In the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey, presents an approach to effectively reach your goals by adopting 7 different habits. If you are not familiar with the first six habits then read the 7 habits of Highly Effective People Summary.
Habit 7 “Sharpen the Saw” is the one habit that makes all the other 6 habits possible. Your mind and body are the greatest assets you have and the 7th habit focuses on preserving, renewing, and enhancing this asset. Renewal of our mind and body empowers us to keep becoming better versions of ourselves and to reach our full potential.
Sharpen the Saw Meaning
What does “Sharpen the Saw” mean?
Covey starts the chapter on the 7th habit with a story about a person who is trying to saw down a tree. He doesn’t want to “waste time” sharpening his saw, so instead, he spends hours trying to saw down the tree with a dull saw. He thought he didn’t have time to sharpen the saw. However, had he taken the time to sharpen the saw, he would have sawed down the tree in less time even if you take into account the time he “wasted” sharpening his saw.
In the Workbook for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey gives the following example:
- Cutting a log with a dull saw – takes 30 minutes
- Sharpening the saw – takes 5 minutes
- Cutting the log with a sharp saw – takes 10 minutes
Therefore, you can see that it takes 5 minutes to sharpen the saw which seems like 5 wasted minutes. However, these 5 minutes cut the sawing time down by 20 minutes so they have actually saved you 15 minutes!
This theory can apply in many different situations. For example, when you have a deadline at work or school, sometimes it is better to take a break. This might help you be more focused and effective after your break.
If your workplace is messy and disorganized, sometimes it is better to take the time to declutter and get organized. You might find you will be more effective in a tidy, organized workplace.
In order to be more effective and productive, Covey presents Habit 7, the habit of renewal which suggests you should sharpen your saw regularly. This includes regular, balanced renewal of the four basic dimensions of life – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional. It is the habit of continuous improvement that creates the upward spiral of growth that enables you to reach your potential.
The single most powerful investment we can ever make in life is to invest in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and to contribute.
To be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to “sharpen the saw” in all four ways – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.
The Physical Dimension
The physical dimension involves caring effectively for our physical body. This includes eating the right kinds of foods, getting sufficient rest and relaxation, and exercising on a regular basis. Doing all this will preserve and enhance our capacity to work and adapt and enjoy life.
There are different ways to renew your physical dimension. Here are some sharpen the saw examples:
- Eating the right kinds of foods
- Eating junk food less than twice a week
- Getting sufficient rest and relaxation
- Exercising on a regular basis for at least 20-30 minutes at least 3 times a week
- Including cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength activities in your exercises
- Being aware of your need for vitamins and minerals
- Find an effective positive way of dealing with stress
Most of us don’t exercise regularly because although we know it is important to exercise it isn’t urgent. Covey describes activities that are important but not urgent as Quadrant II in his Time Management Matrix. Despite the fact that we know that exercise is important we often put it off because it isn’t urgent. When we do that, we eventually land up with the health problems and crises that come as a result of our neglect. These problems are defined as Quadrant I in his Time Management Matrix (urgent and important). They have now become urgent and we have to deal with them but they could have been prevented had we dealt with them when they were in Quadrant II.
Covey explains that most of us think we don’t have enough time to exercise but that is a totally distorted paradigm! In fact, we don’t have time not to exercise. Because if we don’t exercise we will find ourselves with health problems that will waste a lot more time. This can be compared to the saw. Spend time exercising (sharpening the saw) and although you might “waste” time in the short term you will save a lot of time, energy, and problems in the long term.
Covey suggests exercising for about 3 to 6 hours a week, or a minimum of 30 minutes a day, every other day. Considering that you work around 162-165 hours of the week and the time spent exercising will impact and benefit the hours you spend working, Covey explains that you actually save time by exercising!
A good exercise program according to Covey, is one that you can do in your own home and one that will build your body in three areas: endurance, flexibility, and strength.
- Endurance comes from aerobic or cardio exercise.
- Flexibility comes through stretching.
- Strength comes from muscle resistance exercises.
The greatest benefit you will experience from exercising will be the development of your Habit 1 muscles of proactivity. When you exercise you are being proactive in order to promote your physical wellness instead of reacting to all the forces that keep you from exercising. Therefore, your paradigm of yourself, your self-esteem, your self-confidence will improve as a result.
The Spiritual Dimension
The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system. Renewing the spiritual dimension provides leadership to your life. It’s highly related to Habit 2 (Begin with the End in Mind).
Spiritual renewal takes an investment of time. But it’s a Quadrant II activity (important but not urgent) that we don’t really have time to neglect.
