Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Seven Habits to Build On

Last week I heard Dr. Stephen Covey on the radio talking about his newest book. While I enjoyed listening to him, I was reminded of one of his earlier books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. My husband read the book first and then raved about it so much that I took a look at it too. It's a guide to personal and professional life management based around simple principles.

I needed a blog topic for this week and had to write it early (as you read this, I'm with my sister on a girls' road trip along the Natchez Trace and are probably touring an antebellum mansion or visiting an antique shop), so I began to think about the 7 habits as they would apply to writing. I looked for my husband's copy of the book and finally determined it must still be packed away. But never fear -- the Internet came to my rescue. So without further ado, I present The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers.

1. Be Proactive

Covey uses the definition of proactive coined by Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist who survived the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. He coined the word proactive to mean someone who takes responsibility for everything in life instead of blaming other people and circumstances.

So how does this apply to writing? You've decided to be a writer. It's probably in your blood and you can't NOT write. So write. Just do it. If you don't write, then don't point the finger of blame because whenever you point one finger at someone or something else, you have three fingers pointing back at you.

Sure, things are going to happen to stand in your way. Your boss wants you to work overtime. The baby gets sick and demands your full attention. Crap happens. But it's how you deal with it that counts. Self-imposed deadlines are different than deadlines imposed by someone else, but there's usually a way to resolve things. Be proactive as opposed to reactive. See the glass half full rather than half empty.

2. Begin with the End in Mind
The end, as defined by Covey, is your purpose. And you must define that purpose before you can begin the journey toward fulfilling it. You cannot hit a target that does not exist. Your purpose will involve goals and those goals should be realistic and achievable. Then be accountable for your progress toward your goal. Find someone to report to and reciprocate the favor. It's much harder to sit on the fence and do nothing when you have to account for yourself.

Don't merely have a dream to write. Stop sitting on the fence. Have a goal to write. A goal is a dream with a deadline. Set yourself a realistic writing goal. Tell it to someone and then report your progress daily.

However (isn't there always a "however"?), be careful what you ask for because you just might get it. Make sure you can handle the consequences.

3. Put First Things First

For this habit, Covey talks about prioritizing the work necessary to achieve your goal. He distinguishes important from unimportant and urgent from non-urgent. Determine where your activity falls in that matrix. It's very easy to expend excess time on busy work that looks important but may very well move you no further toward your goal than you were yesterday. Look at where you want to be and determine what has to be done first in order to get there.

Take a good look at the amount of research and planning that goes into your writing. Do you really need all that information or are you simply stalling or justifying it because it looks like work. Write down how you spend your time for a day and then evaluate each task in terms of importance and urgency. Perhaps you'll re-think the two dozen email loops and message boards you visit daily. Develop good time management skills so that deadline won't creep up on you when you're unprepared.

4. Think Win/Win

Win/Win is an attitude that looks to find solutions that are beneficial both to the individual and to the group as a whole. It has a basis in character and responsibility. The phrase "all for one and one for all" aptly describes this habit as does the term "deal or no deal." The win/win solutin isn't your way or my way, it's a better way.

When I think of this habit I immediately think of the Writing Playground. We conceived the idea over a weekend and had it operational in a month's time. We brainstormed and planned and chose solutions that benefitted the group. The website's success a testament to the character of each Playfriend.

5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Our natural inclination is for our brains to rev into action as soon as we hear something. As a result we often only half-listen to what someone is saying and then begin to offer advice. Because we've only half-listened, we offer advice based on half the facts, and that advice is more likely to be rejected. Listening thoroughly will give you all the information and you'll be more likely to establish a good relationship to the other person.

How does this relate to my writing? I don't feel like I know enough about writing to offer much in the way of advice to anyone. So mostly I listen and watch and understand more and more each day.

6. Synergize

Synergy is the effect of two or more persons working together to produce a total that is greater than the sum of the parts. Sounds impossible?

Look at the Writing Playground. It's a classic example of synergy in action. There is no way one person could have accomplished all that in the short amount of time. Together we were able to generate a total greater than the sum of the parts.

7. Sharpen the Saw

This habit focuses on balancing your life. Renew yourself in body, spirit and mind. Cultivate your interpersonal relationships. The well-balanced individual will be more productive in the long run.

