7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Summary and Takeaways, Stephen Covey

seven habits of highly effective people book summary

7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book about self-motivation by Stephen R. Covey. The writer tries to establish facts related to human behaviors that lead to productivity and better performance. Covey believed that the way we see the world is inspired by our perception. Which leads to the fact that in order to change a given situation we need to change ourselves. This article summarises the important takeways from this book. The 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Cover are listed below.

  • Be Proactive
  • Begin with the End in Mind
  • Put First Things First
  • Think Win-Win
  • Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the Saw

There is a hero in each of us, we want to succeed in our lives. We listen to people who made fortunes and then try to ask them how. Stephen believed that there is ‘shortcut’ to success. One has to go through the ordeal that every successful man had to. The only better way would be to learn from their mistakes and try to avoid them. However, most successful people are not afraid of making a mistake. They are only afraid of repeating them.

Let’s go through the major points of these 7 habits of highly effective people.

1-  Be Proactive – Summary and Takeaways

There is a reaction to every action. This is what physics tells us. Everything, whether alive or not, will respond to the action in a certain way. Life, however, has revealed that those who are proactive have made the best out of it. Stephen explains this with an example of failure. He says that if you are not prepared to respond to failure, you are going to respond negatively. This is a common human behavior. A person never likes to be rejected. The proactive behavior would be to prepare for the worst-case scenario and be ready for what is coming your way.

Reactive people will say

‘This is how it is’

‘I can’t do anything about it’

‘it just happened’

Reactivity starts with small actions and turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Reactive people start finding the problems ‘outside’ instead of finding a solution from ‘within’.

Proactive people have the capability of ‘response-ability’ or in other words, have the acceptance for responsibility.

7 habits of highly effective people

What we conclude:

7 habits of highly effective people begin with being ‘Proactive’. This is what you can do being a proactive person. Start small, aim big.

  i. Replace the reactive response with a proactive response.

  Reactive = “He makes me so angry.”
  Proactive = “I control my own feelings.”

  ii. Start implementing a similar proactive response instead of reactive responses.

2- Begin With The End in Mind

We speak about the vision. We know what vision is. Do we know how important it is? Covey says that we need to have a vision and we need our vision to guide us. A person with a vision knows where he is going. The person will know the end. This forms the second habit of highly effective people.

A traveler without a destination is lost. In a similar manner, a person without a vision is ‘lost in life’. Each of us finds it amusing to win. We like being promoted, being given a raise or being given an award. We like doing things that could reward us. Very few people think if these achievements matter to them. You need to think if these little victories are the ones you are looking for.

Where these achievements could amuse us, they could also cause a feeling of loneliness. If we don’t know what we want and where we want to be, we would never be truly happy.

We must be very clear about what we are trying to achieve? An individual or an organization without listed goals is like a never-ending train track. You might feel like traveling and going ahead but you will never know where it leads. You will never know where to slow down and where to speed up.

Covey believes that it is also very important to identify the center of our lives. The center could be the source of all the power, the wisdom and the guidance that we need to succeed.

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Key lessons from this point

i- Identify what defines you.

ii- Breakdown key roles affecting your life

iii- What scares you should become your strength at some point. Identify the weaknesses and convert them into opportunities.

3- Put First Things First

Life is busy. All of us come across people in our lives who are busy doing something. Most of those forget to priorities their daily routine. We all have the problem of failing at putting the important things first. It might be because we fail to understand our own priorities.

Previously we discussed in point two that we need to set goals and we need to know what we are working for. Point three is all about going for those goals by following a disciplined day to day routine. Going after the goals with priorities. A person would have to set goals based on the value. Then the same would have to go after them one by one.

One step at a time, one act at a time. Let yourself decide things and once you do, let things go smoothly. Let things be. Let it be. 7 habits of highly effective people can’t be adopted at once. One has to go one by one to achieve the final goal.

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Stephen Covey has an idea of identifying aa way to prioritize things.

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Spending more time in Quadrant I and managing crises/problems may lead to constant stress. The quadrant consumes us at a point when the recurring problems keep getting bigger and bigger.

Focusing on Quadrant III and spending most of our time reacting urgent matters leads to short term focus. In reality, these urgent matters might be because we have ignored the rest of the matters and have made exceptions based on vague priorities. This short term focus will make you feel shallow and will affect your relationships in all possible ways.

Quadrant IV implies the fact that we are basically leading an irresponsible life. We all know what happens to irresponsible individuals. Getting fired from the job, getting kicked out of teams and ending with no money, no shelter and no one around.

Quadrant II is at the center of effective personal management. This quadrant is about long term planning, building sustainable relationships, going out and spending quality time, exercising and living a healthy life.

We have to learn to say “no” to a few things to spend time in the second quadrant. Sometimes these activities might seem urgent but we have to effectively delegate and see if they really are what they seem.

seven habits of highly effective people summary

Key Lessons:

Here is what we can conclude from point three.

i. Stop neglecting the activities from Quadrant II. Start writing the most important activities from this quadrant and start implementing them.

ii. Create a management matrix that you can’t ignore.

iii. Spending time in each quadrant effectively. This means that you have to decide and go with each quadrant in parallel and stop your schedule from taking the life away from you.

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4- Think Win-Win

What good is a win when people around you are not happy? Did you even win if this is the case? A person who thinks win win is the one people trust and like doing business with. This person could build sustainable relationships and growing businesses. This is the key habit of highly effective people.

