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Do you want to make your life better? Are you struggling in your personal or professional life, your interactions with other people, your life balance, or your life’s purpose?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People provides an inside-out approach to improving yourself and your life. This method entails examining and adjusting your character, your motives, and how you see the world in order to change how you behave and how you interact with others. Learn how to best focus your time, define your personal mission, and build productive relationships with other people.


Habit 3: Prioritize Important Over Urgent

Habit Description

Prioritize your time and actions in order to live up to your personal mission statement. (Shortform note: To help you apply Covey’s advice, we’ve included organizational strategies later in this guide from the more detailed, systematic approach described in Getting Things Done.)

Why It Matters

To prioritize the tasks that will have the biggest positive impact on your life, Covey promotes a time management matrix originally designed by President Eisenhower that categorizes tasks based on their urgency and importance (meaning that they contribute to your goals, values, and personal mission statement). The matrix has four task categories, which Covey refers to as quadrants:

  1. Category 1: Urgent and Important—The crises and problems in this category eat up your time and distract you from preventing future crises, creating a vicious cycle.
  2. Category 2: Not Urgent, but Important—This is where you should spend most of your time, because it includes activities that could easily be put off, but that bring great benefits in the long term (like exercising).
  3. Category 3: Urgent, but not Important—These activities are typically things that other people want you to do but that aren’t important to you.
  4. Category 4: Neither Urgent nor Important—These leisure and entertainment activities contribute nothing to your life, and effective people tend to avoid them.

Develop Time Management Skills to Complement the Tools

Research suggests that this matrix is a useful tool, but it doesn’t develop all of the three skills necessary for effective time management, each of which is equally important:

  • Awareness that your available time is limited—the matrix doesn’t measure the accuracy of your time estimates for tasks, nor does it improve how you allocate your limited time.

  • Arrangement of your time through goal-setting, planning, and scheduling—the matrix is most effective in this category because it helps you prioritize the most important tasks to schedule accordingly.

  • Adaptation of your time while carrying out tasks, particularly when you’re interrupted and have to shift priorities—the matrix potentially improves adaptation by providing a system to gauge priorities on the fly if your work is interrupted with an urgent request.

How To

Covey asserts that weekly planning is the most effective way to manage your time and achieve your goals: A weekly schedule is narrow enough to ensure important tasks get done promptly, and it’s broad enough to be flexible when things come up unexpectedly.

Follow these steps to create your weekly plan:

  1. Identify your roles (such as employee or volunteer).
  2. Identify one or two goals you want to achieve for each role in the next week.
  3. Assign a day to accomplish each goal.
  4. Schedule time for activities that renew and revitalize you. (More on this in Habit 7.)
  5. Build in open, unscheduled time for the unexpected.
  6. When things come up unexpectedly, evaluate how they fit your goals and schedule.

Prioritize and Get Things Done

Habit 3 takes a big-picture approach to time management, but the Getting Things Done (GTD) system offers more specific advice on how to gather, assess, organize, and address the relentless flow of emails and demands. The five steps of the GTD system are:

  • Capture every problem, idea, reminder, and to-do in a designated in-tray.

  • Clarify what you need to do with each item: throw it away, keep it for reference, delegate it, do it, schedule it, or save it to reconsider later.

  • Organize each item: File reference items and things to reconsider, hand off delegated items, write action items on a to-do list, and put scheduled items on a calendar.

  • Review your calendar and to-do list frequently; your calendar determines the structure of your days and weeks, while your to-do list tells you what to tackle between scheduled appointments.

  • Engage with the task; in other words, get it done.

Rather than creating a weekly schedule, as Covey recommends, the GTD system emphasizes a weekly review to update to-do lists and calendars and review scheduled appointments and priorities for the week ahead.

Habit 4: Seek Mutual Benefits

Habit Description

When tackling a problem or negotiation with someone, always strive to find a mutually beneficial solution.

Why It Matters

While Habits 1-3 focus on personal effectiveness, Covey says that Habits 4-6 focus on building interdependent (or collaborative) success through strong relationships and effective interactions.

Habit 4 is the first step: Approach every interaction as an opportunity to find a mutually beneficial outcome, which Covey calls a “Win/Win” mindset.

  • Description: This mindset values cooperation over competition—one person’s success doesn’t come at the expense of another’s.
  • Benefits: It strengthens the relationship between the people involved—improving the quality of future collaborations—and leads to more innovative solutions.

(Shortform note: Although the idea of finding a mutually beneficial solution seems appealing, negotiation coach Jim Camp argues that win/win often pressures both parties to rush to any agreement rather than doing the haggling necessary to reach the best deal.)

