If you´re into topics like productivity, time management or personal development, I´m sure that more than once you will have read or heard the idea that one must pause to sharpen the saw.
This is how Stephen Covey explains it in his book, Seven habits of highly effective people:
Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
– What are you doing? – you ask.
– Can´t you see? – comes the impatient reply. – I´m sawing down this tree.
– You look exhausted! – you exclaim. – How long have you been at it?
– Over five hours – he returns – and I´m beat! This is hard work.
– Well, why don´t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw? – you inquire – I´m sure it would go a lot faster.
– I don´t have time to sharpen the saw! – the man says emphatically – I´m too busy sawing!
This metaphor illustrates really well how we often get too deep into the weeds of our day to day tasks and forget to stop every once in a while, first of all to rest, but beyond that, to be able to take a step back, gain some perspective and find more efficient (and more enjoyable) ways to achieve our goals.
Another great example along the same lines is one of those quotes that appear printed on geeky T-shirts, especially dedicated to IT people: Six hours of debugging can save you five minutes of reading documentation.
It´s that well known adage, work smarter, not harder, which we know so well in theory, and we find soooo difficult to put into practice... Maybe it´s partly because our society values super busy people; we associate being busy with being productive, so consciously or unconsciously, we keep looking for ways to stay busy (and then we love complaining about how busy we are, it makes us feel important), Or maybe it´s because it´s easier to stay in the momentum we have created for ourselves (which deep down is nothing more than a comfort zone) than to question the way we´ve always done things, even if there is a benefit hiding behind that.
This habit of sharpen the saw can be adopted at multiple levels and in different formats. For example, this past week at work, I had the opportunity to get together with my team (in person, bonus points!) to take a moment, celebrate what we´ve achieved in the last quarter, and plan the work for the next quarter. This is usual practice in Agile methodologies, and it´s been proven to work really well.
And at a more individual level, we can schedule time every week or month to sharpen our very own saw, and that time will be well invested for sure, I remember that one of my very first managers here in Ireland suggested this to me (thanks David!), and for years I kept a time slot booked for myself every Friday afternoon, when the work of the week was already done, and I would sit down in the canteen/cafeteria with my notebook, look at the trees outside the window, and do lots of reflection and planning, getting my ideas in order... I have to say that I used to get a lot of benefit from that little habit, and now I´m in the process of restarting it again, be it on Friday afternoons or at a different time during the week.
And, given that it´s actually impossible to separate our work self from the rest of our being, this principle goes beyond the concepts of work and personal life, because at the end of the day, each person is a whole self. Stephen Covey proposes four areas where we must sharpen our saw: physical, mental, social/emotional and spiritual.
What about you? How do you sharpen your saw? And now that I think of it, wouldn´t it be easier to explain the metaphor with an axe, instead of a saw? Because I´m not sure how a toothed saw like the one in the photo can be sharpened...