Covey explains in his book that there are these six paradigms of human interaction.

i. Win-Win: Both people/parties win. The agreement is equally beneficial for both

ii. Win-Lose: If I win, you lose.” These people will use their power, position or authority to find their way. No matter what happens to the other party/person.

iii. Lose-Win: I lose, you win.” These people will accept defeat to win hearts. Acceptance is usually the biggest thrill in their life.

iv. Lose-Lose: Both people lose and usually it happens because of the person who would not let you win in case he/she can’t. These people take their satisfaction from the fact that no one is happy if he/she is not.

v. Win: The second party/person does not matter to them. They just want to win and are ignorant of others. Whether the other party wins or loses, they do not care.

vi. Win-Win or No Deal: These people will only make a deal if the situation is not win-win.

Covey believes the first option to be the way to go. Both have to win for the life to be in order. The rest of the five paradigms will create problems at some point.

Win-win or no deal is another paradigm that can be appealing. This liberates a person from second thoughts. It also allows them not to manipulate anyone and to offer straight/transparent deals.


To go for Win-Win, you not only have to be nice, you have to be courageous. -Stephen Covey

Key Lessons:

Start thinking win-win and face these challenges to avoid complications.

i- Start thinking about the upcoming interactions where might have to reach an agreement.

ii- There is always an exception when it comes to relationships. Identify at least three of your most important relationships. Think if you are giving more than you are taking or vice versa. Giving more than taking in this scenario will be healthy.

5- Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Empathic listening is required to understand people. We want others to understand us, we want people to know why we do what we do. What makes us think that others would not want the same? Before we suggest something to someone or to form an opinion about a certain behavior, we need to understand people. Communication is the key to any successful deal and understanding opponents is the key to successful communication.

Most people prescribe a solution before diagnosing the problem. We all know it would lead to disaster. Habit 5 of the book asks us to avoid this behavior.

seven habits of highly effective people summary

A point worth mentioning is that understanding is not always possible if we keep following the same technique. The other person might feel that we are manipulating her and might start feeling unsafe opening to us. Listening to the other people and visualizing their perspective is required to understand them.

Stephen Covey

Covey pointed out in his book that 10% of our communication is represented by our words, 30% by our sounds, and 60% by our body language.

Key points to understand other people are listed below.

i- Evaluate and agree or disagree with what is said

ii- Probe and ask questions from our own frame of reference

iii- Advise and give counsel based on our own experience

iv- Try to figure out the other person’s behavior based on our own motives and behavior

Key Lessons

1- Watch emotions through body language instead of focusing on words. Practice by watching two people communicating by evaluating their body language instead of their words.

2- Change your style of presenting ideas. Start by evaluating the perspective of your audience. Start with what your audience might want to say or to listen to.

6- Synergize

Analyzing other people will give us a chance to identify differences. This will lead to creating synergy and to open new gates to openness. 7 habits of highly effective people form a certain class of people. If you find that class, you will be able to synergize with the top tier.

The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. The sum of 5 habits combined with 6 produces synergy.

Take the example of plants. Two plants planted together will help each other by combining their roots producing healthier trees. Two plants planted at a distance would produce different results. Synergy refers to growing together and opening new doors to success. Collective growth is easier than growing individually.

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In order to create synergy, you need to start with point 3 and 4. Start thinking win-win and then seek to understand. Pool your desires with other people and stop thinking that you are on the opposite side of the picture.

This way, you will end up being transformed. You will end up being in relationships while getting what you want.


Key Lessons from Habit 6

i- Think of two people who irritate you. Try to be in their shoe and identify what else could they have done in a given situation? What would you do in a given situation if you were them?

If you are in a disagreement with them, find out why. Try and understand their concerns and see if you can eradicate any threats they feel around you. See if you can shackle barriers of trust or worthiness.

ii- Think of two people you get along with. Go back a bit and see if you have been in successful teamwork with them. Try to identify what lead you and them to be successful in that teamwork. Repeat the actions of your findings.

7- Sharpen the Saw ‘Last on the list of – 7 habits of highly effective people -‘

Stephen implies that we need to keep improving ourselves to be effective. We need to keep renewing physically, mentally, spiritually and socially to keep up with the pace. Renewing is important in order to effectively follow the aforementioned 6 habits.

Habit 7 is about preserving and enhancing your assets by renewing them continually. The following actions would help you adapt to the habits that lead to effectiveness.

Physical Health:

  • Eat well so you have the required energy to perform according to your schedule.
  • Sleep well so you can get up on time. This would keep you relaxed.
  • Exercise on a regular basis to improve your physical strength and appearance.

Spiritual Health:

  • Practice meditation on a daily basis.
  • Communicate with nature.
  • Find literature or music that provides you with strength.

Mental Health:

  • Read books that are related to your life/industry or interests.
  • Write about your experiences.
  • Limit TV programs to the only ones that add to your vision and insights.

Social Health:

  • Help others find success by keeping an abundance mentality.
  • Invest in useful projects.
  • Seek to understand others as previously described.

seven habits of effective people

The beauty of these seven habits is that improving one synergistically improves the rest of the habits.

Key Lessons:

i- Make a list of ‘Sharpen the Saw’ activities and follow your plan

ii- Start doing everything that renews yourself. Follow the steps that keep you alive and energized.

The more we see the people in terms of their unsee potential, the more we can use our imagination rather than our memory.

— Stephen Covery | Author of the book “Seven habits of highly effective people”

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Umer Atiq
IT Consultant and business analyst. Keeps an interest in the affair that impact business or society.