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When did you last sharpen your saw?

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This is a well-known story taken from Steven Covey's book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People"... 

A man was struggling in the woods to saw down a tree. An old farmer came by, watched for a while, then quietly said, “What are you doing?”
“Can’t you see?” the man impatiently replied, “I’m sawing down this tree.”
“You look exhausted,” said the farmer. “How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours, and I’m beat,” replied the man. “This is hard work.”
“That saw looks pretty dull,” said the farmer. “Why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen it? 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!”

sharpen your saw

Running a train the trainer workshop last week which included practicing running a version of our 'Plan your Time' Module, I was reminded how very BUSY people are at work. Most of them work very hard, yet the majority end the day having achieved little in the grand scheme of things. First line managers in particular seem to rush about in a constant blur of activity, and complain that there is simply too much to do. Maybe there is. Or maybe they need to stop. Regroup. Think. Maybe they need to sharpen their saw.

Sharpening your saw means taking time out of your day (or week) to set yourself up for success. In the story, a sharper saw would mean the man would use less effort to cut down the tree and get the job done more quickly. In modern businesses sharpening the saw may mean:

  • setting goals and planning so that you don't lose signt of what it is you are actually there to do
  • prioritising your tasks and focussing your energy rather than just reacting to things as they occur
  • delegating tasks to others even though (in the short term) this won't actually save you any time, it will in the long term
  • learning and developing yourself so you become more knowledgeable, skillful and confident
  • taking your holidays! a manager who is tired and stressed is never going to be able to give their best

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