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saw a treeThe story is told of a woodsman busy cutting down trees. A visitor stopped by and watched for awhile before recommending the man sit down, rest, and sharpen his saw. But the woodsman refused to stop because all he could see was the number of trees still to be cut.

As I read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, I found myself overwhelmed at times by all the things I should be doing:

  • Take responsibility for my choices and be proactive within my circle of influence.
  • Develop a personal mission statement so I can begin each day with the end in mind.
  • Prioritize my week by putting the first things first.
  • Deposit into relationships as though they were emotional bank accounts.
  • Make the extra effort to forge Win/Win solutions and agreements.
  • Learn empathetic listening skills by seeking to understand others first before sharing my viewpoint.
  • Work together with others and hope for creative synergy.

Not to mention all the other urgent and important tasks I’m responsible for including clean socks, a ride home from football practice, healthy meals, a professionally written legal report, critiqued chapters for a friend, eradicating a fruit fly epidemic, and blogs to write.

Like the woodcutter, I have too much still to do and can’t afford to stop and rest.

And I can’t afford not to.

The 7th Habit is to sharpen the saw. The principle of balanced self-renewal is what makes all the other habits possible. It’s preserving and enhancing my greatest asset — myself — physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. In order to do this, I have to be proactive and make the investment in myself as the center of my circle of influence.

So, what does saw sharpening look like? Physically, I eat the right kinds of foods, exercise regularly including endurance, flexibility, and strength components, and get enough sleep. Spiritually, I make sure to spend time daily in prayer and meditation on scriptures, as well immerse myself in great music, literature, or nature to inspire my soul. Mentally, I don’t want my mind to atrophy from dis-use, so I try to learn something new or thing about something from a fresh angle. Socially and emotionally, I make the effort to serve and help others in a meaningful way, knowing that I’m making a difference.

When I make time to sharpen the saw, I become healthy, strong, and alert enough to focus on the rest of my day, get back in harmony with my values so I can live them out, continue to grow and learn, and am nurtured in return by the relationships I’ve invested in. But I must have a balanced approach because while neglecting one area negatively impacts the rest, anything I do to sharpen the saw in one dimension will have a positive impact on the others.

My to-do list is long … but I’m taking a break to sharpen my saw.

What about you? Is your saw sharp or dull? How do you sharpen the saw? Is there an area you struggle in or do you have a balanced approach to renewal?

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