Sharpening the Saw

A Story

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!”

Stephen R. Covey

Dear Reader,

A client pretty much screamed this at me the other day when I asked if he was getting any time for non-work or non-family stuff:

“I don’t have time!! I’m too busy sawing!!!!”

( please replace this sentiment with doing staff appraisals, fielding endless emails, attending meetings, posting on social, setting goals, doing up his house, cooking meals, paying bills: you get the picture)

I asked how that was working out for him.

He then laughed.

We laughed.

The metaphorical “saw” is yourself.

It’s simple. If you don’t take the time to sharpen a saw: it will become dull and ineffective.

If you don’t take time out to look after yourself and recharge yourself: you become dull and ineffective.

You can call it self-care if you like. Or you can call it common sense.

“Sharpening the saw” is the concept of the leadership writer Stephen Covey.

It’s investing in yourself daily in order to renew yourself daily.

Below is an exercise to help you to sharpen the saw daily.

To build into your 2022.

But if you’re still in doubt consider the words of Abraham Lincoln.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Good enough for Abe…good enough for us.

Happy 2022

Sanja x

How to sharpen the saw

Stephen Covey breaks down recharging yourself into four dimensions: physical, mental, social and spiritual.

They are all interconnected. If we feel good physically we feel better mentally and are more in charge of our emotions. If we have tapped into the spiritual bigger picture we feel more physically energised and inclined to be social and so on.

Physical: eating right, exercising, sleeping enough. Those are the basics which allow your brain and body to be in optimal condition. Once you are doing those you can get fancy if you like with massages, cold-water immersion, saunas, detoxing etc. Whatever works.  But do the basics first.

Mental: using your mind in a different way to the normal working or mindless scrolling modes : reading fiction, learning something new, writing, makeing something, going to a museum. Truly rejuvenating your mind involves not switching off but stimulating different under-used parts of your brain.

Social: seeing friends, spending time with your partner, doing community work, playing team sports. Humans are designed to be social: spending time with other (loved) people releases feel-good hormones and also allows you to reflect and get different perspectives.

Spiritual: meditation, be in nature, journal, truly appreciate the moment, go to church: whatever works for you to see the bigger picture whilst being in the moment. This is the antidote to the day-to-day doldrums. Actively practice daily “being” in the world rather than operating on a to-do list.

Getting Going

1. Choose a dimension. Decide something which appeals to you that you will commit to doing daily/weekly
2.  Do that thing. Notice how it makes you feel. Experiment with what works for you and try different things.
3. Repeat with each domain.
4. This is the important bit: schedule these things into your day and week before anything else. Block out time on your calendar and fiercely protect it.
5. Repeat. And your saw will be gleaming!

A lovely poem to set you off on your weekend


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?-

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W.H. Davies