When you’re really pumped about a project, it can be hard to pull yourself away from it — even for a good or productive reason. Let’s face it, progress is progress and sometimes we don’t want even sleep to get in the way of progress, especially when we’re dedicated to reaching our goals. But when we do this, mainly to keep our momentum going, we end up sacrificing efficiency. Whether it’s resting or setting aside time to fix an issue that keeps coming back at us, we eventually hit the point where a pit stop is necessary.

That’s why the concept of sharpening the axe is important. Sharpening the axe (or the sword or whatever your tool or weapon of choice is) is the concept of stepping back and dealing with issues that are chipping away at your efficiency. The term comes from the story of a wood cutter who needs to clear a several acres of wooded land. With each whack, his axe dulls by a small amount and therefore decreases its efficiency. So maybe he could knock the first tree down with 100 whacks, but the tenth tree takes 120 whacks and the twentieth tree 200 and so forth.

As you can see, at some point cutting down a tree will take significantly more time and effort because of the blade being dull. The solution is to take the axe home, sharpen it, and then when you go back to tree chopping, you are again efficient. Of course, these days few of us are wood cutters but we can apply the same concept — even in today’s high tech world.

For example, my cell phone (a Droid Incredible smartphone) has been giving me trouble for about a month. Like computers, these phones need to be cleared of older applications and other stuff that finds its way onto the device. I could deal with the battery draining faster than usual and the slow response time of some applications — they were just inconveniences. But then it got to the point where my calendar on my phone wasn’t syncing to the web so I had to manually add appointments to both places. You can probably imagine the hassles and potential problems that could arise.

So I finally bit the bullet, despite the fact that I have quite a bit to do, and set aside three hours to deal with the problem. Half of that time was spent on the phone with Verizon resetting my phone to the state that it was in over a year ago when I first purchased it. And the other half was spent getting it back to where it was before I called support and everything got wiped out. I had been putting the call to support off because I knew what the outcome would be, but I eventually got to the point where I needed it to work properly. I had to sharpen the axe.

Sharpening the axe can mean different things and take up varying amounts of time. It could be taking a weekend to organize your office so you can find everything you need quicker. It could mean sitting in class for a week to learn a new technology to help you jump forward with your goals. It could be even longer such as entering an exercise program so that your energy levels will double in six months.

Whatever your situation, look around and see if you have an axe that needs sharpening. You might find that it gives you a minor setback, but just as race cars need to take a pit stop for new tires, the time you lost is easily made back.

Sharpening the Axe
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