Sharpening the Saw

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.”

— Abraham Lincoln

Stephen Covey later adapted that idea by adding a “sharpening the saw” task to every executive’s daily things to do list. The idea is simple: without rest and preparation, you can’t be effective and successful.

I learned this the hard way recently.

This past month has been phase one of a big remodeling project in my house. This means writing about twice as much as usual to afford the project. And spending a few hours a day tearing things apart with a sledgehammer, crowbar and my work-gloved hands.

After two weeks, I was already feeling pre-carpal in my forearms and elbows. And then I went to a capoeira workshop. Four days of this:

Alert observers will notice this activity gets hard on the wrists, forearms and elbows. And thus I’ve been pretty much unable to type for a few days. Light duty for the next few, then things should be back to normal.

The point here isn’t making excuses for not posting in a almost a week. The point is I wasn’t sharpening my saw. I wasn’t resting. I wasn’t planning my work or stockpiling work to post during an unforeseen gap in productivity.

I could have avoided this problem in a dozen ways. Since I make some of my living giving advice to freelancers and small business owners, I should have avoided it.

What things do all of you do to keep from burning out/overworking yourselves/getting carpal tunnel from too much of an obscure Brazilian martial art? I look forward to your comments.


Photo courtesy of Tim Vickers. Used with permission.

8 thoughts on “Sharpening the Saw

  1. Well, it’s a pretty art. Is it martial though? It’s kind of hard to tell, since, the only thing I see being contacted is a tambourine…

    • It’s way martial. Judging it based on what I showed is like judging kenpo based on watching people practice their techniques in the air. There’s some sick stuff in there…and you’re hearing that from a kenpo guy.

  2. Well, I be more awesome!

    But seriously, I usually slow down when I break/get sick/or otherwise burn out. Simply learning to see time off as important was a big step.

    Though there is the flip-side that’s important to watch out for. Sharpening the saw is a fansatic way to procrastinate.

  3. Mentally I have this problem quite a bit of the time. Just focusing on one objecting from time on end, like my research paper, can be one of the most tasking objectives. I’m forced to focus on the research that I’m given, go over the details, make sure the details are correct, and then read another article. I’ve discovered that minimizing the windows and tearing into heavy metal music as the perfect relaxer, or even have music going on during the project. With the music going, I’m free to close my eyes at any free willed time and take a small needed break to regain myself.

    Same thing could be said when I’m doing physical. I’ll revert back to music to close my eyes and just completely focus on that. That’s always been one of the most effective methods I’ve come across.

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