How to Be Less Frantic and More Efficient by Sharpening Your Axe
The time it takes to reflect, evaluate, and focus seems misspent when you feel like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Abe Lincoln never said he’d spend six hours sharpening his axe if he had eight hours to chop down a tree. But this quote appeared in 1956. “A woodsman was once asked, ‘What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?’ He answered, ‘I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.’”*
How to sharpen your axe:
#1. Know high-value activities.
Use high-value activities to evaluate your use of time.
You’ve lost control of your life if you can’t control your time.
#2. Protect the clock.
The most important thing you manage isn’t people or projects.
In a world of possibility, the only way to use time meaningfully is to master the art of saying no. “Every time we say yes to a request, we are also saying no to anything else we might accomplish with the time.” Tim Harford
“Yes” eliminates more options than “No.”
Some people say, “No,” because they feel overwhelmed as a habit of life. Say, “No,” so you can engage in meaningful activity, not as a tool of comfortable avoidance!
#3. Embrace single-tasking.
Multi-tasking is an evil myth that only works if you’re listening to music while working out. You cannot do two meaningful things at the same time.
If you can do two things at once, both of them should likely be done by someone else.
#4. Put the big rocks on next week’s calendar this week.
#5. Focus for a specific amount of time.
You might set aside 30 minutes to complete a challenging task.
Deadlines that create moderate stress increase efficiency.
#6. Rise above the urgency illusion.
What distracts leaders from high-value work?
What enhances a leader’s ability to work effectively and efficiently?
*To Cut Down a Tree in Five Minutes Spend Three Minutes Sharpening Your Axe – Quote Investigator
Actions to effectively manage your time.
1. Establish goals and high priorities.
2. Make them visible—post them in your work area.
3. Learn to say “no” in a nice way to requests that aren’t in line with your high priority goals.
Actions to efficiently manage your time.
1. Use a to-do list
2. Set deadlines to begin and end tasks
3. De-clutter/get organized
4. Use a calendar to keep track of appointments and commitments
5. Handle paperwork & electronic documents only once (take action on it or delete it)
7. Weekly, schedule time to reflect and identify one thing that you can eliminate because it doesn’t add value
8. Post reminders to use your time productively
9. Take time to sharpen your saw and improve your processes
Wow…thanks Paul. Most recently, decluttering has been my favorite. It helps me focus.
The other thing that seems to really help me is visibility. “Out of sight – out of mind,” seems true in my case. I guess I’m in love with shiny objects. Thanks again.
I sometimes see folks afraid to say “No” when asked to take on a special project. They end up doing a bad job on both the special project and their regular work, and then wonder why they don’t get promoted.
Thanks Jennifer. I’ve done this myself. It seems that aspiration can get in the way when you don’t have courage to say no. It’s always sad when good people sabotage themselves. It’s also sad when leaders let this happen.
I think leaders let people sabotage themselves because they are more concerned for results than people.
Good List. I would add two things: 1. Make sure you rest at the right times: short breaks during the day, turn it all off at night. 2. Make some time for curiosity to sit in the driver’s seat each week. It might be unrelated research (“Who is that rapper?”), but a little time to feed curiosity makes room for unexpected connections to seed.
“a little time to feed curiosity makes room for unexpected connections to seed.” Wow! I never thought of it that way, but that is a wonderful statement! And it gives me permission to stray from a brain-intensive project, even to find out who that rapper is. Thanks, Jenny!
I understand the principle but the bigger picture needs to be considered. In a Team situation its what the Team needs rather than you. If a member of the Team needs to get something done and they need your help then concentrating on what is important to you is not always best overall. Situational awareness and prioritization are key.
I think everybody knows that true, simultaneous multitasking is impossible. Where we struggle is with the meaning of “same time.” (Or every definition above ours on the org chart.
How many meaningful things can I do in five-minute chunks? How about a half hour? How about a half day? How about a week?
And teams have their own (longer) redeployment time.
Another reason we don’t say No is that “Working on” is an easier promise to keep than “When will you be done?”
“Things take forever around here, so I need you to start on this right away or it will never get done!”