Midweek @ Musings: “Sharpening the Saw”

Several years ago I was fortunate to work for an enlightened manager, who demonstrated strong personal commitment to building a team and helping each team member realize their potential.  He also saw employees as multidimensional people with goals and daily lives that extended well beyond the workplace.  Steve was a firm believer in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and sent me and two other colleagues to a 3-day course.  I admit I was a bit baffled:  I’d read the book, and learned some lessons about time management.  And time management was something I already did pretty well.  But Steve had a different goal in mind for me:  discovering more about who I was, and defining the person I wanted to become.

I was still early in my career, trying to balance work, a dual-career marriage, and the demands of being a new parent.  Steve understood the challenges I would soon face, and I am forever indebted to him for doing so.  The course couldn’t have come at a better time.  It was immediately clear this was not a time management seminar, and I surrendered to what was, frankly, a kind of cultish approach.  The first evening I worked on my “personal mission statement.”  The next day, I defined the roles I played in my life (parent, partner, manager, etc.), and set 5-year goals for each role.  This way of thinking about my life has stood me in good stead ever since.

You might be asking, where is she going with this?

I also learned about the seventh habit, known as “sharpening the saw.”  This habit emphasizes personal renewal across all dimensions — physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual — and maintaining a balance among these dimensions.  The idea is to be intentional about it; make it a habit, if you will.  While balance is important to me, I don’t really think about this habit much.  But I’ve realized that I regularly experience feelings of personal renewal, when I make room in my life for three things I love:

  • Gardening: I like being out in my vegetable garden early on weekend mornings, before the neighborhood lawn mowers rev up.  I love hearing the birds in the trees, and feeling the sun warm on my shoulders.  I love the way things look after a serious weeding and pruning session.  And I love the feeling of renewal, as pent-up stress fades away.
  • Music:  I was sitting out on my deck last Sunday afternoon, when my husband put on a CD of Glenn Gould playing Bach.  I closed my eyes and let the beauty of the music flow over me, and again I felt that same sense of renewal and peace.
  • Reading: (you knew I’d get there eventually, didn’t you?) Some time ago, I began bringing a book with me to the office to read at lunchtime.  Occasionally I fit in an extended reading session, but even 10-15 minutes can make a huge difference.  A reading break clears my head and re-energizes me for the rest of the day.

So, these are my saw-sharpening tools.   They’re not just mindless diversions.  They are an important part of who I am and are essential to my well-being.  I need to remember that.

How do you “sharpen the saw”?

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6 thoughts on “Midweek @ Musings: “Sharpening the Saw”

  1. It’s hard to find management personnel with those qualities: you were lucky indeed! (Though that’s a two-way street and he, too, was lucky to have an employee who was committed enough to respond with sincere interest.)

    Ironically, I don’t think reading is a saw-sharpening tool for me; my editing eye is always too engaged. And in trying to answer this question, I realize that I’ve forced most of these activities to the sidelines. (sigh) But my answers would be: Outdoor time, preferably near water (we live on a Great Lake); Paper play, like collages; and, Long Walks, without set destinations.

    • He really was a memorable boss, one I only truly appreciated after I’d moved on! Interesting that reading doesn’t “sharpen your saw,” but at least you know what works for you!

  2. GREAT post, Laura…your manager was very tuned in! I have a few saw sharpeners…
    1. Hiking with my dog and husband – there is nothing better then being out in nature, working up a little sweat, smelling the trees, occasionally hearing the “pew” of a redtail hawk soaring above the trees…the best medicine for stress.
    2. Watering the plants on the deck (and hopefully soon in the yard)…I don’t know what it is about watering the plants that is so satisfying…maybe the idea of nurturing new life…but it is very relaxing.
    3. Reading – of course – I always have a book with me and if I have to stand in line at the post office, or wait for someone for an appointment, I find reading for a few minutes allows me to stop being impatient about the wait.
    4. Quilting – this is a new one (relatively speaking) but it is so wonderful to get lost in the creative process – time flies by and at the end there is a deep satisfaction.

    There are probably more, but I’ve hijacked your post enough for now!

    • Weeding the garden is my version of watering the plants. I have no idea why I like it (except that I like to make messy things tidy, lol). Most people would consider it drudgery!

      I enjoy walking the dogs, and being out in nature, but I don’t make enough time for that.

      And you didn’t hijack my post!

  3. Pingback: Knife Sharpening?

  4. What a great lesson! Taking time out for yourself is a must. I work in a very demanding job and even though I do not have children, finding time to relax and renew my strength and energy is a must I learned early on. Whether it be reading, writing, watching a movie with my husband, or playing with the animals, I try and find those moments wherever I can.

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