Habit #7 in Steve Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is called “Sharpen the Saw.” Covey uses the common analogy of a woodcutter who is sawing for several days straight and is becoming less and less productive. The process of cutting dulls the blade. So the solution is to periodically sharpen the saw.
We’ve found that in practice, however, most people fail to understand what sharpening the saw really means. When leaders overwork themselves and their productivity begins to fall off, common wisdom says to take a break, maybe even go on vacation. However, that isn’t sharpening the saw – that’s putting the saw down. When a dull blade is put down for a while, the blade will still be dull when picked back up.
Sharpening the saw is actually an activity, just as the analogy suggests. Think about what it would mean to sharpen the saw. Here are some saw-sharpening ideas:
- Improved diet
- Continued learning (read, listen to audio programs, attend a seminar)
- Learn a new skill
- Organize the home or office
- Clear out a bunch of little tasks that have been put off
Now the woodcutter can’t just alternate between cutting wood and sharpening the saw indefinitely. Downtime is needed too, but it isn’t the same as sharpening the saw. The woodcutter can become even more productive by sharpening the blade, studying new woodcutting techniques, working out to become stronger, and learning from other woodcutters.
Empowered leaders sharpen their saw and are even more successful.
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