Keeping the Saw Sharp

One of my favorite quotes comes from Abe Lincoln.  He is cited as saying, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” Basically, he would spend two thirds of his time improving the tools that make him effective at his work. Sounds easy, but how can a person remember to spend time sharpening instead of continuing to struggle through life’s daily challenges?

One approach is through the discipline developed through training.  The problem with most training sessions is that once the session is over, the learning stops.  If it’s a one-time event, many people leave with one or two ideas they may implement.  A series-based set of training, on the other hand, may have a different result. Yet there is still a high risk of behavior reverting to the previous state when the realities of day-to-day business operations set in.

Keeping the saw sharp involves returning to what makes you effective. It can be rewarding to spend time reacting to problems, riding in to save the day like a knight in shining armor, or putting out a blazing building like a fearless firefighter. But honestly, how long can you keep that up? Learning to respond instead of react isn’t near as appealing, but can reduce stress and ultimately improve the quality of your product or service.

Responding requires discipline. And going back to the basics – using methods of planning, prioritizing, scheduling, budgeting, delegating, and motivating. And these things require purposeful effort. Setting a goal of returning to what make you successful is a good start. The next step may require you to embrace the concept of spaced-repetition.

Spaced-repetition in terms of learning involves listening to or reading knowledge-based material that supports the goal. Anyone can read a how-to book and get a few tips, but how long will it last? And the important question: Will it become a habit? Studies show that without spaced-repetition, knowledge and skill will fade over time. Engaging the information in shorter bursts multiple times will help make sure it’s available when you need it. And it supports the behavior you want to change.

Even when a person has attended a series-based program at Revela, we encourage him to return to the material. Enlisting the assistance of a group or using a facilitator can reenergize a person and kick start the process. Stop struggling with the daily routine. Keep the saw sharp by returning to what made you successful. You may begin to remember how effective you can be.