Are you sharpening the saw?

Years ago I read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and those habits have stuck with me, becoming part of my worldview. One of those 7 Habits is called “Sharpen the Saw.” Let me paraphrase a little story that illustrates this concept:

Once there was a person out walking in the woods, and he came upon two lumberjacks who were feverishly working a crosscut saw, trying to fell a large tree. The observer watched for a moment and, noticing the fruitless effort and the saw’s dull teeth, suggested, “Hey, why don’t you guys take a little break and sharpen your saw?”

Not missing a beat, one of the sweaty lumberjacks gasped a reply, “We can’t take a break; we have to get this tree down!”

Have you ever felt like that—busier than heck but not sure you’re making any progress? I’m sure most people have, and that’s why I ask the question, “Are you sharpening the saw?”

My understanding of sharpening the saw is finding ways to renew yourself so that you can live a more balanced life. I know, from 27 years in public education, that the school year ebbs and flows for students and staff alike. There are times that people get tired and run down, busy and discouraged. Fortunately there are many high points, celebrations, and successes for most people, too. How can we keep from getting in too much of a rut? If we get discouraged or pessimistic, that has an impact on everyone we come into contact with. This is where sharpening the saw comes in.

We don’t have to have a week at the spa or a Caribbean cruise to recharge and sharpen the saw. There are lots of little ways we can take a break, have some fun, relieve some tension, and restore balance in our lives. Covey writes about physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual factors in leading a balanced life. Those are the kinds of things that are helpful to me.

There are certainly some days that are longer and more trying than others. There are things that can cause concern and problems that are not easily solved. When I feel like the saw is getting a little dull, going to a ball game, reading a good book, having dinner out with my wife, attending church with my wife, playing a game of Cribbage or an online game, going for a walk, or any number of other things can help restore balance for me. There are times, too, when it’s not an active thing that is needed to restore balance but rather a relaxing one. At those times putting my feet up in the recliner and watching a movie or maybe just going to bed early help to sharpen the saw.

If you are a parent, you have probably experienced the little one who plays hard all day and is just tuckered out by suppertime. If you’re an old enough parent, you might have seen your teenage son or daughter crash after a busy sports season or weekend music or speech contest. It’s great for kids to experience a wide variety of activities during their school years, but sometimes they have to be reminded to sharpen the saw, too.

Best wishes to everyone who reads this to enjoy life to the fullest and experience all of the great things you can, but don’t forget to stop and sharpen the saw when you need to. You’ll be glad you did!