Habit Seven: Sharpen the Saw

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four hours sharpening my axe. – Abraham Lincoln

One of the most critical habits that a person can develop is this one. In fact, if you completely screw up every other habit but get this one right, I’d almost guarantee you will find success. But this one habit is also the one that I’ve seen ignored in almost every work environment I’ve been in. It is commonly left up to the individual to determine whether or not they will implement a saw sharpening habit in their own life, usually outside work hours.

If you’ve been living under a rock and still haven’t read this book, but have somehow stumbled onto this article – I suggest you get a hold of the book here, and go back to read the first article in this series here.

What this habit boils down to is to take care to maintain your most important tool to influence this world – your self. Not just your body, but your mind, your relationships, your emotions. All of these things have a deep impact on your ability to achieve success.

One of the most important management lessons I’ve learnt is that you can’t manage what you won’t measure. Imagine driving a car without any of the instrument panel. You’d have to guess how fast you were going, how much fuel you had remaining, and whether or not you had enough oil pressure to keep things moving smoothly. You’d find out pretty quickly when things went wrong, but you’d have no way to actually prevent those issues from becoming real problems.

Your life is similar in many ways, but you don’t have an instrument panel built in. You need to develop tools to allow yourself to take stock regularly and track your progress. There are hundreds of methods available to help you “measure” yourself in this regard, but here are a few tips that could honestly change your whole life if you implement them deliberately.

  1. Journal Daily
  2. Set Health Goals for yourself
  3. Make Time to learn and improve
  4. Celebrate your success

It’s not rocket science, but a consistent habit life with these building blocks will allow you to make incredible progress. I’ve broken out each step here to further explain the benefits.

1. Journal Daily

Journalling is one of those habits that we should all have, a daily practice that allows for real self assessment and reflection, as well as a way to process our thoughts, feelings and goals for the future. It might sound a bit “fluffy” for your average bloke, but think of it as a tool you can use to sharpen your mind, clarify your strategy and develop a deeper awareness of your capacity. I’ve spoken before about morning pages, which is a great method for clearing your mind at the start of the day. You can take things further with a good journalling habit to also intentionally track your progress against your health goals.

2. Set Health Goals for Yourself

Sleep. Eat. Work. Rest. Play. All of these are vital to a full experience of life, and we need to be intentional about them to get the most out of our lives. Those of you who are more competitive by nature will already have a good idea of how well you do in terms of work and play, and possibly your eating habits. But how many of you have tracked your performance at resting? Or at sleeping? We regularly track progress throughout our school years because others are giving us feedback all the time. But when was the last time you sought out feedback on your performance if it wasn’t related to a pay increase? To operate at your best, you should pay attention to what you’re already doing. You cannot develop a strategy for progress if you don’t have clarity around where you are as well as where you want to be.

3. Make Time to Learn and Improve

This is where many workplaces fall down. When your staff are left to their own devices, they are unlikely to be pursuing development in their ability to do the job you want them to do. The more driven individuals will be putting time into development, but they are likely pursuing goals outside your organization, so it’s important to provide a clear pathway for advancement, and to provide the tools and training for your team to pursue their goals within your organization. For you as an individual, don’t accept any excuses you may come up with about being too busy. Remember the quote from Abraham Lincoln – you need to sharpen your axe to get the results you’re looking for.

square wheels

4. Celebrate your Success

Another one that is often missing in workplaces, especially when the workplace is populated with Type A go-getters who just want to hit the next target. But even for these individuals, it’s important to recognize growth, success, and progress wherever we can see it. When you hit a target in your personal development, make sure you have a great way to enjoy that moment. That doesn’t mean you should eat a family pizza on your own after you hit your goal weight, but there are a lot of different ways to celebrate success. Be creative, and set your celebration early. You’ll be able to use it as a reward that you’re aiming for whenever your motivation starts flagging.

If you are able to implement these habits in your life, you will soon find that the other habits will follow. You’ll start to gravitate towards systems and tools that will assist you in your quest for personal growth, not for a nice feeling of understanding, but to actually implement and improve your life and the lives of those you love.

I’d love to hear your feedback on how you implement this habit in your own life. What works for you? What have you tried that doesn’t work? What other advice would you give someone who is pursuing a high performance life?

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