How To

Once you’ve adopted the right mindset and you sit down to negotiate or work together, how do you actually arrive at a mutually beneficial solution? Covey offers these tips:

  1. Try to understand the other person’s perspective. We’ll explain how to do this in Habit 5. (Shortform note: Rather than simply understanding it, Never Split the Difference author Chris Voss promotes changing the other person’s perspective in your favor.)
  2. Describe each person’s biggest concerns as objectively as possible. (Shortform note: Voss suggests a “calculated empathy” tactic in which you name the other person’s feelings to increase trust and rapport for the purpose of getting what you want.)
  3. Identify what results constitute a “win” for each person. (Shortform note: Voss says desires and fears often distract people from what they really want in negotiations.)
  4. Determine a new solution that achieves those results. (Shortform note: Getting to Yes authors Roger Fisher and William Ury suggest using objective criteria—like market values—to measure how a solution benefits each side.)

Habit 5: Listen and Understand the Other First

Habit Description

When communicating with others, Covey urges you to try to understand their perspective before asking them to understand yours.

Why It Matters

Covey points out that you can’t reach a mutually beneficial solution without first understanding the other person’s interests. This requires empathic listening, or striving to understand the other person’s perspectives by interpreting what they’re saying as well as how they feel. (Shortform note: Subsequent research has found that, beyond empathy, effective listening involves giving supportive, constructive responses.)

How To

Covey suggests you practice empathic listening with these exercises:

  • People-watch to practice interpreting nonverbal cues. Observe an interaction from afar. What can you discern about people’s emotions based solely on their body language?
  • Practice switching views. In a debate or negotiation, try to describe the situation from the other person’s perspective. Then, explain your point through their lens.
  • Ask a friend or family member for feedback. Explain the concept of empathic listening, and ask them to tell you in a week how well you listened empathically to them.

Specific Strategies for Empathic Listening

Covey’s exercises allow you to practice empathic listening, but he doesn’t provide many specific strategies. Supplement Covey’s exercises with these practical strategies for empathic listening from the Crisis Prevention Center:

  • Signal that you're listening with your body language and gestures like nodding.

  • Withhold your judgments. You don’t have to agree with the other person, but you must release your opinions long enough to understand the other person’s perspective.

  • Paraphrase what you think the other person is saying, and ask them if you’re correct.

  • Embrace silence. Sometimes your presence is enough to make the other person feel supported.

  • Don’t cut the conversation short. Make sure the other person has expressed everything they wanted to say.

Habit 6: Collaborate to Create Possibilities

Habit Description

Covey contends that collaborating (creating what he calls “synergy”) with another person enables you to achieve more than either of you could alone.

Why It Matters

Covey believes that collaboration creates outcomes greater than the sum of the parts, as in 1+1 = 3 or more (for example, one singer plus another singer creates a harmony). This is possible because the relationship itself adds value by creating the opportunity for collaboration.

The mutually beneficial mindset from Habit 4 and empathic listening from Habit 5 foster trust and goodwill, which are necessary for effective communication and collaboration. Covey suggests that the collaborative process then strengthens the relationship, which benefits future collaborations. (Shortform note: Subsequent research has revealed that the connection between empathy, trust, and collaboration is neurological: When people feel trusted, their brains release higher levels of oxytocin, which makes them more trustworthy and trusting. As a result, in high-trust environments, people become more productive and collaborative.)

How To

To effectively collaborate, Covey says you need “internal synergy.” In other words, be both analytical and intuitive, because life can be logical as well as emotional.

(Shortform note: To supplement Covey’s advice, which is fairly abstract, managers can use specific strategies to increase trust and promote collaboration on their teams. These tactics include encouraging relationship-building among teammates, giving people the freedom to choose how they work, and celebrating successes publicly and promptly.)

Habit 7: Practice Self-Renewal

Habit Description

Covey’s final habit, self-renewal, maintains your well-being so that you can continue doing the work of Habits 1-6.

Why It Matters

Covey asserts that keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy prevents burnout, supports productivity, and actually improves your overall efficiency and effectiveness, creating an upward spiral of growth. Self-renewal also helps you stay disciplined and focused on your goals and values.

(Shortform note: A key benefit that Covey overlooks is that self-renewal weakens the negative impacts of stress. This reframes the value of self-care: It doesn’t make you feel better by masking or distracting from your issues, but rather by helping you get through them.)

