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.


If you can do two things at once, both of them should likely be done by someone else.

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