In Stephen Covey’s wonderful book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” the seventh habit is “Sharpen the Saw.” The concept is personal renewal throughout the process of improvement. The other six habits are specifically aimed at a part of the internal or external battles that each of us must fight. Although the chapter is called “Sharpen the Saw,” I’m going to depart from it slightly with the use of an axe. Even though a saw is an effective tool that largely does the same job as an axe, my life almost never feels like a saw cut piece of wood. There is not a perfect line cut through the wood with bits of sawdust lying on the ground. It is a hacking type of motion that gets the job done but isn’t always pretty. Maybe you can relate.
Now that we’ve agreed on the axe metaphor, it’s important to realize exactly how important its renewal is. One of Abraham Lincoln’s most famous quotes is “If you give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first 4 sharpening the axe.” His equation looks to spend two thirds of the time on the preparation for the task. Humans are not robots (yet haha). We require more than menial tasks to keep us engaged. The repetitious nature of the present situation calls for even more sharpening. We are hacking away at a life that does not look anything like what we’ve encountered before. It is mundane and separate. Also it carries with it a longevity that we cannot predict. Getting back to normal is what we all desire but we can’t know when that will happen, no one does. So it is more important than ever to sharpen.
Since each of us is our own person (axe), we each have distinct ways that we renew. A good book, a game on the TV, a walk, a run, meditation, or a myriad of other activities can help to elevate a person’s ability to perform at their highest levels. The thing that you need to know is what actually feeds you. There is a difference between leisure activities and renewal. Some people can sit in front of a TV for an hour and all it makes them want to do is watch more TV. Others it is respite that energizes. Often that comes down to the focus of the programming.
That is the point exactly. Where do you personally need to put your eyes, ears and maybe soul/heart for a while in order to come back refreshed? This is a personal thing that only you can know for sure. Other people may find banging their head to heavy metal music to be draining but if it gives you a boost, then bang away! Have these in your back pocket and available at any time. You’ll need some for a quick sharpen to get through the day and other longer ones that put a razor’s edge to you. Know what they are and use them when needed.
There is a reason why dull is a word that is used to describe people at times. Those are people who have not learned what it is that they need to do to keep themselves sharp. It’s your life, it’s your axe. Keep yourself sharp because life is going to hack at you for the next few months (maybe a year). Be ready to hack back!