Sharpen the Saw

Discussion in 'Survival of the Fittest' started by Yard Dart, Nov 27, 2018.

  1. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

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

    Every now and then I get into funks where I feel tired, depressed, unmotivated, and pissy. On days when I’m in a funk, I’ll try to will myself to work through pure mental grit. I’ll flog my brain and body with caffeine. I’ll set Pomodoro timers and tell myself, “Just work for 15 minutes.” I’ll try all the tricks I’ve learned over the years on how to be productive.

    But it never works.

    In fact, I often feel crappier. I start bitching and moaning about all the stupid things and people in the world that are bugging the tar out of me.

    At this point in my spiral downwards, Kate will tell me: “You should probably go take a nap. Or go for a walk outside. Or go get a massage.”

    “But I don’t have time to do something like that!” I retort. “I’ve got so much to do!”

    To which she invariably replies: “Well, you’re not getting anything done while you’re in your funk. You’ve just spent an hour stewing in your chair. Take care of your funk first, and then you can get back to work. By taking some time away from work in the short-term, you’ll actually be more productive in the long-term.”

    She’s right, of course.

    And re-reading the last chapter of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People only drove Kate’s point home even deeper for me. Habit 7 is “Sharpen the Saw,” and today we take a look at what that means, how to do it, and how taking intentional timeouts can greatly improve your performance in the game of life.

    Covey begins his chapter on Habit 7 with a story that perfectly encapsulates my face-punching cycle of being in a funk, but not doing anything about it because I thought I was too busy to step away from work:

    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!”

    For Covey, Sharpening the Saw is about taking the time to renew and refresh the four dimensions of our natures — physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional — so that we’re more effective in our life’s work. It’s about regularly investing in ourselves so that we can reap dividends on a continual basis. It means working smarter, not harder. Sharpening the Saw is what 21st-century lifestyle bloggers would call “self-care,” and while that term has become overused and annoying, there’s really something to it.

    Like the guy trying to fell a tree with a dull saw, you might think you don’t have time to take care of yourself. I get it. That’s how I feel when I’m in the depths of one of my funks.

    But the reality is you don’t have time NOT to take care of yourself.

    By taking 30 minutes to an hour a day to sharpen your metaphorical saw, you’ll be able to get more done during the rest of your waking hours, and avoid wasting time with unproductive rumination, self-flagellation, angst, fatigue, and even a descent into outright depression; I know if I flog myself too hard, for too long, and let my stress levels get too high, that can trigger the symptoms of “the black dog.” And if you want to talk about unproductive, depression sure is!

    While investing time in “self-care” may seemingly curtail your productivity in the short-term, it will greatly enhance it in the long-term, as you won’t ultimately be sidelined by physical sickness, mental collapse, and just plain exhaustion.

    Besides allowing you to get more done, regularly making time to take care of yourself also increases your sense of agency and effectiveness.

    YOU decide what you do to sharpen your saw. It’s up to YOU to make sure you do those things. As you successfully take action on honing the unique blade of your life, you show yourself that you’re an autonomous being. What’s more, you increase your competency. As you increase your competency, you increase the influence you can have on the world outside of yourself.

    So again, you really don’t have time NOT to sharpen the saw. An excuse to not sharpen the saw is an excuse for failure, burnout, and mediocrity.

    The 4 Dimensions of Your Life to Sharpen: Physical, Spiritual, Mental, Social/Emotional
    Covey says that when it comes to our personal lives, we should focus on four domains: physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.

    All of these dimensions are interconnected. If we feel good physically, we have mental clarity and better control of our emotions. If our social life is good, we’ll have more motivation and energy to take care of ourselves physically. And because these human domains are interconnected, it allows us to synergize them which will enable you to do more in less time (more on that below).

    Not only are all the domains of life interconnected, but though the listed action steps below may impact the specific domain under which they’re categorized most directly, they’ll often influence your other domains as well; e.g., exercise can improve, and can be intentionally used to improve, not only your physical life, but your mental, emotional, and even your spiritual life too.

