If you haven’t read it, you’ve at least heard of the best-selling book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey. The book has sold over 30 million copies since its 1989 debut and is extremely popular with business owners. Though the ideas in the book are extremely helpful, every habit comes with unique challenges, especially for solopreneurs. It can be difficult to know how to find a real-life application for helpful insights. Thankfully, that’s why we’ve created this blog! We’ll talk about the main challenges for each habit, and practical steps on how to overcome them. Let’s get started.
1. Be Proactive Challenge: Shifting Your Mindset
Being proactive is easier said than done, especially if you have difficulty with anxiety, depression, or other afflictions which cause negative self-talk. Another culprit to deal with is imposter syndrome or the belief that you have less to offer than your competitors do.
To change your mindset, there are several things you can do:
- Pay attention to (and reframe) your self-talk. When you find yourself becoming discouraged, mentally (or verbally) reframe those feelings. (Instead of saying, “My samples must not be very good because I haven’t heard back from the client,” think, “Perhaps I’m not a good fit for them – or they’re not a good fit for me. I want to work with clients who ‘get me,’ so I’m grateful it didn’t work out so I have space to help other people.”
- Focus on learning and growing. Learn what you can from your competitors. Take free courses if you’re limited on money – there are a lot of great free resources out there. When you look at life from a perspective of curiosity rather than competition, you realize how much is available to you in the world.
- Remember that you know more than someone else does. Even if you’re not the best of the best (psst – even the best of the best don’t feel like they’ve “arrived”), you know more about your business than someone else does. You can help someone. You don’t have to be Gary Vaynerchuk to know a lot about marketing. Do what you can with what you have.
- Challenge yourself first. Instead of worrying about what everyone else is doing, set a goal and stick to it. Even if it’s as simple as, “I will try to write a poem once a day,” give yourself something to do that is measurable and meaningful to you. Even if you skip some days, by the end of the year, you’ll see the significant difference you made. By building your confidence by doing what you love, you’ll find yourself more confident doing other things.
2. Begin with the End in Mind Challenge: Uncertainty/Lack of Focus
We’ve all heard horror stories about people who went off to college, only to find that they chose the wrong major. Usually, this is not discovered until later, after thousands of dollars have gone toward that major. This can make a person nervous about making a decision later in life.
Marketing and business ventures are all about finding your niche – but people don’t often talk about the anxiety around choosing one. You must take a hard look at what’s important to you and what resonates with your clients.
Here are some things you can do to refine your focus:
- Research your customer base. By looking at market analytics, you can develop an idea of who your target audience should be.
- Think about what you most enjoy/find fulfilling. Whether it’s a niche group you particularly enjoy working with or a specific service that you excel at, you should evaluate your own interests and abilities to ensure you don’t niche down on something you don’t truly enjoy.
- Call in an expert. Working with a marketing expert on brand development will help you refine your focus and go into the next phase of your business with confidence.
- Read up on branding. If you’re a solopreneur who can’t afford to hire an expert, read about it in your spare time. There are plenty of workbooks available for newbies – you just need to know where to look!
Finding what is most important to you (in a business and personal sense) and living it out will have a positive impact on the way you’re remembered.
3. Put First Things First Challenge: Decision Fatigue/Obligations
Decision fatigue can strike at inopportune moments, making it difficult to know which things need to be done and which ones aren’t important. Additionally, we sometimes set unrealistic obligations on ourselves that can result in burnout. Both of these can be challenges when it comes to putting first things first.
To overcome these challenges:
- Re-evaluate and organize your priorities. They should match the priorities you came up with in Exercise 2. Sometimes you’ll find that you said “Yes” to obligations that don’t coincide with your main priorities. If that’s the case, you can always change course.
- Gain decision clarity by using productivity tools. The Eisenhower matrix is a great way to determine where tasks fall in importance. Although urgent and important tasks may be at the forefront of your mind, the important ones that aren’t urgent are some of the most critical. Leave time in your day (or better, start with) the most important tasks.
- Learn to say no. Not only will you need to learn to say no to others, but you’ll also have to get comfortable with saying it to yourself. Sometimes we want to do things that aren’t productive or helpful in the long run. In seven years, will you remember your Netflix binge? (This is not a knock at taking much-needed time for rest and relaxation – it’s simply a reminder to be aware of how your time is spent.)
4. Think Win-Win Challenge: Fear/Apathy
As Stephen Covey describes it, the main things standing in the way of win-win conversations are low courage and low consideration. In other words, fear and apathy are your biggest enemies here. Whether you want to avoid a conversation because you’re afraid of upsetting the other person, or you don’t see why they find an issue important, it can be a challenge.77
Here are some ways to combat fear and apathy:
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Consider this exercise leading up to any interaction where you know you disagree with the other person, be it a professional or personal conflict. Write down as much as you know about the person, but write it in first-person perspective. (I am/I enjoy/I feel statements.) This will help solidify the other person’s perspective and cure your apathy.
