Sharpening the Saw

As we enter a new year, I am reminded of one of my favorite books. Twenty-five years ago I wandered into a bookstore and noticed a book with an intriguing title: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. I had never heard of the book or the author, but it went on to become one of the best-selling books of all time.

“I’m sawing down this tree”

I also admit it had a profound impact on my life. For this New Year’s blog, I could not help but think of the seventh habit, which Covey calls “Sharpening the Saw.” He begins the chapter with a great little story:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you enquire. “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!”

Habit 7 is taking time to sharpen the saw. It surrounds the other habits on the Seven Habits paradigm because it is the habit that makes all the others possible.

Investment in ourselves is the only instrument we have

Covey is trying to tell us that we get so busy with life, that we do not spend much time on personal growth and development, which makes us ineffective in the most important areas of life. For this reason it is imperative to strengthen and enhance the greatest asset you have – you.

Covey goes on to say:

This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life – investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and to contribute. We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw.

There are clearly four dimensions of life where consistent growth is needed if we are going to see our lives flourish and if we are to be healthy, balanced people:

  • Spiritual
  • Relational
  • Mental
  • Physical

Last January, in my New Year’s blog, I shared that one of the greatest truths that has become so apparent to me, is that if you want to grow and develop any area of your life, you have to be intentional. You have to plan for growth or it will never happen.

My challenge to each of you reading this blog is to examine the most important areas of your life, come up with a plan for growth and then execute that plan.

This is a choice you have to make, knowing that your life will be determined by all of the choices you make over the course of time. As the legendary basketball Coach John Wooden put it:

“There is a choice you have to make in everything you do. So keep in mind that in the end, the choice you make is what ultimately makes you.”


Add grace and understanding to your day with words from Richard E. Simmons III in your inbox. Sign-up for weekly email with the latest blog post, podcast, and quote.

Fill out the form to receive wisdom in your inbox from Richard E. Simmons III.