    1. Physical
    Sharpening the blade of physicality ensures your body has the strength and vigor it needs to take on life’s demands. If you’re tired and sick all the time, you’re not going to be very productive, no matter how much you work.

    So make taking care of your body a priority in your life. At a minimum focus on:

    1. Exercising
    2. Eating right
    3. Getting enough sleep each night
    Those three things can go a long, long way in keeping you physically sharp, so begin there and make them non-negotiables.

    Once you’ve got a handle on those three areas, start exploring other ways to hone the blade of physicality: naps, saunas, cold showers, massages, reducing caffeine consumption, etc. Experiment with different “protocols” and see what makes you feel your best.

    I want to reiterate that this stuff doesn’t have to take much time. If all you have is 30 minutes a day to work out, then do 30 minutes of bodyweight exercises. If you have a lunch break, take a 20-minute power nap. Don’t think you have to spend a lot of time on this stuff to get significant benefit from it.

    2. Spiritual
    The spiritual domain generates your sense of purpose in life. It’s the core of who you are and why you do what you do. Failure to sharpen this blade can leave you feeling cynical, listless, and burned out.

    It’s easy to neglect our spiritual life because it’s, well, spiritual. Concrete day-to-day stuff takes up so much of our attention that the more ethereal strands of spirituality just get pushed aside. But eventually, the neglect catches up to you. It happens when you’re lying in bed scrolling through Instagram wondering “What am I doing with my life?” or when you lose your job or find out a family member has cancer. Those are the moments when having a sense of purpose, a solid foundation of values, comes in handy. Spirituality can ultimately be just as “practical” as any other area of your life.

    Keeping your spirit in shape is very much like keeping your body in shape; just like you can’t expect to jump into a marathon without any training, if you want your spiritual blade to be honed whenever you need it, you need to commit to sharpening it each day.

    How do you train your soul? Through habits and spiritual disciplines like:

    I really like the sentiment expressed by Martin Luther: “I have so much to do today, I’ll need to spend another hour on my knees.” While you don’t necessarily need to spend a whole hour sharpening your spiritual blade, taking a little time to do so each day can help magnify your capacity for work, and lead to a more purpose-driven, fulfilling life overall.

    3. Mental
    For most workers in the modern economy, the job they do is largely “mind work.” It constantly dulls their mental saw, so that doing more mental work in their leisure time — even in the form of “sharpening” — hardly seems like it will be refreshing. They just want to turn their mind off altogether, by surfing the internet or watching TV. But as Winston Churchill wisely observed, rejuvenation can be found in a change to one’s activity, rather than the cessation of it:

    “Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it . . . the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated . . . It is only when new cells are called into activity . . . that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.”

    This is to say that the best way to rejuvenate your dulled-down mind is not to turn it off, but to give it something different to think about than what it usually grinds through at work. Not only will this fresh mental fare stimulate unused parts of your brain, it can give you insights and ideas that can loop back into your professional success.

    Below are a few suggestions on how you can fuel your brain’s recovery and sharpen the mental blade:

    4. Social/Emotional
    We are social animals. While it’s true some of us are introverts, even introverts benefit from rubbing shoulders with other human beings. Several studies have found socializing can help reduce stress and curb depressive feelings. What’s more, interacting with other human minds is a way to learn new ideas and refine our own. Socializing synergizes with sharpening our mental blade.

    A few suggestions on sharpening the social saw:

    Though Covey lumps together the emotional domain with the social domain, I think they can be treated separately; emotional balance is so important, it ought to be a distinct area of focus and awareness, for when your emotional life is in order, everything else in life seems to hum along, even when there are hiccups.