There are different ways to renew your spiritual dimension. Here are some sharpen the saw examples:
- Daily prayerful meditation on the scriptures
- Immersion in great literature or great music
- Communication with nature
- Meditation or yoga
- Spending time in the place where you were happiest as a child
- Define what your values are and plan and live your life accordingly
- Create your personal mission statement. Rely on it to give you vision to find your purpose in life (see our personal mission statement generator)
- Find daily renewal through meditation, prayer, study, or reflection
- Spend time in a place where you find spiritual renewal
- Live your life with integrity and honor
- Keep your heart open to the truth
- Take a stand or tell the truth, even when opposed by others
- Serve others with no expectations of any type of returned favor
- Identify the things in life you can change and the things you cannot change. Let go of the things you cannot change.
When we take the time to define what life is ultimately all about for us, it renews us and refreshes us, particularly if we recommit to it.
This is why Covey believes a personal mission statement is so important.
The Mental Dimension
Most of our mental development and study discipline comes through formal education. But as soon as we leave school, many of us stop studying or reading. We might explore new subjects in our action fields but not beyond them. Instead, we spend our time watching TV.
Wisdom in watching television requires the effective self-management of Habit 3 (Put First Things First), which enables you to select TV programs that best serve and express your purpose and values.
There are different ways to renew your mental dimension. Here are some sharpen the saw examples:
- Selecting educational TV programs that best serve and express your purpose and values
- Expanding your formal or informal education
- Reading good literature to expose yourself to great minds
- Writing your thoughts, experiences, insights, and learnings in a journal
- Writing good letters that communicate on the deeper level of thoughts, feelings, and ideas
- Organizing and planning
- Puzzles, problem solving, or games
- Engaging in meaningful dialogue at least once a week
- Allowing music or any relaxation exercises to clear your mind every day
- Spending time on a hobby
- Visualizing projects and plans when you have the end result in mind to guide the process
Sharpening the saw in the physical, the spiritual, and the mental dimensions is a practice Covey calls the “Daily Private Victory.” Covey recommends you spend one hour a day every day doing it. It will affect every decision you make, every relationship you have and it will greatly improve the quality, the effectiveness, of every other hour of the day, including the depth and restfulness of your sleep. It will also build the long-term physical, spiritual, and mental strength to enable you to handle difficult challenges in life.
The Social/Emotional Dimension
Not a day goes by that we can’t at least serve one other human being by making deposits of unconditional love – Stephen Covey
The social and emotional dimensions are connected because our emotional life is often developed according to our relationships with others.
The social/emotional dimension focuses on Habits 4, 5, and 6 which are centered on the principles of interpersonal leadership, empathic communication, and creative cooperation.
There are different ways to renew your social/emotional dimension. Here are some sharpen the saw examples:
- Seeking to deeply understand other people
- Making contributions to meaningful projects that improve the lives of others
- Maintaining an Abundance Mentality and helping others find success.
- Trying to be a reliable and dependable person
- Developing a hopeful outlook on life
- Trusting and supporting the people in your Circle of Influence
- Listening to others and hearing what they have to say instead of thinking what you want to say
- Reaching out to others and being empathic
- Maintaining and working on your most important relationships and checking your Emotional Bank Account
- Apologizing when you need to and making sure that it is sincere
- Controlling your impulses by cooling down and acting rather than reacting to people and situations
- Showing yourself respect, care and love. You need to invest both in yourself and in others. You cannot give to others until your needs are met.
You script someone when you believe in someone who doesn’t believe in himself.
When you are a positive scripter, or an affirmer, of other people, and encourage them to be proactive, they will be inspired to reach their potential because you believe in them.
We have so much we can invest in the Emotional Bank Accounts of other people. The more we can see people in terms of their unseen potential, the more we can help them become independent, fulfilled people capable of deeply satisfying, enriching, and productive relationships with others.
Balance in Renewal
The self-renewal process must include balanced renewal in all four dimensions of our nature: the physical, the spiritual, the mental, and the social/emotional. When we neglect any one area it will negatively impact the other areas.
Synergy in Renewal
The things you do to sharpen the saw in any one dimension will have a positive impact in other dimensions because they are so highly interrelated. Your physical health affects your mental health; your spiritual strength affects your social/emotional strength.
You need to create a personal renewal plan that will be right for you.
Create a Personal Renewal Plan
In the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey stresses the importance of developing a personal renewal plan to ensure that you are and stay efficient so that you can continue to reach your goals in the short and long term. There is no single personal renewal plan that will work for all. You need to develop a plan that will work for you.
Commit to spending an hour a day on this program. Schedule this time in your planner and don’t let anything stop you from spending this time on yourself. Remember, you are your most important asset so prioritize this time to sharpen your saw.
The following weekly planner is based on the principles of the 7 Habits and includes items that Covey suggested tracking weekly. The weekly planner prints on two full pages and is very comprehensive. I should note that I included a gratitude list which was not mentioned in the 7 Habits books. Covey doesn’t specifically mention keeping a gratitude list but he did mention the importance of wellness and gratitude helps with that.