- Write out how you can help. Shift your focus from what you can get out of the conversation to what you can contribute to the other person. A giving mentality is important here. Come up with three potential ways you can improve the situation.
- Think about other potential outcomes. Sometimes it helps to imagine what would happen if you gave in to your fear or apathy. How would the relationship be affected? What would that change in terms of your business, company culture, reputation, or personal relationships?
Fear and apathy cause a divide in relationships – avoid them at all costs.
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood Challenge: Tunnel Vision
Everyone has been guilty of “listening” to a conversation while thinking only about what their response will be, rather than what the other person is trying to communicate. We sometimes get so focused on our own experiences and solutions that we fail to listen to the people around us.
To eliminate our tunnel vision, we should:
- Practice listening. There are five great tools on how to do so in this Ted Talk by Julian Treasure, starting at 3:59.
- Pay attention to body language. 60% of our communication is represented by our body language – more than our words (10%) and our sounds (30%). Stay in the moment when speaking to a person. Face the person, put your phone down, and be aware of all of the facets of communication.
- Summarize what you think is being said. If a person disagrees with your summary, ask them to help you understand what you got wrong.
- Then – and only then – seek to be understood. Once you have genuinely sought to understand the other person, explain your point of view.
6. Synergize (Valuing Differences, Creativity, and Openness) Challenge: Possessiveness (Holding Too Tightly to Your Perspective)
Although the word “synergy” has been overused since the publication of “7 Habits,” the core meaning is still important. The ability to value differences and seek other perspectives fosters better openness within relationships as well as organizations, resulting in more creativity and positive interactions.
Posessiveness is a huge barrier to synergy. Here’s how to overcome it:
- Ask what it means to someone else. If one of your company’s core values is an abundance mindset, ask your employees how they think that applies in a practical sense. Perhaps you have a “No competition” policy – but your employee argues that the policy goes against your core values. Take some time to evaluate the point of view and respond to it in a thoughtful way.
- Realize that you are more than you think. Although no one wants to be trampled and feel misunderstood, your actions have an effect on the people around you. Consider how to enhance relationships.
- Stop micromanaging. For solopreneurs, it can be especially hard to let go of certain behaviors once other people are hired on. Be open-handed and allow your new team to try things their way. There are two possible outcomes: they learn that your original way is more effective – or their way will be better, resulting in more efficient operations and a thriving company with employees who feel heard!
7. Sharpen the Saw Challenges: High Demand/Being Too Busy
Everyone knows they should focus on renewal from time to time. Before you can pour into another person’s life, you have to make sure your “cup” is full. It’s why flight attendants say to ensure your oxygen mask is secure before you put on anyone else’s. The truth is that you’re no help to anyone if you’re exhausted, frustrated, and not taking care of yourself.
That being said, feeling “too busy to take a break” is a huge struggle. Here are some practical ways to counteract it:
- Remember that you’re better when you refresh. If you’re thinking so hard about the needs of others that you think you can’t take some time, remember that they deserve the best version of you. Don’t become so busy that you lash out at the people you care about most.
- Remind yourself that breaks are important. There may not be a dollar value attached to taking care of yourself, but it’s critical that you do. Stress has a way of wearing on a person and making them physically ill. If you don’t take time now, your body will force you to take time later.
- Consider it an opportunity for a creative boost. Breaks and vacations are great at helping us become more creative (remember, Lin Manuel-Miranda was inspired to produce award-winning musical Hamilton while on vacation)!
Bonus Challenge: Feeling Like You Need to Outsource, But Lacking the Funds to Do It
It can be tough to take a break when you have a lot going on. This is particularly a problem for solopreneurs. You’ve got a lot to do and a task that you don’t particularly enjoy, but you don’t feel you have the money to hire help.
Here are a few suggestions to help with that problem:
- Take on a protege during the slower months. When you’re busy, you don’t have time to teach another person – but if you plan ahead, you can teach an ambitious upstart how to do some of the tasks you do. Since they’re newer to the work, there will be some trial and error here, and their rates will likely be lower than an expert.
- Consider using a VA or going through an agency. VAs cost between $18-$35 an hour and can help shave time off your day. If you want help with design work, photography, etc, some agencies have contractors that charge on an hourly basis.
- Evaluate whether it’s a seasonal issue or an ongoing one. If you find yourself overwhelmed on a seasonal basis, consider working with a contractor on a temporary basis. If it’s an ongoing issue, that’s a good indication that your level of expertise is worth more than you’re charging. By niching down further, raising your rates, and saying no to projects that aren’t a good fit, you may find yourself with more breathing room.
- Find ways to “hack” your time. Instead of staring at the screen as you wait for a video to render, pull out that leadership book you want to read. Use your phone to bring up a website with helpful resources, or watch a YouTube tutorial to help sharpen your skills. If you can make twice the impact with your time, you’ll be less stressed.