Seven Habits

I went back to the daily grind Thursday morning after a relatively relaxed day at a management seminar on Wednesday. This once-a-month series is broken up so that each day-long session covers some important aspect of managing a work place. Yesterday’s subject: Time management, something I could always use help with. Even if I learned only one thing, it would’ve been worth taking a day away from the office to find a way to make better use of just one minute. Hours would be better, but I’ll take minutes in a pinch.
And I did learn a few more good tricks, but what I’ll remember about yesterday’s seminar for a long, long time is that there are still some people out there who think Steven Covey’s da bomb.

Seriously? Steven Covey, the guy who raked in a butt-ton of money by getting every managerial wanna-be from here to Poughkeepsie to make his management guide The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People mind-bogglingly popular? Never that it’s the most irritating book I’ve been forced to read after Moby-Dick.

Seven Habits became such a runaway best-seller that even the United States Air Force adopted its management lessons, unfortunately. They did this while I was in mid-career, so for several agonizing years I sat through leadership classes listening to The Word of Steven Covey delivered by one sergeant after another with the inextinguishable enthusiasm of a newly-converted Christian.

Classes that espouse the Covey doctrine are exhaustingly dull because Covey’s pronouncements are trite and obvious to me. “First things first” was one of the seven habits, for instance. I’m pretty sure that was old, worn-out advice back when Ben Franklin left it out of Poor Richard’s Almanac. “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes” was another habit, and so was “change starts from within.” This guy plagiarized everybody from Jesus to Lao-Tsu and made a million bucks selling day planners and motivational posters emblazoned with his banal one-liners.

I can’t deny that Covey had made a long-lasting stamp on our culture. Ever been advised to be more “proactive”? That’s a Coveyism. Ever heard a manger agonize over how to best strive for “synergy”? Covey again. Do you understand what “win/win” means? Neither do I, but Covey does. Or says he does. But just because managers are still spouting Covey-coined words and phrases doesn’t make it worthwhile, much less interesting.

And a great deal of what he says just doesn’t make sense, when you think about it for more than two seconds. Just what is the difference between being “highly effective” and merely “effective”? If you’re effective, you’re getting things done. If you’re “highly effective,” you’re getting things done … how, exactly?

Boiled down, Covey’s Seven Habits are mere common sense. Here, for what it’s worth, are my Seven Habits of Effective People:

1. Get your ass out of bed every day.
Everyone who has ever gained a reputation as a mover and shaker got that way only because he got off his ass and did something. People who just laid there, wallowing in wretched self-indulgence? Not so much.

2. You can drink more coffee from a bigger mug.
Modern science has yet to devise a truly bottomless cup of coffee, so a big-shot boss drinks from a big-ass coffee cup, right up to to day that acid reflux sets in. It helps if the cup has “#1 Boss” on it.

3. A kick in the tail is a step forward.
If you’re not advancing, you’re in the way. There’s a lot to be said for motivational speaking, but it’s proven that nothing gets a slacker moving like a size twelve boot inserted rectally at high velocity. When you get one of these, don’t be mad, be grateful.

4. You do better work in a comfy chair.
After you land that office job, look around to see who’s got the newest, most comfortable office chair. Your first goal should be to get your ass in that chair. I’m not talking about the job that goes with the chair, just that chair. After you’ve been in the office a couple weeks, come in early or stay late one day. Move a bunch of the chairs around and make sure the comfy chair ends up in your cubicle. Then fart in it a lot so nobody ever wants it back even if they figure out you’ve got it.

5. Make the coffee.
Even if you’re the supervisor, make the coffee. That way, you get the first cup and you can take as much as you want. Nobody will ever grumble about it, or blame you for draining the pot or not making more.

6. Let every call go to voice mail.
It reduces interruptions. Also, get a wireless headset, wear it all the time and, when people come to the door of your office, raise a finger while staring intently at your computer screen, read something off the screen, then look at your visitor and mouth the words, “On the phone.”

7. Pet the cat.
Take a long walk on the sunny days. Stop and smell the roses. Whatever.

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