Get rid of mental clutter through two simple circles

Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, has a complete toolkit on how to become more effective as a person. One of his techniques involves what he terms as the circles of influence and concern.

The circle of concern pertains to everything that affects our lives. This can include our jobs, health, families, friends, relationships, neighborhoods, the weather, the political climate, to name a few. The circle of influence refers to concerns whose outcomes we can control or influence. The key difference between these two circles rests on whether or not we have the power to change things.

When it comes to dealing with workplace pressures, these two circles can play an important role in helping us remain calm, focused, and effective. For instance, being late to work due to a traffic accident falls under the circle of concern. It makes us anxious, but there’s nothing we can do about it. On the other hand, managing the backlog such that being late does not affect your day’s performance falls within your circle of control.

How to use the circles

Here’s a quick exercise for teams and even individuals to understand how these two circles can improve effectiveness:

  • Draw two larges circles. Name them ‘circle of concern’ and ‘circle of influence’. In the former, note down all the things about your work that worry you. This can range from co-workers to customers, prospects, projects, timelines, leaders, company policies, economic situation, new trends, etc.
  • Now, take a closer look at all the factors. Which of these can you actively change? For instance, if you feel overburdened with work, would an honest conversation with your boss help you re-organize your tasks? Or if traffic affects your commute, can you leave home earlier or use commute time to read? Another example could be your company’s leave policy. While it might not please you, it isn’t something you can change.
  • Evaluate each item carefully and move those that you find feasible solutions for, into your circle of influence. Some solutions might take time to implement, so you could draw up an action plan for them.

The circles serve as a powerful tool to cut through mental clutter by providing a visual representation of what is within your control and what isn’t.

How it helps individuals

Using the circles can help you identify opportunities to resolve concerns, and become proactive about your well-being and career. It fosters a sense of responsibility to tackle issues and improves your resilience when dealing with problems. Finally, it helps build a mindset of accepting and letting go of concerns that are out of your control. Periodic practice increases awareness about what affects your performance and how to address or accept them.

How it helps teams

When used within teams, the circles provide many benefits. They act as a common platform to voice out concerns and brainstorm solutions, thereby improving team rapport. They also provide an avenue to discover employees’ strengths and limitations, while providing opportunities to improve on weaknesses.

Moreover, each of us has a different circle of influence. For instance, if you are interested in a new role within your company, you might find a team member who has the right connection in his circle of influence. Thus, as members of a team collaborate on concerns, the circles of influence grow larger, empowering each employee to be honest, leverage their strengths, and contribute to personal, professional, and organizational growth.

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