We all know that we need to take care of ourselves and stay sharp, so we can be effective in our work. But what does it actually mean to use habit 7: sharpen the saw? In this guide, we’ll uncover how to do it effectively, so you can get balance and happiness.

What is Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw?

Sharpen the saw is the last habit in Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of Highly Effective People. Covey splits sharpening the saw into 4 dimensions of your life. Each one must be worked on regularly, in order to ensure all areas of your life are in optimum state of being and that you are enhancing the greatest asset; you. The 4 dimensions are: spiritual, emotional, physical and mental. This regular focus helps you create growth and change for the better in your life and allows you to follow a balanced program of self development and happiness.

Sharpen the Saw – Renew Yourself

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

In the 7 Habits book, Covey exemplifies this view by giving us an example of a tree cutter and a man walking in the forest.

The man walking, hears the tree cutter cursing to himself, whilst attempting to chop down trees. He asks the tree cutter why he’s cursing.

The tree cutter replies, “I have all these trees to cut but not enough time.”

The guy asks, “Why?”

The Tree cutter replies, “Because my saw is blunt and it’s slowing me down.”

“Why don’t you sharpen your saw?” He replies

“I don’t have time to stop,” The tree cutter abruptly answers.

This is the idea of the need to sharpen the saw. We are often so busy chasing our day-to-day commitments, that we lose sight of the need to take care of ourselves.

  • Some people are involved so much in their work that they neglect their family time
  • Others may work hard on family time and work, but don’t have the time to eat correctly and exercise
  • Yet, others may be obsessed with relationships, but miss the opportunity for personal growth and development

In all these examples, there’s an imbalance – an area of our life that needs attention and balance.

When we feel imbalanced, we can often feel like something is missing or that we’re not totally fulfilled. We can even get depressed and unwell.

This habit allows us to plan time around other commitments, to ensure we stop and work on taking care of ourselves.

The 4 Dimensions to Taking Care of You

Covey identifies that in order to be at your best and most productive, you need to spend time in, nurture and develop the following four areas:

  • Physical
  • Spiritual
  • Mental
  • Social / Emotional
A diagram showing the 4 dimensions to sharpen your saw

The Physical Dimension

The physical element consists of your physical health and wellbeing. You need to feel vibrant and healthy to take on life’s demands, but if you’re tired or constantly struggling with sickness, then it doesn’t matter how much work you do, nothing will get done.

How to Improve Your Physical State – Ideas to Get Started

Experiment with the different techniques below, until you find what works best for you.

  • Power NapsScience shows us that taking regular naps is a good way to quickly recharge your mind, improve reaction time, cognition and logical reasoning.
  • Cold Showers – A research study by Plos One demonstrates that people who take cold showers are 29% less likely to call in sick to school or work. They conclude that although they didn’t see any correlation between cold showers and reduced sickness, their studies point to the fact that those who take cold showers, could be less effected by sickness than those that don’t.
  • Meditation – Meditation can have a host of benefits. It can reduce stress levels, anxiety, anxiety related illness, improved concentration and improved self awareness, to name a few.
  • Massage – This is proven to help reduce stress, pain, skin conditions and a number of other illnesses, too.
  • SaunasTaking saunas can have a plethora of positive benefits. Sitting in a sauna can improve blood circulation and has the same affect on increased heartrate as moderate exercise does.
  • ExerciseResearch supports the notion that regular exercise can reduce the risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease.
  • Good night’s sleep – Sleep is fundamental to repairing cells, and resting the brain. It goes without saying that we all need the right levels of sleep (averaging 8 hours per night). If you’re terrible at getting a good night’s sleep, Healthline.com has 17 ways to try. 
  • Eat Healthy – We all know that we must eat healthy food. This means cutting out the sugar and fast food. Self.com have 15 tips to eat healthy, even if you’re busy.
7 Ideas to improve physical dimension in habit 7: sharpen the saw

Mental Dimension

Nowadays, most employees are constantly using their brains. They find it difficult to get a break. After a long day of mental activity, it’s hardly surprising that we don’t want to stimulate our minds any more. We’re tired. We just need to rest.

Watching TV or surfing the internet is usually what takes place after work, because these activities allow our minds some escape and peace. However, this isn’t really enough!

As Covey explained in First Things First, watching TV, endlessly surfing the internet and being on social media are activities which are largely non-productive.

You often take on other people’s agendas and worries, concerns and filters. These activities don’t actually improve your mind, repair it or rest it in a progressive way. They add to the burden.

How to Improve Your Mental State – Ideas to Get Started

The best way to rejuvenate your tired mind, is not by turning it off and sticking it in front of the latest soap box.

Instead, you need something fresh to think about. Something totally different, which will stimulate the unused parts of your brain. This helps rest the part of your brain that you’ve been constantly flogging at work, whilst developing other areas that don’t get used much.

You’ll find that this approach can provide you with new insights, deepen your thinking and help provide additional improvements in your career and working life too.

For instance:

  • Read a self help book on how to learn new topics fast, after a hard day’s work crunching numbers and calculating spreadsheets
  • Tired because you’ve facilitated an improvement project all day long? Why not watch a few videos on how to develop successful habits or how to write a book?
  • Been dealing with staffing problems all day? Why not learn a new language or totally different skill?