This one is easy: it's not all about writing folks. Yes, writing is important. Yes, you have deadlines. But at some point you need to have fun. Read a book by a new author or re-visit an old favorite. Take a long walk and tune into nature. Visit a friend and chat over a cup of tea. Visit an attraction in your town that you've never been to. Learn a new game or skill. Take up a new hobby. You'll be a better person for it and your writing will benefit as well.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. It's as easy as that.

Which habit or habits do you struggle with? Which habit or habits do you excel at? Do you believe Covey's 7 habits can help your writing?


Smarty Pants said...

I did the Covey class a couple years ago, had the dayplanner with the daily tasks that I prioritized and checked off each day. It was a good system. I liked being able to assign values - A, B and C tasks. The problem being, especially with my writing, that sometimes it is easier to clear off a couple C tasks or get lost in a B task in avoiding an A task that is important, but difficult on some level. Then, of course are all the unplanned items that pop onto the list and throw off the plan. It did help, though. I recommend it.

What I'm good at - I guess I'm good at 2 - Begin with the End in Mind. I'm a good goal setter. If I focus, I can usually meet them. I never tell myself that I'm going to write a book in a month or 25 pages a day. I usually leave weekends out of my challenges when I determine how many pages a day I need to hit because I know that I'm just not going to write on the weekend usually.

I'm also ok at 3 - putting first things first. I dropped a lot of message boards and loops because I was spending way too much time chatting and not really working on my craft. Sometimes there's info of value (like on the Playground, of course) but sometimes its just people arguing about silly things. I don't have time for that.

I'm bad at 5 - Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. I remember someone asking once if you are listening or waiting to speak. I know a lot of times I think of something because of something someone says and I'm just waiting for them to stop talking so I can talk instead of actually listening to what they're saying. If I am listening, I'm usually in problem solving mode. Don't complain to me about something if you aren't ready to do something about it. Either that or you have to tell me that you're just venting, but then, don't count on me really listening. I have to fix stuff.

Ok, enough of me.

Problem Child said...

Don't complain to me about something if you aren't ready to do something about it. Either that or you have to tell me that you're just venting, but then, don't count on me really listening. I have to fix stuff.

Hey, we listen to you vent ;-)

I usually ask "Do you want sympathy or justice" just to be sure I'm on the same wavelength.

As y'all know, I'm a list maker. Give me a goal and a timeframe and I'll make a list. I just have a hard time ranking the items. Seems I think a lot of things are high priority--and like SP, sometimes the low priority things are so much easier to do. (And you get that satisfaction of checking something off the list. I've been known to add completed projects to a list just so I can mark them as done!)

Hence, my organized office supplies but lack of pages on the WIP.

Smarty Pants said...

Hey, we listen to you vent ;-)

You guys are different. Its an equal opportunity dumping ground with appropriate amounts of "Doesn't matter what that judge says, you're awesome" and "no, that dress doesn't make you look fat." Everyone takes turns venting. And usually, if its just a 'get it off your chest' kind of thing, we attach it as a note in the email so we don't all kick into 'fix it' mode.

But with some people - the kind that are always groaning about this and that, but when you make suggestions on how they can better their situation, they scoff at you - I'm bad at just listening to those people without offering up something. I have to ask DB sometimes, "do you want me to just listen or do you want me to fix it?" 9 out of 10, he just wants me to listen.

I'm rambling. It's too quiet today.


Problem Child said...

It is very quiet...where is everyone?

Is it something I said?

Instigator said...

Nope, I've just been in DJ hell. Okay, not hell really, just busy. I'm trying to cram a week's worth of work into this one day when I have no children to contend with on top of everything else. That and I've had fires cropping up everywhere....

Anyway, I suck at 3. Everything is a priority to me. If I'm worried about it, it's important. Which sometimes leaves me feeling overwhelmed and unprepared to handle everything.

I indulged in 7 just last night. I really needed to be working. But I had the rumblings of a headache and knew if I sat down at the computer I wouldn't get much accomplished. Instead I took some asprin and went outside with DH and the girls. I watched them play with our 5 day old baby chickens. They were adorable (my girls - although the fuzzy chicks are kinda cute too). And you know, by the time we came back inside my headache was gone :-)


Anonymous said...

Okay 7 is my major downfall. Don't know why really but it is. I'd rather be in front of my keyboard then the great outdoors (enough camping as a child I think *g*) but yeah that's my biggest problem with I think 4 win-win behind it. That one I try for a little more but just never seems to fully get where it should be.