Effectiveness as a habit

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Book Review.

In the last decades, motivation literature has flourished to an unprecedented extent. This is a cultural phenomenon that cannot be missed: people have become interested in self-development, constant improvement, and success. “Ah, yes, success…”— you may sneer skeptically just as I did when I first saw the name of the book. Yet, behind the mainstream title, I found deep thoughts that are applicable in my life journey.

No wonder the book was so well received by the public and still is. Since its first publication, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold millions of copies. Being a critical thinker, I do not dive into motivation books headfirst, but rather analyze to what extent the ideas elaborated in the book are applicable to my worldview and situation. Since motivation books have their loyal advocates and crushing critics, I would start this review with a disclaimer: do not look for ready-made solutions, life is far more interesting than that. Each idea of this book may become valuable advice if you approach it critically. I contemplated in what way the described habits can be professionally applicable to information development, technical writing and communication, and would like to share some thoughts with you.

In an introduction to the book, the author suggests: “Our character is a composite of habits. […] Habits are repeated actions that can be learned”. A very practical approach, I would say. Yet, changing habits is a painful process. For this, one needs to be patient because it is not a quick fix. The author sees an important prerequisite for self-development in deep personal integrity and seeking for the common good.

The author guides us through the seven habits that one can learn to be more effective, both professionally and personally.

1. Be proactive

Being proactive means being responsible for your own life, taking initiative, making things happen, and not only reacting to the situation. Think positive, “carry your own weather with you”, focus on what you can do to improve the situation. Be a model, not a critic.

How is this applicable to information development?

Initiate improvement of the existing documentation. Think of new approaches to make documentation useful for the target audience. Look for new opportunities where documentation can be a problem-solver.

2. Begin with the end in mind

Make sure that you are moving in the right direction. Develop a personal mission statement: including character – what you want to be, and achievements – what you want to do.

How is this applicable to information development?

Keep your target audience and the scope of the project in mind, and remember what the initial ideal vision of the document was. Also, understand what direction you would like to move in professionally and consider your special field within technical writing: e-learnings, information design, DITA, help systems, or some other field altogether.

3. Put first things first

We cannot control or manage time as such. We can only manage ourselves within time. Saying “yes” to important things implies learning to say “no” to other activities. All activities can be divided into important–urgent, important–not urgent, urgent–not important, not important–not urgent.


Prioritize. Make sure you spend more time on important things that matter in the long run (important–not urgent).

How is this applicable to information development?

Move according to your plan, prioritize your tasks, find the time to concentrate on developing your professional skills. For example, we are so often overwhelmed with the urgency of a large number of small tasks that we forget about our priorities for the year in general (conferences we want to attend, important professional books that are on our reading list, a skill we want to practice). Reserve time for your development.

4. Seek to understand, then be understood

Listening is the most important word. The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully understand them, emotionally and intellectually. Empathetic listening provides the speaker with psychological air.

How is this applicable to information development?

Be open to understanding your customer documentation requirements; yet, leave room for suggesting better documentation solutions. While conducting interviews with SMEs, try to identify the key points and learn to ask the right questions.

5. Think “win/win”

Pursue mutual benefit when interacting with people. Seek for integrity, maturity, and abundance mentality. Abundance mentality recognizes that the possibilities for growth and success are potentially limitless, and sees in others the opportunity to complement one’s own strengths.

How is this applicable to information development?

Think about documentation project not only as a gain for a customer, but a possibility for you to learn and improve your skills. While cooperating with your SME, lightly suggest that a well-developed functionality is also a well-described one. In this way, another perspective of your work may open up for your colleagues.

6. Synergize

The basis of synergy is that two people can disagree, and both can be right. It’s not logical. It’s psychological. Create environment built on trust, combine individual strengths of people for positive teamwork.

How is this applicable to information development?

While working as a team, divide the load, be open, share ideas, and find common pace. As a team, we found that the stage of brainstorming and enthusiastic debates is a point that moves us forward in completing our projects in fresh new ways.

7. Sharpen the saw

The author tells a story about a lumberjack who works so hard not noticing that his saw became blunt: “Maybe you could take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw. Then the work would go faster.” “No time,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing.”

As the author suggests, to sharpen the saw means renewing ourselves, in all four aspects of our nature:

  • Physical – exercise, nutrition, stress management
  • Mental – reading, visualizing, planning, writing
  • Social/Emotional – service, empathy, synergy, security
  • Spiritual – spiritual reading, study, and meditation

How is this applicable to information development?

In every possible way. Find the time to listen to yourself is the primary advice.


The first three habits (Be proactive, Begin with the end in mind, Put first things first) will help us achieve personal victories, going from dependence to independence. The next three habits (Seek to understand then be understood, Think “win/win”, Synergize) will help us understand interdependence and lead us to effective interaction with others. The seventh habit – Sharpen the saw – makes all the other habits possible and concentrates on regular renewal of our mind, body, and spirit.

After the publication of the book, the author came up with the eighth habit which he defined as “Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs. Each of us has our genuine voice (both as authors and human beings), and our life is a journey to open it within us. I would like to conclude with some questions regarding your experience and invite you to some thought sharing. What other habits do you find valuable on your path as a writer? What really helps and motivates you to improve? Please share in comments.





2 thoughts on “Effectiveness as a habit

  1. Nice. I never thought about mapping the 7 Habits to InfoDev. But it works very well.

    Ours is definitely a win/win proposition. The customers benefit from having documentation they can use, the engineers and marketers benefit from having a product that’s more popular, and we (InfoDev) benefit, as you said, by gaining prestige within the organization.

    We all need to sharpen our saws — constantly. The minute we stand still, in terms of tools and domain knowledge, we’ll find ourselves slipping backward. I like your insight about listening to ourselves.


  2. Khrystyna_InfoDev says:

    Thank You, Larry, for your thoughts. Indeed, it is a constant movement and work. This leads me to another thought. I think that it is also important, to be driven by curiosity to new things and best examples of well-written text (not only technical) that we admire.


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