Obviously, these are just ideas and examples. The point is, use your brain to unwind by resting the part that’s been used all day, and stimulating another unused part of the brain, proactively.

Here are some other examples to get you thinking:

  • Read a novel
  • Write an article on something you’re passionate about
  • Listen to a podcast on a topic that you love
  • Watch some videos that can teach you a new skill
  • Take a part-time course
  • Watch a documentary
  • Learn a totally new skill which has nothing to do with work
  • Go to the theatre
8 Ideas to improve your mental dimension in habit 7: sharpen the saw

Spiritual Dimension

The spiritual side represents who you are inside. It’s a stamp or marker on your values and gives you a sense of purpose.

It also gives the answer to why you do what you do. If you neglect your spiritual dimension, you can become out of touch with what you want and also everything around you. This often leaves you with the typical symptoms:

  • A feeling of lethargy 
  • Bored and unfulfilled
  • Reactive to the world
  • Not knowing what you want and where you’re going in life

Deeper connotations of spiritual neglect can also be seen in depression and despair.

The problem is that it might seem easy to neglect our spirituality because there is no way to see its tangible effects on a day-to-day basis; however, this aspect still affects us deeply even though we don’t notice it happening.

Ever been in a position where you or a friend questions their existence? “Where am i going in life?”

“What am i doing with myself?”

“There’s got to be a better life than this?”

Often, it can come out of the blue, when you’re in a dead end, soulless job, or when you’re given bad news that makes you stop and think about the deeper meanings of life.

The Benefits of Being Spiritual

When you attend to your spiritual side, you awaken something inside you:

You can’t expect to run a marathon without any training. The same is true for your spiritual blade. It can’t work for you if you don’t train it.

Just like the entire concept to sharpen the saw, when you make a commitment to your spiritual dimension, it becomes strong when you need it.

It’s the same with fitness; get into shape and your body will look after you.

Tips to Get into Spiritual Shape

  • Meditate for 60 minutes per day
  • Improve your emotional intelligenceThis is the ability to manage your self and others by understanding emotions and their triggers. It’s an important skill to master in order to be a social success
  • Practice gratitude every dayIn this one study alone, Berkeley University identified a clear link to practising gratitude daily and having a noticeably more positive and happier mindset in life.
  • Work on your mission statement each day
  • Visualise your ‘future you’ everyday – Athletes are great at this. They spend time to picture what it looks like and how it feels when they reach success. Successful people do this too. Once you have your goals, spend time each day focusing in on visualising your own success
  • Journal your activities as you go, so you can learn from experiences and build on your findings
  • Walk and relax – Take time to unwind. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take a walk in nature.
7 Ideas to improve your spiritual dimension in habit 7: sharpen the saw

Social / Emotional Dimension

Did you know that socialising can help reduce stress and improve your mood? Several studies have found that engaging with other people helps us improve our mental and physical health. 

Debra Umberson and Jennifer Kara Montez identify in their research study that adults with good social interactions are healthier and live longer than those with poor social connections.

Robert Harste at the University of Tennessee, identifies some correlation between socialising and positive stress reduction.

Medical News Today also identifies a clear link between socialising and improved happiness and health.

The fact is, we are all social creatures. We feel more complete when we have deeper and fulfilling relationships. 

So, make sure to spend time around those who inspire you and those that you love.

How do You Sharpen a Saw Emotionally?

Focus on relationships and happiness:

  • Join a club (sports, or a hobby)
  • Socialise more often: it’s as simple as stopping by your local coffee shop for a chat or making plans to hang out after work once a week
  • Arrange lunch with a friend
  • Arrange a physical activity with work colleagues or friends (bungee jumping, snorkelling, climbing, rambling, rafting, etc)
  • Take your spouse on a date
  • Get rid of negative and toxic people – It’s a tough call but worth doing in the long run
  • Host a get together
  • Practice active listening skills – learn to listen intently and build deep relationships whilst doing it
  • Practice mindfulness and live more in the present. This helps reduce the chance of worrying about the future
  • Practice deep breathing and reaching alpha brainwaves quickly – This is proven to reduce stress and worry
9 ideas to improve your social dimension

How to Find the Time to Sharpen the Saw?

This comes with habit and discipline.

Use the framework of habit 3: first Things First. Set time aside both weekly and daily and then commit to them.

Once they are in the diary, never push them aside. Your habits come from your conscious discipline in maintaining what you set out to do.

Funnily enough, the discipline you use is ultimately turned into a habit if you do it enough times. It won’t be easy, especially if it’s new, but sticking to it will mean that eventually, you’ll make it a habit you do with little cognition.

Start Small

There’s no point jumping in and doing too much in one go. It will probably feel a mammoth task and can result in overload. This in turn makes it harder to commit to. 

Start small. 

Learn to get into the habit by blocking out a small window of time each day and week to sharpen your saw in all 4 areas.

As you get more comfortable, you can expand the activities in each of the 4 areas.

To Sum Up

A sharp saw can cut through anything. In the same way, a well-rounded individual is capable of tackling any challenge that comes their way. The key to being your best self is by making sure you don’t neglect any one aspect of life – mentally, physically, relationships and spiritually.

You need time for each element so make it happen! Start by blocking out some time every day to sharpen your own personal saw, even if it’s just for a few minutes to begin with.