Sharpen The Saw


  • Suppose you come upon a man in the woods feverishly sawing down a tree. “You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?” “Over five hours,” he replies, “and I am beat. This is hard.” “Maybe you could take a break for a few minutes an sharpen that saw. Then the work would go faster.” “No time,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing.” Habit seven is taking time to sharpen the saw (you’re the saw). It’s the habit that makes all the others possible.

To sharpen the saw means renewing ourselves, in all four aspects of our natures:

• Physical – exercise, nutrition, stress management;
• Mental – reading, visualizing, planning, writing;
• Social/Emotional – service, empathy, synergy, security;
• Spiritual – spiritual reading, study, and meditation;

To exercise in all these necessary dimensions, we must be proactive. No one can do it for us or make it urgent for us; it is a quadrant IV activity. For instance, exercise is a typical, high- leverage, quadrant II activity that most of us don’t do consistently enough.

  • We think we don’t have time to exercise. What distorted thinking! We don’t have time not to. We’re talking about three to six hours a week. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the enormous, beneficial impact on the other 162-plus hours in the week. Be proactive. If it’s mining on the morning you’ve scheduled to jog, do it anyway. “Oh good!” you’ll cry. “It’s raining! I get to develop my willpower as well as my body.” Reading for your work and planning require their own allotment of quadrant II time; and you obviously must be wise enough not to “sacrifice” much for your profession that you neglect your family, friends, and community.
  • Taking care of your spiritual dimension renews your core, your center, your commitment to all your principles. People do this in a variety of ways. Some meditate on the scriptures. Others immerse themselves in great literature or music, or commune with nature. To become strong, renew the spirit.
  • In a story called “The Turn of the Tide,” Arthur Gordon describes a time when he found his world stale and flat. His enthusiasm for life waned, and he was getting worse daily. A medical doctor found nothing physically wrong with him, but said he might be able to help if Gordon could follow his instructions for one day. He was to spend the next day in the place where he’d been happiest as a child. He was not to talk to anyone, nor to read, write, or listen to the radio. The doctor then wrote out four prescriptions and told him to open one at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., and 6 p.m.
  • The next morning, Gordon went to the beach. His first prescription said only this: “Listen carefully.” It seemed insane to listen to waves for three hours. But he did it – and began to hear more and more sounds that weren’t obvious at first. He began to think of lessons he’d learned as a child from the sea: patience, respect for the interdependence of things. He felt a growing peace. The noon prescription read, “Try reaching back.” To what? He thought of the joyful times of his childhood, and felt a growing warmth inside.
  • The 3 p.m. message threw some cold water on him: “Examine your motives.” At first, he was defensive. Of course he wanted success, fame, security – he could justify them all. But then it occurred to him that these motives weren’t good enough, and that fact was making him stagnant. “It makes no difference,” he wrote later, “whether you are a mailman, a hairdresser, a housewife – whatever. As long as you feel you are serving others, you do the job well. When you are concerned only with helping yourself you do it less well – a law as inexorable as gravity.”
  • When 6 p.m. came, the final prescription didn’t take long to fill: “Write your worries on the sand.” He knelt and wrote several words with a piece of broken shell; then he turned and walked away. He didn’t look back; he knew the tide would come in.

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