6 Habits of Highly Effective and Productive People

Find out how to be more effective, productive and develop yourself with these 7 habits from Stephen R. Covey. Written by Letícia Miranda.

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Being productive, or “effective” consists of, primarily, achieving planned results and developing tasks in a competent and productive way. This sounds simple enough and in some regards it is. It is easy to conclude that this skill is desired by most organisations, and especially when looking at those roles in leadership and management.

In the book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, there are important tips and information about it. The writer, Stephen R. Covey, has made it a best seller since its release in 1989. There are at least 15 million copies sold in more than 30 languages.

In the book, which has become his masterpiece, Covey lists what he considers the common principles among those who achieve high levels of effectiveness and teaches the reader how to reach each one. Even 30 years after its release, tips are still current, as the author wrote them thinking about what he calls “character ethics”, which, for him, contain universal and timeless attributes.

The 7 Habits, Divided into 3 Groups

  • The first three habits contain those skills that depend on the individual, leading them from dependence to independence.

  • The fourth, fifth and sixth habits are about developing group work, collaboration, and communication, ranging from independence to interdependence.

  • The seventh habit is focused on continuous improvement and involves all the previous habits.


  • There are 7 habits of highly effective people and work like the steps of a ladder. In this article, we’ve put a summary together of six of them:

    1. Be Proactive
    This is the first habit presented in the book because, for the writer, acting proactively is a determining factor between being, and not being, effective. For Covey, proactivity is more than taking initiative or thinking positively. Anyone who adopts a proactive attitude anticipates problems and also does not run away when it is impossible to avoid them. The author points out that we have the instinct to influence the world around us by being proactive, and that is what makes us different from animals. We can decide how we will react to each of the stimuli we receive. And that can be a way for us to take control of our own future.

    2. Have a Goal in Mind
    In addition to proactivity, the author points out that it is easier to solve problems when you have a well-defined objective. That way, you can focus on your mission, eliminating other activities that won't get you where you want to go. For the author, just being efficient and performing several tasks quickly is useless if you don't know why you're doing it. It is best to be clear about your long-term goals. Asking yourself how you would like to be remembered in the future is a good starting point for defining your mission and the values you believe in, for example. This makes it easier to follow a direction safely.

    3. First the Most Important
    In order to achieve your well-defined objectives, it is important to have habits that transform objectives into actions. For Stephen R. Coey, one way to do this is to give priority to what is most worthwhile. Regardless of the tool used, the author says that it is vital to remember one simple rule – most important items first. The most important tasks are carried out and the least urgent are placed ‘on hold’ in the background.

    For the writer, not all situations need to be competitive. The problem, in addition to unnecessary competition, is that when two people who see the world from the perspective of "win-loss" meet, the result can be "loss-loss". Competition can prevent a positive relationship between people, whilst a “win-win” mentality allows you to build long-lasting relationships, since it requires you to leave yourself to think about others.

    4. Understand First, Be Understood Second
    Before offering a solution, you need to listen to the problems, with empathy. In a world where a lot of people want to talk, but nobody wants to listen, listening can be a good quality. That's why Covey's fifth tip is to offer solutions only after you have actually diagnosed the problem. For this, it’s first necessary to understand, then to be understood. And it requires attention to listen to the problems of others.

    5. Create Synergy
    This is a tip that is especially valid for leaders who seek more effectiveness. By understanding the problems of others, we can create synergies which allow for creating new alternatives and opening up new possibilities. First you seek to understand, then you find strength and utility in different perspectives, creating new possibilities and more situations in which everyone wins. To do this, value differences to expand your perspectives and look for the good in others. Each person sees the world through their perspective, and it is both agree and disagree with others, but a combination of different points of view can lead to the creation of an environment of cooperation. These results would be difficult to achieve without collaboration.

    6. Improve Constantly
    The last habit is that of constant improvement. This involves four dimensions, which must be exercised in a regular and balanced way, as they are an investment in yourself. These dimensions are physical, spiritual, social and mental. This includes exercising and eating well (physical dimension); commit to your values and meditate (spiritual); expand knowledge, reading good books and writing, for example (mental); and develop meaningful (social) relationships.

    We hope that the tips have been useful for you to increase your effectiveness. If you have any other suggestions, share them with us! Remember, you can apply these to your working life and find a mentor or mentor others to further develop and grow.
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