How To

Covey advises practicing four aspects of self-renewal:

  1. Physical—Eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep and relaxation.
  2. Spiritual—This can include praying, meditating, reading, and spending time in nature.
  3. Mental—Read, write, and expose yourself to new information.
  4. Social/emotional—Since emotional health is so closely tied with social interactions, Covey argues that this form of self-renewal actually comes from practicing Habits 4-6.

Focus on What’s Most Important

Minimalists have developed similar categories, not for the express purpose of self-renewal, but rather as a way to focus on the most important things in order to eliminate excess and live a simpler life. However, decluttering your life in these areas could also contribute to self-renewal. Minimalism authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus describe five key values (some of which overlap Covey’s four dimensions):

  • Health—Eat well and exercise.

  • Relationships—Drop unproductive relationships and invest in meaningful ones.

  • Passions—Pursue a mission-driven passion instead of career and status.

  • Growth—Make small, daily changes that contribute to substantial growth over time.

  • Contribute to others—Serve society and help others grow.


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Here's a preview of the rest of Shortform's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People PDF summary:

PDF Summary Shortform Introduction


In classes, books, and training courses, Covey spent his career educating people on business management, leadership skills, and personal improvement, and he accumulated a variety of accolades for his work.


PDF Summary Part 1 | Introduction to the Habits: Change Your Perspective


Behavior #2: She gives employees freedom to work independently and checks in periodically to provide support.

Result #2: Her subordinates are empowered to tackle each project with their best effort, even if they approach things differently than their supervisor would. Additionally, this freedom shows the workers that their supervisor has confidence in them, which motivates them to work hard and perform.

Covey explains that everyone has a patchwork of perspectives that are influenced by a lifetime of exposure to the world—family, education, work, religion, friends, and culture. Ironically, although our perspectives determine all of our thoughts, actions, and emotions, we are so accustomed to them—like a fish to water—that we seldom even realize that they exist, let alone question their accuracy. For example, your political beliefs are a lens through which you view events and people. Think of the last time that you responded emotionally to a president’s speech (whether positive or negative); how much did you pause to question why you felt that way, and what perspectives colored your interpretation of that speech?

**Awaken the Giant Within: Perspectives Stem...

PDF Summary The Rationale Behind the Seven Habits


  • They are an expression of your character because they surface without any conscious effort to portray yourself in any particular way.

  • They are powerful reinforcers because they persist regardless of your conscious effort.

As authors Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel explain in Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, this is the crux of habits’ value: When a behavior becomes subconscious, it’s on autopilot, leaving your conscious mind free to tackle other things.

In other words, habits essentially put good behavior on cruise control. This does two critical things:

  • It ensures that you continue the behavior long term

  • It preserves your mental energy for more good choices

Furthermore, Covey prescribes the seven habits in a specific sequence, which aims to foster an interdependent perspective, which he says is crucial to being effective in all aspects of life—from marriage to family to the workplace. **Interdependent people can take care of their own needs, but they also recognize that a collaborative team or partnership is greater than the...

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PDF Summary Part 2: Improve Your Independence | Habit 1: Take Initiative


  • People with an external locus of control (like externally influenced people) blame their circumstances on external forces over which they have no control. They deny responsibility for failures as well as credit for successes, leaving them unconfident and unempowered.

  • People with an internal locus of control (like initiative-takers) believe that they have a direct impact on their futures. They learn from failures and try to improve for future situations.

According to Achor, this sense of control contributes to increased motivation, lower stress, stronger relationships, improved communication and problem-solving, greater job satisfaction, and better physical health.

Covey makes a point to distinguish taking initiative from being blindly optimistic. (Shortform note: This difference plays out in how people respond to systemic racial inequity, especially as the issue has been more broadly publicized and acknowledged in recent years.)

  • **Initiative-takers accept difficult realities and determine how to...

PDF Summary Habit 2: Envision the Life You Want


(Shortform note: While Covey suggests finding clarity by imagining yourself at the end of life and working backward, author and organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy advises doing the opposite: Imagine what you’d do if you had only one month to live, but you couldn’t tell anyone about your prognosis. What if you had one year? Five years? His explanation suggests that the immediacy of deciding what you’d do with just one month highlights what’s most important, while expanding that vision to one year and then five years helps you clarify how to balance those values with necessary day-to-day logistics—for instance, maybe you could neglect work and only spend time with loved ones for a month, but not for five years.)

With this in mind, Covey recommends creating a personal mission statement (we’ll call it your personal manifesto to emphasize the passion behind it and the daily action it aims to inspire). This is a living document that encompasses who you want to be and what you want to do. **Your manifesto helps to keep you focused on your big-picture goals so that you can ensure...

PDF Summary Habit 3: Prioritize Important Over Urgent


  • Action: Devote time to these tasks.

