Stephen Covey made the metaphor of “sharpening the saw” famous in 1989 with his bestseller, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit #7 is: Sharpen the saw—principles of balanced self-renewal.
But Covey didn’t create the principle—it’s Bible. It’s a timeless principle for all of us.
If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.
This simple verse addresses a well known fact of life: there is a weariness that comes through living—the day in, day out rhythm of life.
The basic lesson here is that if we will stop the work long enough to resharpen the axe—or in Covey’s metaphor, the saw—we’ll be able to accomplish more with less effort and in less time.
Easy to understand; not easy to do.
No matter what your occupation, there is a putting out—an exertion of physical, mental, and emotional energy.
Woodworking 101 teaches us to let the saw do the work. Same with an axe. It’s easier to saw or chop when the tool is sharp. Our tendency is to simply saw or chop harder as the tool dulls. It’s better to stop and take time to sharpen it.
If you don’t take the time to sharpen the tools of your trade, you’ll be forced to work harder and with poorer results and greater drain.
What Causes Drain?
- Action outside your zone. Tasks, activities that you do perhaps out of necessity or obligation, but you’re not that good at it and don’t really enjoy it. Most of us have a tendency of overextending ourselves because we can’t say “no.” It’s hard to say “no” to good, worthwhile things. Yet we will have to say “no” to the good so that you can say “yes” to the better.
Action without recharging. This applies even while you are doing things that are in your zone. You still have to take time to sharpen the tools of your trade.
What Are Your Tools?
Your skills. Whether it’s fixing cars, closing the deal or public speaking, you need to sharpen your skills. This involves gaining additional knowledge and/or practice. Improving your knowledge and gaining proficiency makes your life’s work easier and more productive.
Your body. I’m referring to your physical health. That involves rest, good nutrition, and exercise. You can’t work 12-hour days sitting at a desk with a diet consisting mainly of coffee, donuts, and hot dogs and expect to last the long haul!
Your frame of mind. Even if you don’t do lots of manual labor, there is a tremendous amount of energy expended mentally and emotionally. If not recharged, this leads to irritability, negativity, discouragement, and depression. You have to engage in regular relaxation and recreation that recharges you.
Staying Sharp In Your Zone
This is too big a subject to cover extensively in one post but here are a few basics…
- Focus on what you’re good at. Begin by evaluating those tasks, activities that give you the most fulfillment, that add the most value to you and others, that draw the most recognition and appreciation of others. Focus on those things.
Minimize what you dread doing. Prayerfully consider how you can minimize your direct involvement in those activities or completely stop doing if possible. Look for others who are energized by that activity and let them do it!
Schedule times to recharge. Identify those activities that recharge you and build them into your week. Give yourself permission to do so! It may be…
- taking a class or forming a small group to improve some skill necessary for what you do but want to do better.
- taking a walk or long bath.
- a hobby.
- most importantly, times with God in a way that relates with you.
Jesus was a master of this. He consistently broke away from pressing needs of others to recharge by getting alone with His Father.
You can’t sharpen the axe without stopping the work for a while. And when you resume, you’ll accomplish more with less effort. When you are operating in your zone and staying sharp, it’s not only good for you but better for everyone else around you. So make the time. You can’t afford to NOT stay sharp.
Question: How to make sure you keep yourself sharp physically, mentally, spiritually? Share your answer in the comments below.