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Stephen Covey is NOT crazy

Updated on June 5, 2009

After reading Mike Shea's "Stephen Covey is Crazy" post, I felt, given that I run Private Victory, a site named for one of Stephen Covey's tenants for effectiveness, that I should come to his defense. Mike Shea takes offense at several things Stephen Convey mentions in his interview with Zen Habits and I want to quickly rebut some of his points.

Wake up every day, like it was on purpose

The first quote Mr. Shea takes issue with describes Stephen Covey's morning routine:

"I make an effort every morning to win what I call the “private victory.” I work out on a stationary bike while I am studying the scriptures for at least 30 minutes. Then I swim in a home pool vigorously for 15 minutes, then I do yoga in a shallow part of the pool for 15 minutes. Then I go into my library and pray with a listening spirit, listening primarily to my conscience while I visualize the rest of my entire day, including important professional activities and key relationships with my loved ones, working associates and clients."

Comparatively, Mike Shea's morning looks like this:

"I'm lucky to get the right goddamn tie on and make it to work on time without slipping down a muddy hill walking the dog and this guy's doing yoga in his own private pool while praying with a listening spirit. I'd say this guy's vision of reality is significantly different than mine."

Now, you can call ME crazy, but if I had to choose between the two, I know which I'd pick. :) However, I don't doubt that Mike Shea's reality matches many others and I find it incredibly disappointing that people think life HAS to be a rat race. I don't think that everyone should do what Stephen Covey does in the morning. I don't want that, myself. However, I want people to keep in mind that they have more power over their own reality than they think, and if you want to have enough time in the morning to do a little bit of yoga, pick the correct tie and rid enough of the sleep from your eyes so you don't lose your balance while walking the dog down a muddy hill, you can.

I lifted the title of this section from a quote in Hitch, by the way ;)

Build your team

Next, Mike Shea slaps down Covey for having employees:

"Zen Habits: Do you have any thoughts you can share about filtering out the noise in life (especially noise from technology) to focus on the things that are truly important. How can we be sure to see time-sensitive emails but not live in our inboxes? "Covey: I am fortunate to have a very helpful team that enables me to spend time doing things that are important but not necessarily urgent."

Sounds pretty reasonable to me, but apparently not to some:

"A helpful team? How do I get one of those? I'd sure love some dude who sits and watches my Gmail to make sure to handle that ebay phishing email as soon as it shows up. I have to check four inboxes multiple times a day and this guy has a team of people that let him float around in a hyperbolic tank thinking big colorful thoughts like William Hurt in Altered States. Give me a break."

How do you get a helpful team? Hire one. In this economy, you could probably find someone willing to watch all four of your email inboxes for less than minimum wage. As a matter of fact, just hire a Virtual Assistant and pay as you go. No worries.

When I hear of someone getting an assistant, not only do they express extreme gratitude towards that person, they always say that it frees them up to work on more important things. Brandon Sanderson, a rising star amongst fantasy authors, just wrote about hiring an assistant which he deemed essential for releasing his next few books (including the next Wheel of Time book!) in a reasonable time frame. I hold no qualms against him for that. I have no problem with someone sharing the burden of managing Brandon Sanderson's website, even outlining or editing a few blog posts for him, if it means I get books like Elantris more frequently. Similarly, I want older people like Stephen Covery thinking strategically, asking the big questions and then searching for answers, while young guys like me take his thoughts and run with them, ditching the ones that don't work and evolving others into something bigger and better than the originator had ever intended. If "war is old men talking, young men dying" then personal development is old men thinking, young men executing. The more time Stephen Covey possesses to package his thoughts and pass them along, the better for me.

Personal Process

Let me fast forward to the perceived "slamming" of GTD:

"ZH: Have you read Getting Things Done and The Secret? What are your thoughts on those two separate phenomena?" "Covey: I have read these books and have enjoyed them and believe they contain elements of wisdom and practical suggestions. But for me and my world they are too simplistic and superficial.

And now, the uninformed rebuttal:

"Simplistic and superficial for a guy who has a team of people who read blogs and tell him what they say. I'm glad I haven't gotten into Seven Habits or the other Franklin Covey stuff. The idea of "big rocks" and focusing on our life goals first never helped anyone clear all the shit off their desk and empty 35,000 emails from their inbox. Having a simple system that ensures you can handle all the bullshit life throws at you without going batshit crazy is a lot more likely to free up your time so you can even think about having a life goal. That's the system for me."

If you take the time to actually READ Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", you'll notice he devotes an entire section on dealing with the urgent things in life, thus making time to focus on the important but not necessarily urgent projects. For me, reading that section felt strangely reminiscent GTD. After reading Dave Allen's book at least a dozen of times and also reading a number of different interviews, I concluded that both he and Stephen Covey aim for the same thing in almost the same way: free your mind, so you can focus on the big life goals. "Clean out" your current urgent tasks, and then "stay clean" by having a system. I prefer GTD to what Covey suggests, but in principal I find few differences.

To address the quote specifically, you'll note that Covey DOES compliment both GTD and The Secret, however he states "for me and my world they are too simplistic and superficial", which of course makes perfect sense. To me, it sounds like Covey already employs a modified GTD-like process which he internalized, so he doesn't need to think about it anymore. Considering that he runs a business, I remain quite sure plenty of urgent tasks appear on his next action list, but he hires people to handle many of those tasks for him. After his mind-relaxing morning routine, I figure lightening strikes with new project ideas all the time, some of which he undoubtably works on himself, and others he farms out to his staff. But, they still get done. When I read that quote, I don't take any issue with it because I view the refinement of my personal process as a journey, and here Covey just gives me a glimpse of what things will look like a few miles down the road.

I could say that if Covey made a mistake, he didn't pander enough to those living the rat race lifestyle, creating a gap in understanding. But, from a website called "Zen Habits" I really wouldn't expect to hear from someone scrambling to make appointments and fighting to make ends meet. I expect interviews with people whom have achieved some of the common connotations associated with the word "zen": smooth flow, automation, freedom. From the interview, Stephen Covey convinced me that his life contains those attributes and inspired me to seek those attributes in my own life.


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    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      As a Zen teacher and a 17-year practitioner of 7 Habits, I want to thank you for seeing deeply into the gifts Stephen Covey offered us all. His work had, at its core, the same purpose as the work of the Buddha - leading by example, he showed us how to live so as to make the world a better place.


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