen to people, “listen to understand, then to be understood.”

You Reap What You Sow

May 28, 2008

Stephen Covey used a quotation taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson that I thought was especially encouraging, yet basic at its core.

That which we persist in doing becomes easier—not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a point in my life where many of the daily tasks I am doing are relatively new to me, a lot of them seem appropriately daunting. I am learning valuable skills in these coming years that will be pertinent in relation to my life, career, and future family, and it is easy to try and look for an easy route. Most things in life have no “easy way out”, and Stephen Covey vehemently supports this notion, “You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut,” He uses the idea of trying to cram on a farm, forgetting to plant in the spring, and brushing it off all summer, yet coming back in the fall to try to reap a harvest that you did not sow. It isn’t possible. While some special cases may occur, the general rule stands true, and should be in the forefront in all of our lives.

The Bottom Line: You reap what you sow.

Ethics in “7 Habits”

May 27, 2008

Throughout the entirety of the book, several quotes and excerpts stuck out to me, striking me on a personal level, forcing me to think and reflect for awhile. For the next couple of posts I plan on putting these reflections into words, and posting them a long with quotes, so that I can share the important ideas I was taught.

Just as junk food and lack of exercise can ruin an athlete’s condition, those things that are obscene, crude, or pornographic can breed an inner darkness that numbs our higher sensibilities and substitutes the social conscience of “Will I be found out?” for the natural or divine conscience of “What is right and wrong?”

This section in particular was important to me, and forced me to reexamine values that I have in life. In different parts of my daily life, there are things that I do because I fear the consequences if I am found out, where as other actions I take because I know, deep down, that is it the right thing to do. Stephen Covey urges us to become self-aware, of our surroundings and actions, and be conscious of why we do the things we do . Additionally he states that we should choose a set of principles to base our life off of, so that when situations present themselves, and we are able to choose our actions based not on consequences, but rather what is the right thing to do, reverting back to our standard set of life principles. Looking back on the philosophy class I took last Autumn, this essentially is contrasting virtue ethics and consequentialism.