The name comes from a quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln which goes “If I had six hours to cut down a tree, I'd spend the first four sharpening the saw”. It is based on the idea that you cannot give what you don’t have. You can’t share your knowledge or experience if you don’t have any; you can’t give your energy to anything if you don’t have any; you can’t give love if you don’t have love to give. Sharpening the saw is about the little things that you do to continually become the best version of yourself that you can be.
When we don’t do it, we may not feel it immediately, but sooner or later we will pay the price in terms of:
- Losing our professional edge and becoming less relevant or less marketable;
- Impact on our physical health;
- Mental health issues and even burnout;
- Loss of engagement and motivation;
- Damage to our relationships;
- A sense that our life just lacks quality.
Sharpening the saw is probably the ultimate illustration of how important balance is in one’s life. Too many people claim that they “don’t have time”. They don’t have time to eat healthily. They don’t have time to read. They don’t have time to spend with important people in their work and personal lives. They don’t have time to meditate and pray.
Here are some tips to help you achieve better balance and make sure that you keep your own saw sharp:
- Set achievable goals. Rather commit to exercising for 30 minutes 4 times a week than overcommitting to 60 minutes every single day (even if that would be really good for you).
- Make time to read every day – even if it is on the loo!
- Stay away from social media – it is the thief of time and energy and adds no value.
- Eat your lunch away from your desk – perhaps use this as time for a valuable conversation with a colleague. And if you can’t get a healthy lunch at work, pack your own lunch.
- Spend some time every day in nature. Perhaps have walking meetings – it kills 2 birds with one stone and enhances the quality of your discussions anyway. Even if it is a Zoom meeting or a Teams meeting, you can have it while walking outside.
- Have dinner at the table with your special people at home – and talk to each other; no gadgets. Then if you need to get back to work after dinner, you will still have spent some quality time with them.
- Allow yourself 15 or so minutes of quiet time every day – to pray and/or meditate, or just to be quiet.
In subsequent articles to this one, I will elaborate on specific aspects of sharpening the saw. But why not start now? If you are one of those people who “doesn’t have time”, pick just one idea from the list above and do it for a week. Then pick a second idea and add it to what you are doing. And another one in the third week. While you are doing this, pay attention to your energy levels.
I am confident that you will find that you are MORE productive. Why? Because when you sharpen the saw, it improves your energy, your focus and the quality of your thinking. So you get more done in less time – and you are happier and feel better.