David Bater

How Sharp is Your Saw – Habit 7 Stephen Covey

How Sharp is Your Saw – Habit 7 Stephen Covey


Habit 7 in Steve Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is: “Sharpening the Saw.” Covey uses the analogy of a Woodcutter who is sawing for several days straight and is becoming less and less productive.

Furthermore, the process of cutting dulls the blade.

So the solution is to sharpen the saw periodically.

Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first 4 hours in sharpening the axe

Abraham Lincoln

So, What Does Sharpening the saw Mean?

I have found that in practice, many people fail to understand what sharpening the saw means.

Also, if you are overworking yourself and your productivity begins to fall off, conventional wisdom says to take a break.

Or, maybe even go on holiday.

However, that isn’t sharpening the saw that’s putting the saw down. When you put down a worn blade its worn, and when you eventually pick it up again it’s still worn.

Sharpening the saw is an activity, just as the analogy suggests.

Think about what it would mean to sharpen the saw of your life.

Here are some habit 7 ‘saw-sharpening ideas’:

  1. Exercise
  2. Improve your diet
  3. Educate yourself (read, listen to audio programs, attend a seminar)
  4. Learn a new skill
  5. Join a club
  6. Meditate
  7. Write in your journal
  8. Have an in-depth conversation with someone
  9. Set some new goals or review/update your old goals
  10. Organise your home or office
  11. Go out on a date (yes a date with your wife counts)
  12. Clean Out a bunch of little tasks that you have been putting off


So, now the Woodcutter can’t just alternate between cutting wood and sharpening the saw indefinitely. Downtime is needed too.

But, it isn’t the same as sharpening the saw. Meaning, the woodcutter can become even more productive by:

  • sharpening the blade,
  • studying new woodcutting techniques,
  • working out to become stronger, and
  • learning from other woodcutters.

Avoid Burnout

Therefore, forgetting intentionally, to sharpen the saw can lead to a feeling of burnout.

If you merely alternate between productive work and downtime, your production capacity will drop off. You are still working hard, but you don’t feel as productive as you think you should be.

When you sharpen yourself regularly, you’ll find that you can flow along at a steady pace week after week without getting burnt out.

Whenever I feel burnt out or overwhelmed, taking a day or two off helps a little.

But, not very much.

What yields a much greater benefit for me is:

  • attending a seminar,
  • reading an inspiring book, or
  • having an interesting conversation.

Find Motivation

In contrast, it’s common to see people return from a conference with a notable spike in motivation that lasts for weeks.

But this isn’t a break or a holiday.

Also, going to the ‘conference’ was an activity. But, it’s the kind that often increases energy and motivation. 

Incidentally, how are your various blades doing?

Meaning your:

  • skills,
  • knowledge,
  • mind,
  • physical body,
  • relationships,
  • motivation,
  • commitment,
  • capacity for enjoyment,
  • emotions.

So, are all of them still sharp? If not, which ones are dull, and what can you do to sharpen them?

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