Some thoughts on “staying sharp”

The 7th habit in Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is ‘Sharpen the Saw’. It’s my favourite chapter in the book.

Sharpen the Saw means “preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.”

When life gets busy, self-development and self-care are often the first things to be neglected. But if you’re too busy to look after yourself, then eventually your saw is going to get blunt. Stephen suggests making time to sharpen your saw across the four main areas of your life:

  • Physical
  • Social/Emotional
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

I’d like to add a 5th area to this list: Work. In the workplace, feeling ‘blunt’ might mean you aren’t learning or finding opportunities to grow. Or perhaps you’re feeling overworked, under pressure or dissatisfied. Some employers will give you opportunities to sharpen the saw. They might send you on a training course or provide you with a coach or mentor or give you opportunities to develop. But I’d suggest coming up with your own techniques for staying sharp. Here are some ideas:

  • Carve out time for regular learning. For example, ask your colleagues to teach you a new skill or teach yourself online.
  • Attend a MeetUp or networking event. It’s amazing how much you can learn, both from expert speakers and from others in your field of work.
  • Try something new. To stretch your skills you need to try things that you don’t already know how to do.
  • Take care of yourself outside of work, so you can come into the office feeling enthusiastic and ready to learn.

The last point – taking care of yourself outside of work – is often the hardest part. It can be tough to switch off after hours and get the rest your body and mind needs. One thing I’ve found helpful is to find a hobby that’s good at distracting you. I find dance classes are good for me because they require my full concentration – and they’re fun! My husband enjoys making furniture, which is a far cry from his highly technical job as an engineer. (On that note, he’s acutely aware of the benefits of sharp saws – a good blade is safer, it requires less effort to saw, and it’s not going to damage the wood like a dull blade might).

For you, taking care of yourself may mean playing sport, meditation, art, reading, being outdoors or spending time with friends and family. If your job involves working on a computer for much of the day, maybe find something that doesn’t involve a screen. Your spare time belongs to you. It’s not selfish to spend it doing the things you truly enjoy – it’s necessary, so you don’t get blunt. As Stephen Covey says:

“Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other  six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you.”

This week, I am going to stay sharp by attending a MeetUp to learn new technical skills, and by taking time out to swim at my favourite beach. What about you?