Why GTD reminds me of the 7 Habits

In yesterday’s June Ho‘ohana I mentioned my “late May mind map” which kept me branching into the teaching of both Stephen Covey and David Allen. This is a bit more on that in explanation.

I remember the early 1990’s as the time in my management career I was enamored of Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I can still tell you verbatim and by heart what those 7 Habits are. (I’ll list them for you at the end.)

I first learned them when I was part of the opening team of the first Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Hawaii, and back then The Ritz-Carlton had completely bought in to TQM (Total Quality Management). Learning and internalizing Covey’s 7 Habits were required of all managers, for our leaders fervently believed that doing so would help us be successful.

I took a 7 Day course the Covey organization had customized for all Ritz-Carlton managers, and the big green binder I took from it is one I still refer to often for my own highlights, notes, and interpretations in the margins. It has gotten pretty dog-eared, because Covey taught timeless principles.

We (The Ritz-Carlton) were an organization obsessed with delivering quality to our customers, and we embarked on a journey that would gain our company the distinction of being the 1992 winner of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, the first time the award had ever been given to a hotel company. In 1999 The Ritz-Carlton won it for a second time, the only American service company to do so.

The Ritz-Carlton is still obsessed with quality and with those 7 Habits, and I believe that’s why they are still so consistently good.

My own belief in Covey’s 7 Habits has never left me either. Those habits have been part of my managing and coaching arsenal ever since. For example, when I talk about ‘Imi ola, and seeking your best possible life, urging people to “Begin with the End in Mind” helps them visualize better. Covey wanted us to be highly effective as people, not just at work.

In the past few weeks I’ve been thinking of Covey’s Habits again as I’ve read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and I like the way they seem to synchronize. Both Allen and Covey talk about proactivity, which Covey called “the power to choose our own responses.” I can still remember this Covey quote sitting in residence in big bold letters across the top of a bulletin board in our Ritz-Carlton employee cafeteria:

“Urgency is the hangover from a reactivity binge, which comes from ignoring values.”

Any clearer why I may be a bit hung up on values? We are our values, however we are not our habits. Using Covey’s words,

“You can make and break your habits. You need not be a victim of conditions or conditioning ” habits of effectiveness can be learned; habits of ineffectiveness, unlearned.”

I had learned that Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits are based upon the timeless principle called the Law of the Harvest: we tend to reap what we sow. “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny,” the maxim goes.

What David Allen has been so effective in doing in his book for me thus far (I’m into my second, slower reading now) is cement the action part of this into my head, so I keep asking myself with each task that presents itself, “Is it actionable?” I like Covey’s connection as the next one, asking myself as I implement, “Is this a habit I want to keep?” knowing it potentially can reap the character builder of my destiny.

Here’s the refresher I promised so you need not look them up:

Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Habit 1, Be Proactive, is the Habit of Personal Vision.

Habit 2, Begin with the End in Mind, is the Habit of Personal Leadership.

Habit 3, Put First Things First, is the Habit of Personal Management.

Habit 4, Think Win-Win, is the Habit of Interpersonal Leadership.

Habit 5, Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, is the Habit of Communciation.

Habit 6, Synergize, is the Habit of Creative Cooperation.

Habit 7, Sharpen the Saw, is the Habit of Self-Renewal.

This is a pretty good interview with Stephen Covey, done at the time he released The 8th Habit:
Covey takes a lesson from himself.

Footnote: All links updated for 2010 on Feb.21st, as a link-back follow-up to a newly written posting here titled, Weekend Project: Hō‘imi your Trusted System. Excerpt:

I still refer to GTD often and with confidence, for there is a wealth of productivity “stuff” to be learned from David Allen, who amuses me in the way he will repeatedly say,

“I’m lazy and I don’t want to think about anything more than it deserves.”

How’s that for a statement perfectly in tune with weekend living?


  1. says

    I must admit that I find this puzzling….perhaps I need to re-read GTD. And I blogged on it for several days! But honestly, the system did not click with my style. A few of the techniques are priceless and I am glad I read the book for those alone.

    Now 7 habits, that’s another thing. I totally click with and get how Covey realates to effective and meaningful success.

    I know this might be a bit sacreligious in the blogshpere, but I’m just not hoping on the GTD wagon yet. But your post and connection of GTD/7 has me rethinking whether I should give it another try.

  2. says

    Lisa, thank you sooo much for this comment and for your priceless honesty: you know how much I have always valued your opinion and your terrific coaching as a management guru (yes, you are!)

    Allen’s GTD (and the blogosphere fanaticism about it) has been one of those books that gets me to say to myself, “damn, why didn’t I read this earlier.” However like you, I feel I already have a “style” of time management that works pretty well for me, and I’m not willing to discard it.

    Unless I missed this on my first reading of his book (and I may have), what Allen does not address sufficiently for me is our memory investment in our old existing systems. What I mean is, that no matter how faulty they may be, if we have an existing organizational system that works, in some ways it may be foolhardy to discard it now. An example: If we are creatures of habit in the way we pay our bills, and they always get paid on time, there is no reason to chuck the next billing statement that arrives in the mail in your new “GTD inbox” per his system. Another: If my desk looks like a mess, but it is a “habitual mess” in which I can always find exactly what I’m looking for, I am not going to reorganize it. I know I can’t rely on my short-term memory to remember where the new place for what I want is.

    Covey’s 7 Habits are now part of that “existing organizational system” that works for me, and I remain a huge Stephen Covey fan. However I am intrigued by the possibilities Allen offers me into updating myself electronically because I’ve always loved using Outlook, and I stopped using my traditional Franklin-Covey planner a long time ago in favor of the Outlook calendar and task functions.

    So this Covey-GTD project I have found I’m very impulsively launching into, is my late-to-the-GTD-game way of personally culling all the great stuff I keep hearing about in new-found GTD effectiveness with who I already am: A composite of belief (and exceptionally strong belief and conviction) in strengths management and my values-centered, timeless principle-effective, managing with Aloha. If I were to describe myself in a single equation of brutal honesty, it would probably be:

    Rosa = Gallup Strengths Management (the way I internalized it) + Covey 7 Habits (the way I internalized it) + Values of Aloha (the way it revolutionized my effectiveness as an ethical, feels good about myself manager).
    I suspect that David Allen and GTD may be giving me a way to update myself within my new world of digerati (okay, I hope he is). We shall see!

    In so many ways I am much too busy to give in to my impulses and launch myself into a new project here, but there’s this voice in my head telling me I can’t afford not to, precisely because I am so tipping point crazy-busy right now.

    Thank you Lisa, the more opportunities I get to think out loud and write my thoughts on this, the more I can make my own sense of it!
    A hui hou, Rosa

  3. says

    Values, Principles, and now, Virtue

    “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
    —The byline of Principle-Centered Leadership
    by Stephen R. Covey

    Some believe that in part, Stephen R. Covey wrote Principle-Centered Leadership to finally quiet others of the opinion there was a basic flaw in his ground-breaking book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the minds of these speculative readers, within the book’s pages Covey hadn’t defined principles very well as opposed to values.

  4. says

    Thanks for reminding me how timeless Steven Covey’s principles are. I agree with each principle as well as his 8th one.
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  5. says

    GTD and a Story of Sequential Learning

    I have a promise to keep: I had written GTD? Nalu it! before the earthquake, and I had said,

    I’ll work on a part 2 for this next, and share what my “trusted system” has evolved to today, sixteen months since I first discovered David Allen and GTD. Stay tuned.

    If you have stayed tuned in, thank you. Our programming hereby resumes”