Category 3: Urgent, but not Important

  • Types of tasks: Things that other people want you to do, but which don’t contribute to your goals and values (like busywork)
  • These kinds of activities can eat up your precious time and energy, without giving much value back to your life. Some people don’t even realize that these matters are not important, assuming that urgency implies importance.
  • Action: Delegate.

Category 4: Neither Urgent nor Important

  • Types of tasks: Leisure and entertainment (like scrolling on social media).
  • These activities contribute nothing to your life, and effective people tend to avoid them.
  • Action: Stop doing these tasks.

Covey contends that effective people understand the value of proactively investing in Category-2 activities—and it’s easier to recognize what’s important (and what’s not) once you’ve defined your goals and principles, as you did in Habit 2.

Develop Time Management Skills to Complement the Tools

Although Covey doesn’t give attribution, this time management matrix was actually [created by President Dwight D....

PDF Summary Part 3: Improve Interpersonal Skills | Habit 4: Seek Mutual Benefits

... </td> In interdependent relationships, Win/Win is usually the only viable option because it preserves the relationship’s health. </tr> Win/Win or No Deal:

Everyone Wins, or No One Does </td> Sometimes a Win/Win resolution is impossible, and it’s better for the relationship to drop the negotiation altogether. This is not always possible (for example, you can’t abandon your kids if you don’t see eye-to-eye with them). If that’s the case, take a compromise, which is a low form of the mutually beneficial approach. (Shortform note: This may not characterize a particular leadership type, but there are leaders who know when to leave a deal on the table—and those who don’t.) Sacrificing the negotiation for the sake of the relationship raises the odds of successfully collaborating in the future. </tr> Win/Lose:

Either I Beat You or You Beat Me </td> Everything is a competition; your success must come at the expense of...

PDF Summary Habit 5: Listen and Understand the Other First


If you don’t have a solid relationship with the other person or show a genuine interest in what she’s saying, mimicry can come off as insulting. </td> Your spouse says, “I hate this job. It’s just wasting my time.”

You respond, “You can’t stand your job. You feel like it’s a waste of time” </td> </tr> Stage 2 Rephrasing the content You have to actually process what the other person said. Your response is dominantly logic-oriented; it doesn’t address the other person’s emotions. In response to your spouse, you say, “You’re tired of your job and you don’t think it will help you in your career path.” Stage 3 Reflecting the feelings the person is expressing You pick up on how the other person is feeling, which helps you begin to understand their perspective. Your response is based in emotion; it doesn’t incorporate logic. Your response to your spouse is, “You’re feeling frustrated and exasperated.” Stage 4 ...

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PDF Summary Habit 6: Collaborate to Create Possibilities


  • Often leads to compromise, a lesser version of a mutually beneficial solution.
  • </ul> </td> </tr> High

    • Open
    • Vulnerable


    • People feel comfortable openly sharing their perspectives because they trust that others will try to understand and build on their ideas.
    • People seek mutually beneficial solutions.

    </td> </tr> </table>


    In a low trust level environment, communication is suspicious and defensive. The outcome: a vicious cycle develops: This kind of communication further erodes trust, which makes people even more protective and defensive. People adopt Win/Lose or Lose/Win frameworks.

    In a moderate trust environment, communication is polite and respectful, though people avoid opening up enough to risk confrontations. The result: People understand each other’s positions intellectually, but they don’t assess their own paradigms or open their minds to new possibilities. This often leads to compromise, a lesser version of a mutually beneficial solution.

    In a high trust environment, communication is open and vulnerable. People feel...

    PDF Summary Part 4 | Habit 7: Practice Self-Renewal


    How To

    Covey prescribes self-renewal in four dimensions, and he explains how each one connects with the previous six habits:

    1. Physical: Eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep and relaxation. This requires the initiative-taking honed in Habit 1 (for example, to go to the gym or cook dinner instead of grabbing fast food), and each time you make a healthy choice, you strengthen that discipline.
    2. Spiritual: This can take many forms, such as prayer, meditation, reading, writing, and spending time in nature. This not only inspires and uplifts you, but it also reconnects you to your center and principles (Habit 2).
    3. Mental: Exercise your mind by reading, writing, and exposing yourself to new information. You need a sharp mind for the organizing and scheduling practices in Habits 2 and 3, and to effectively communicate with others (Habit 5).
    4. Social/emotional: Covey argues that, since your emotional health is so closely tied with your social interactions, this form of self-renewal actually comes from practicing Habits 4-6. In order to effectively practice these habits, you need a strong sense of personal security, which is built through living in...