How Sharp is Your Axe?

Published by Mikala on

The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, once famously said: 

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 

Abraham Lincoln

Now old Abe was not (at least to my knowledge) an avid woodsman. But he was a busy guy. Having received almost no formal education, he was heavily into learning and self-improvement and taught himself the law before passing the bar.

The idea of sharpening your axe was made popular by Dr Stephen Covey, who you might have heard of before if you’re a Getting Things Done geek like myself. He’s the guy who wrote the very famous book – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. 

In Covey’s definition, sharpening the axe means:

“increasing your personal productivity by” (and this is the really important part) “daily self-care and self-maintenance”.

It’s not about the break

It’s important to note that he isn’t talking about taking a break or a holiday. He doesn’t mean that if your productivity is declining as a result of you overworking yourself, that you need to take a break. That isn’t about sharpening the axe – that’s putting the axe down and taking a rest. 

And the thing is, if you put down a dull axe and simply go away to rest, when you come back and pick the axe up again, the blade will still be dull. 

Yes you do need downtime to rest, that is a given. But if you want to become better and more efficient at cutting down a forest of trees, you need to take time to sharpen your axe blade, learn the newest and best techniques, exercise to build your strength and learn from those around you who are already doing an amazing job of it.

Now, if woodcutting doesn’t do it for you – then what I am really trying to say is this: 

It’s all about personal growth and professional development.

I always say that running your own business is like a crash course in personal development. You learn so much about yourself – your fears, anxieties and dodgy beliefs come to the surface – and you really come to appreciate the importance of learning to overcome these personal stumbling blocks if you want to build a thriving business.

So to become a more focussed business woman, I recommend spending just ten minutes each day on personal growth and professional development that is directly relevant to the result or goal you are trying to achieve. Whether that’s listening to a podcast, reading a chapter of a book or watching a Youtube video. 

Keep it simple.

I make it part of my morning routine. I get up and listen to a business podcast episode while walking my dog, I then shower and spend ten minutes reading a chapter of a personal development book with my first cup of coffee. 

I also journal and meditate to help manage my mind and stress levels – but I’m obviously an overachiever and you don’t need to do it all!

Try it yourself.

What is one small thing you can do each day to sharpen your saw?