    Here a few suggestions on sharpening your emotional blade:

    How to Find Time to Sharpen the Saw
    Most people know what they need to do to take care of themselves. The trick is to actually do it! Below are a few suggestions that I’ve successfully implemented in my life to ensure I sharpen my saw on a regular basis:

    Make Sharpening the Saw a “Big Rock.” We talked about Big Rocks in our article on putting first things first. A big rock is an item that you put in your calendar first. You then schedule everything else around that item. For most people, self-care isn’t a Big Rock. They only do it if they have time. Here’s the rub: if you don’t make sharpening the saw a priority in your life, it will never happen.

    So as you plan your week, block out time for your sharpening the saw activities as part of your Big Rock calendaring. And then here’s the trick: don’t compromise on it. If a conflicting activity comes up during your week (that’s not a life-threatening emergency), just say “Sorry, I already have plans for that time. Does another time work?”

    You have to protect your sharpening the saw time. And if you ever start to feel guilty or bad that you’re saying “No” to people so you can focus on “me time,” remind yourself that your “me time” will allow you to be more effective in the things to which you’ve already said “Yes.”

    What can you via negativa out of your life? If you feel like you absolutely have no time for sharpening the saw, maybe it’s time to look at your life to see what you can “via negativa” out of it. What can you stop doing that will free up more time for yourself? Maybe you’re wasting too much time on the internet or your smartphone? Maybe you’re watching too much TV? Maybe you’ve got some obligations that aren’t serving your goals? Find those things and eliminate them or at least reduce the amount of time you spend on them. Live simply.

    Start small. In The 7 Habits, Covey recommends you spend an hour a day on sharpening the saw activities. If you don’t have an hour, do what you can. If you only have 10 minutes, use that. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!

    Synergize! Take a lesson from Habit 6 and find ways to synergize your sharpening the saw activities. For example, you can combine renewing your mental and physical capacities by listening to a podcast (shameless plug: subscribe to ours!) while you’re running. You can combine mental and social/emotional renewal by attending a community lecture with a buddy.

    When life gets hard, sharpen the saw. When the friction in your life moves from healthy to debilitating, and things just feel crappy, sharpen the saw. Instead of trying to plow through the resistance, take an hour to decompress so you can come back at it with renewed energy. I’ve gotten better about taking time to sharpen the saw whenever I get in a funk. Instead of saying “I don’t have time to take care of myself!” I take a nap, or go for a walk outside, or meditate, or go to the sauna (though I work out in my garage, I joined a $10-a-month gym just for this purpose; it’s been money well spent for me). Even taking 30 minutes to do those things is enough to get me out of my funk and get me back in the saddle. Action always beats bitching about how terrible everything is.

    The 7 Habits: Sharpen the Saw | The Art of Manliness

    As we near the end of another year.....have you taken stock of "you"? Maybe it is time to sharpen your saw. ;)
  2. Dunerunner

    Dunerunner Brewery Monkey Moderator

    That sounds like too much work.... I can't even get motivated to get up and get a beer! Well, that's a lie.
  3. techsar

    techsar Monkey+++

    Mostly good ideas if put into practice regularly. Except the therapist. Put your house in order and you'll not need one.

    Just my .25(adjusted for inflation ;) )
  4. SB21

    SB21 Monkey+++

    Yep , running back and forth fetchin' beers takes the enjoyment out of it . That's why I keep the bottle beside the lazyboy . I won't normally drink a whole bottle in one sitting .
  5. Hanzo

