5 Ways to Sharpen the Saw

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey culminates his list with a technique he calls “Sharpening the Saw.”  The chapter starts with an anecdote of a person trying to feverishly saw down a tree.  When a passerby asks him what he is doing, he states that he has been trying to saw down the tree for 5 hours.  The passerby then logically asks when he last sharpened the saw.  I think the answer goes without saying.

The saw in this story relates to all of the items that we hold in our life’s toolbox.  Covey breaks it down into four categories, physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual.  The 7 Habits had a great impact on me when I first read it, and I try to revisit its teachings often.  Here are seven areas where I currently try to keep my saw sharp.


Mood, Anxiety, and Design

I feel better when I get exercise.  Exercise causes the brain to release endorphins and serotonin both of which cause the body and mind to feel naturally good.  There is also a whole host of scientific studies and explanations for how physical exertion improves our ability to think.  For an in-depth look at the ways, our mind reacts positively to exercise take a look at Brain Rules, by John Medina.


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Everyone has, in their belief system, a way for reflecting upon recent actions and events.  Whether you go to church, meditate, write in the journal or just sit and contemplate, it is important for you to take time and decompress.  My moments for reflection tend to occur in the morning.  I am usually the first one up and will take the dog for a walk, get ready for work, and make breakfast.  Being that I am by myself, these tasks are all done silently which provides me a great time to both think and listen to new thoughts and ideas.

Quality and Memorable Experiences with Friends and Family

Music isn’t what we do, it’s who we are!

I read recently on the LifeHacker blog that people are deriving more satisfaction from spending their money on experiences than from the latest and greatest gadget from the local electronics store.  My wife and I love going out to dinner with friends, going to the movies, spending the day in New York City, and having a good time doing “stuff” with one another.  Material items break, lose their luster, and become outdated.  Memories last a lifetime.

Mental Stimulation

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Recently, I have found my mental stimulation residing in reading.  I subscribe to approximately 50 RSS feeds and I also read in a book every day.  Ways to keep the mind limber are not, however, limited to reading and can include spirited debate, crossword puzzles, sudoku or watching a documentary.  The key here is to do something that causes your mind to think in ways that it is not used to and expose it to new concepts and ideas.


5 Hobbies That Make You Smarter

I have some hobbies and, interestingly, I find that they satisfy a number of the needs listed above.  For instance, I love to build scale models.  While I am deep in the throws of a model car, I find time for reflection while also being mentally stimulated.  I also really like to play music.  Doing so can serve as the reflection but also as quality experiences for friends and family.  I think the sign of a good hobby is that it allows you to sharpen your saw in a variety of ways while also providing you with enjoyment and fulfillment.


These are but a few ways that I try to keep my saw sharp.  And this list is constantly shifting and evolving.  I think the key concept here is that no person can be successful without being a whole person.  If you focus too much attention in one area, it is often to the detriment of others, and eventually, everything suffers.  What kind of things are you doing to keep your saw sharp?

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