Sharpening The Saw

Here it is, the famous “Sharpening the Saw” story.

A man was struggling in the woods to saw down a tree. An old farmer came by, watched for a while, then quietly said, “What are you doing?”

“Can’t you see?” the man impatiently replied, “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted,” said the farmer. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours, and I’m beat,” replied the man. “This is hard work.”

“That saw looks pretty dull,” said the farmer. “Why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen it? I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

In this story, it is pretty obvious that if the man took a few minutes to sharpen his saw, he would be able to save a lot of time afterwards. However, in real life, it isn’t always so obvious when we need to stop and “sharpen the saw.”

Just the other day, I was going through all the papers in my inbox again. Several times a day, I went through the same papers again and again looking for a particular one. Each time I did it, I realized that I should organize them better but kept putting it off. Finally, I forced myself to organize them into folders. Now it is much easier to find something and the time I save every day is much more than the time I spent to organize them.

Here are some other ways to “sharpen the saw.”

  • Clean up your inbox or desk
  • Organize the files on your computer
  • Read a book about Java or C++ programming
  • Listen to a tape on sales techniques
  • Design a cut-and-paste template for common letters or e-mails.
  • Get a daily planner and write down your plan for the day
  • Set daily, weekly and long term goals
  • Keep a time log of your daily activities and interruptions
  • Setup “block time” each day

Here is a guideline for when we should stop to sharpen the saw:

Stop to 'Sharpen the Saw' if, in the next month, you will probably save twice as much time.

Sharpening The Saw

I love this story, because I am usually the person saying: “Wait, I can’t stop to sharpen my saw because I am too busy sawing!”


Stephen R. Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”