    Hanzo Monkey+++

    While you're up, get me one too.
  6. Gator 45/70

    Gator 45/70 Monkey+++

    I sharpened the chain saw chain last weekend, Does that count?
  7. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    I need to go thru all my Chainsaw chains, and run them thru the Sharpening Grinding Machine... That should take about a day.. 4 Hours to set it up, two hours to sharpen 24 Chains... and four more hours to put it all back where it belongs in storage....
  8. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Don't know about anyone else, but best thing I have found when I get in a really bad place, is to take the dog for a walk down to the flood control dam and watch nature. He has such of a he** of a good time and it is so quiet and peaceful down there, especially at dawn or dusk or even in the bright moonlight, that it is darn hard to stay in a bad mood. I also find that a few minutes here, or rereading one of Jerry's stories, will often break the cycle of bad thought and doing nothing. I don't sleep well, about 4 hours at one time is my limit, and wife needs 8 or medusa looks like a better companion, so a couple hours here and reading works out well, and then I can get back to sleep for a couple more hours. 3 AM with the rest of the world is sleeping is not really a good time to be making noise or using your tractor.
    Yard Dart, Dunerunner, Ura-Ki and 2 others like this.
  9. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    A brisk walk is my therapy. I usually do not take the dog if I need timeout and to sort something out in my head, he tends to want to smell and mark his territory.

    I just had a stranger tell me yesterday, "take good care of yourself because no one else will."
  10. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Not exactly the point that Yard Dart was making in the thread, but when you get right down to it, everything we do in our preparing for TSHTF, is truly sharpening the saw and trying to live as well and as easy as we can. What we can put away now and learn now, who we can develop relationships with, all of it is sharpening the saw to both make things better and in fact in order to survive.
  11. Ura-Ki

    Ura-Ki Grudge Monkey

    I'm the exact opposite of the O.P. as I'm constantly on the prowl looking for something that needs done! It's the old saw "idle hands are the devils work" ( see what I did there) so when I get in a funk, I have lots of things to do, get outta my head and I actually tackle things I have been avoiding! For really bad PTSD moments, I grab the Dog, my Rifle, and a day pack and I head off to the mountains for a day or three and kick the skeletons out! It's those times where just moving helps, and having a destination sets goals with out any real time frame to reach it! Getting in some real thinking and cursing out loud helps as well! The mind is it's own worst enemy, so I find if I kick my own ass now and then it helps! Lol
  12. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Funny how often the worst enemy we have is the one inside us, addictions, rage, mental problems, putting things off and not getting anything done, all our other weaknesses can do more damage to our lives than most of our physical enemies. Add illness, growing old, cancer, etc, and for almost everyone of us, the enemy inside is the one that will kill us as well. Not smoking, controlling your weight, controlling diabetes and any other chronic disease, etc, will do more to ensure that you survive until TSHTF than any preps you will ever do. As a nation we seem to have a group suicide complex, weight, drugs, no physical activity, diet, fast cars, etc, are all doing a good job of destroying us before our time.
  13. Mindy Sue

    Mindy Sue Monkey

    Great reminder..seems this time of year many people get into a slump. That is a great book!!! So many awesome take aways. I highly recommend it.
  14. Ishmael was in a funky mood when he sailed on the Pequad for his appointment with destiny.
  15. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    Damn good post Bro
  16. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    When I lived in the mountains going to high school my frustrations were taken out on splitting fire wood, and digging a sewer ditch for the property.
    I have rarely had nothing to do but something productive I found most satisfying .
    Even camping ,if there were no specific activity going on then I went through my gear reviewing things .
    Older now I still resent the idea of wasting time with a nap, never the less not getting all the sleep i need at night, if I sit doing nothing but waiting I'll doze off for a few minuets .So I'm getting a nap like it or not.
    My funk is having an injury and being hampered by it for not doing things that need done . i resent it the way I see some people making excuse not to work and are fully capable ,just lazy .(democrats)
    I draw a lot when I'm not on the computer or doing something around the place, the drawing is therapeutic because I am drawing from information I know , and new researched information, and creating something completely new. I'm not worried about thinking inside the box , I make a new one.
    Some times the tools i make had never been drawn ,but come from the need and combination of things .
    If I have the money for the project and impetus (need) this is my wheel house and fun ,more than fishing or hunting or eating bacon .
    There is little temptation to rest on my laurels because there is so much that needs done these small achievements are just another wrench in the tool box .
    Gator 45/70 and Grandpa Patch like this.
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