After 25 years, Covey’s habits are still relevant

I would advise anyone who is thinking of venturing out into the marketplace on their own to read some motivational material before taking the plunge. Going solo might be your greatest move ever, but you need to be prepared to handle days, weeks even, when not so much as a whiff of work will come your way.

Dr Stephen R Covey’s 1989 international best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly SuccessfulStephen Covey People® is still very relevant and his principles appear to be tailor-made for life as a freelancer.

For those who are unfamiliar with his book, I have summarised the seven habits.

Habit 1: Be proactive. To simplify, being proactive is about taking responsibility for your life and acknowledging that you are in control of your destiny. You don’t blame genetics, circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for your behaviour.

You take responsibility for your choices and the consequences that follow. Covey emphasises how important it is to have a positive attitude, and advocates the use of proactive language like ‘I can’ and ‘I will’.

Covey discusses how problems, challenges and opportunities fall into two areas – the Circle of Concern (things over which you have no control – national debt, terrorism, the weather) and the Circle of Influence (things you can do something about – health, children, problems at work). He states proactive people focus their energies on their Circle of Influence.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. Simply put, you need the imagination and ability to visualise who you want to be and what you want in life. It’s about creating your vision.

Setting goals is an important part of creating a vision. Goals keep you motivated and focused on what you want to achieve. They are your blueprint for success.

Covey’s states “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.”

A simple statement that is so profoundly true. You’ve got to know where you are going to and what you are going to do to get there.

Habit 3: Put first things first. This habit deals with combining the first two habits (making the choice and having a vision) to actively pursuing your priorities.

I interpret habit three as taking the action required to realise your vision. This is where you prioritise and go out and do the work that will lead to accomplishing your goals. But you must understand your end goal first, so you can prioritise the steps you need to take to reach that goal.

Sometimes your plans will go awry, and there might be weeks when nothing seems to work out, but don’t give up. Believe in yourself, and stay focused.

Habit 4: Think win-win. Covey likens this habit to viewing life as a ‘cooperative arena, not a competitive one’. He talks about the three essential character traits of a win-win attitude, those of integrity, maturity, and an abundance mentality (believing there is plenty for everyone).

Habit four deals with the relationships you need to build with your clients and fellow freelancers. Always be honest in your dealings, stick to your values and beliefs, and be sensitive to others’ feelings when you express your own. Have faith in yourself and your abilities and share your knowledge and experience freely. Don’t adopt the mentality that you will lose out if you give away your information, or that it means you lose if someone else wins.

If you are able to help someone, they will remember you. Your sharing could, down the line, lead directly to your clinching a new deal or signing on a new client. The more you give, the more you get.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. If you genuinely listen to what someone has to say, they will, in turn, be inclined to listen to you and be open to your suggestions.

As a freelancer you are providing a service, and listening to your client is extremely important. You need to establish clear communication channels. If you don’t understand a brief, make sure to ask, and ask again. Handing over shoddy work will lose you clients and sully your reputation.

Habit 6: Synergise. This habit centres on the gains to be had from working together.

Freelancers generally work alone, but much good can be gained through interacting with fellow freelancers (forums or networking groups). Today’s technology makes it so easy to connect with all sorts of people via internet, email and social media platforms.

The sharing of different views, experiences and expertise can help you resolve your problems, or give you fresh inspiration.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw. This is a vital habit that deals with living a balanced life. Covey accentuates the importance of ensuring your wellbeing by creating harmony and balance among your physical, mental, social and spiritual states.

Freelancers appear to be very susceptible to burnout. They are constantly under pressure from too much work (or too little), deadlines and finances. They tend to push themselves to the limit, forgetting their own health along the way.

Keep reminding yourself that you are your greatest asset. You need to recharge your batteries if you want to function at optimum levels. A burned-out freelancer is no use to anybody, and your back pocket will suffer.

Habit seven also deals with education, about broadening your knowledge and honing your skills. Freelancers can’t afford to stagnate in their careers as everything around them is in constant change; new styles, changing methods and constantly improving technology. You need to keep abreast of developments, learn new competencies, learn new skills and polish old skills.

Covey’s seven habits reflect all the qualities you need to succeed in life. I regard them as the blueprint for success as a freelancer.