Several years ago, I worked with a coach who would constantly remind me of the importance of “sharpening the ax.”
The principle, which comes from Steven Covey, is that if you want to be most effective in your work, you must make time to properly prepare.
He shares a story about a wood chopper who is so focused on chopping as much wood as possible in the time he has to do his work. Feeling behind, he doesn’t take time to sharpen his ax, even though sharpening the ax would allow him to chop more wood in the remaining time.
I was resistant to the concept. Sharpening the ax made send if you’re doing something where you must meet a production quota for a tangible product. But it didn’t seem to apply to my work, which involves client service, the mind, and emotions.
It turns out that I was wrong. And I paid the price by suffering through burnout.
As I learned the hard way, the concept of taking time out to rest and setting appropriate boundaries applies more when you’re working with your mind and emotions.
We often keep going until we are on the verge of burnout. Often, we feel like we don’t have time to stop for rest or self-care because there is “too much to do.”
But that’s exactly why and when we must stop. If we don’t stop we become less productive and less effective.
We must create space for working on our most important work: ourselves.
When I finally started creating this space for my morning rituals and self-care, and when I stopped checking email at all hours of the day and night, it felt wrong. I felt like I was ignoring my “real” work, like I was cutting class.
This was merely the discomfort of trying something in a new way.
Now, I couldn’t imagine working without creating this space for recharging, reflection, and preparation. The time I invest into creating space for my best work pays dividends.
Sharpening the ax reduces chaos, minimizes inefficiency, and creates better outcomes.