Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold 25 million copies in 40 languages since its publication in 1989, and its tenets have been incorporated into a dizzying array of professions and pursuits.

We’ve found that these principles can apply to project management, too. Whether you’re a project manager or you support one, applying these seven tips can lead to more efficient teamwork and a smoother workflow process.

1. Be Proactive

A proactive project manager is a step ahead of a one who is caught responding to the actions of others. Navigating changes during the course of a project is a crucial skill, but it’s best to always have a contingency plan in place for likely (and even unlikely) problems. Outline a project plan before starting any work and try to anticipate possible changes to your outline before they occur.

Proactive project managers also communicate clearly with their team members. Make sure everyone on your team knows their own roles and responsibilities, as well as those of the rest of the team. You’ll avoid slowing down productivity when a problem needs to be handed off to another team member.

By using a tool like Sifter to keep track of specific tasks and responsibilities, you can build a healthy communication process for your team.

2. Begin With the End in Mind

Keep a clear vision of exactly what your team is expected to accomplish. We’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but it’s still great advice: your project goals must stay at the forefront of all planning decisions.

3. Put First Things First

We’ve said it before, but try to knock out your most important projects first. First, concentrate on your “big rocks” (a phrase Covey uses for the most important tasks), and then move onto smaller tasks.

Take a website project, for example. You’d need to get your client’s business goals and design objectives in place before developing content. This practice will help you build momentum and avoid becoming distracted by less important tasks.

Of course, it helps when you or any member of your team can use Sifter to check a task’s priority tags to see which rocks are the biggest. The smaller rocks can wait until you’ve cleared away a bit more rubble, so to speak.

4. Think Win-Win

Foster a win-win mindset between team members and clients. This means that agreements and solutions should be mutually beneficial and satisfying to all parties.

Do your best to see things from other perspectives, and work hard to come up with fair and impartial resolutions when heads start butting. This takes more work than simply overriding the requests of others, but in the end, this will reduce friction and keep project goals at the forefront of the discussion when discussing a compromise.

5. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood

In order to understand the perspective of another, you first have to listen to them. Covey frequently refers to “empathic listening” in his book. In short, it’s the practice of listening with emotional identification and compassion.

The idea here is that once you are capable of understanding others, and they become aware of your willingness to share their concerns, they are more willing to return the favor and attempt to see things from your perspective as well.

This kind of communication is beneficial in all walks of life but is particularly pertinent when dealing with groups of people who may have conflicting ideas on how to best achieve your goals.

6. Synergize

A great businessman named Jack Donaghy may have said it best, “First of all, never bad mouth synergy.”

Synergy is simply cooperation between groups to accomplish goals that would not have been possible by individuals. And yes, that’s the whole idea of project work.

The major obstacle to this kind of collaboration is getting everyone on board. Your team must set aside their egos and accept that teamwork will be the most effective method.

Synergy can best be achieved through (one more time!) complete and open communication. Share your calendars and task completion schedules, consistently use group brainstorming to solve problems, and actively listen to the concerns of your team will go a long way to promote group synergy.

7. Sharpen the Saw

Covey uses the phrase “sharpen the saw” to refer to things like taking care of yourself, resting, eating right, and finding a good work-life balance. For project managers, the meaning I suggest you take away is to stop and improve your tools when the opportunity arises.

Here’s a tale of two web designers: while one is crunching out sites 24/7, the other spends a few hours a week studying new tech advancements, reading update notes, or learning new programming languages. The programmer who keeps adding to his knowledge base will keep his cutting edge sharp, and likely be more valuable than the programmer who stagnates.

Make it part of your culture to give your team an hour a week to sharpen their saw. Through learning a useful application or brushing up on a skill they may not have used in a while, your team will be stronger and you’ll see more wood added to the pile than expected.

Could applying these habits to your team help you meet clients’ needs better?

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