I was sprawled on my couch last week, electronically multi-tasking, when I read that Stephen Covey had died. My immediate and unexpected reaction was – guilt.
I admire Mr. Covey’s 7 Habits and actually run my workday off a four-quadrant grid captured in OneNote and labeled with the permutations of ‘Important or Not’ and ‘Urgent or Not,’ my various life roles dutifully listed off to one side (my colleagues are at this moment making a collective mental note to demand proof, since my organizational skills seem rarely in evidence).
I even try in earnest to live in that upper-right quadrant, ‘Important But Not Urgent,’ as Mr. Covey advocated, though I often fail.
But the Habit that always resonated most with me is Number 7: Sharpen the Saw. The notion that continuous self improvement creates an “upward spiral” in both personal and professional life. It seems you have to make time to become a better person – whatever “better” means to you.
Hence my guilt.
When I read the New York Times obituary, I’d just finished re-watching my fourth straight episode of Firefly* (Netflix on Roku – what an invention!). It was late afternoon on a weekday and I’d just come off several weeks of intense project work – long hours and frequent travel. My prescription for recovery was sleeping late coupled with excessive amounts of television. I told myself I didn’t have the energy for anything else.
What would Mr. Covey say.
I got off the couch and walked around the house, evidence of a Dulled Saw now vividly apparent in every corner. Professional journals not read, HBR articles not downloaded, a shelf full of literature ignored. Weeks and weeks of The New Yorker neatly stacked (yes, neatly colleagues!) on the floor in my office. The stack seemed to emanate rejection, like that of an unattractive 13-year-old at a seventh-grade dance. On the other hand, every Robert Crais detective novel in my collection has been read and re-read.
I’d forgotten the point of Habit Number 7.
Sharpening the Saw is less about improvement than renewal. Putting your brain or your body in a different gear, making them work on something meaty and substantial, renewal in other words, gives energy rather than sapping it.
The lesson is easy to forget because it’s counterintuitive. When my brain is weary, I often re-watch favorite TV shows or re-read favorite books because they bring me comfort. But they give me no more energy than a simple sugar high. They are the white carbohydrates of the Renewal Diet. Sharpening the Saw, in contrast, is their protein equivalent, offering a steady stream of heightened energy which can be available to you every day, if you work at it.
I found my copy of Stephen Covey’s bestseller so I could reacquaint myself with Habit Number 7. I’m thinking about how best to sharpen my saw. The newly downloaded HBR articles seem like a good place to start. There’s one called “Overloaded Circuits” about business managers with a recently recognized neurological disorder called attention deficit trait (ADT). Symptoms include compulsive multi-tasking with electronic gadgets and an inability to properly manage time, leading to diminished productivity and poor decision-making. I want to see if I have it.
Yet, the Roku remote beckons me like the Sirens from their rock. Perhaps just one show. An educational one in the spirit of sharpening. Oh look – a Ken Burns documentary. And it’s in only 27 parts!
*Those of you now asking yourself the obvious question: no, I don’t have children. I frankly don’t know how you manage to have them either.