Written by Miles Henson on 17 Mar 2015
We are all very busy in today’s world, rushing from meeting to meeting, task to task, call to call. I don't think we ever really take time to stop and look at what we are doing and if we are making progress or worse, we are so pleased with ourselves that we don't improve or learn from each other. We are just too busy and we allow processes and "the way we have always done things" to get in the way of improvement. I was reflecting on this driving back from a client meeting last Friday evening. When was the last time I really stopped and thought about me and what I could do to get better, get more efficient or just have more time? The answer, quite simply, is that I haven’t even considered that for a while. Why, because like most people I think being busy and organised is the answer. If I’m honest though, that just means you continue to make the same mistakes thinking what you are doing is best. Arrogance and complacency is not a good place to be.
I then remembered a story I used to tell at conferences; a story I had not only forgotten but worse, had forgotten the reason for the story. Here it is, think about you and your life when you read this:
Once upon a time there were two men in a wood-chopping contest. They were tasked with chopping down as many trees in the forest as they could from sun-up to sundown. The winner would be rewarded with promotion and more income.
From morning till noon, both men steadily chopped and chopped. By noon they were neck and neck, but then one man stopped chopping and said “I’m going to take a short break” The other man saw this and thought to himself, "The lazy fool, he’s probably taken a break for lunch. He’s given me a chance to get ahead of him and I will without doubt win this contest!"
A while later the man got back to work. As the day continued he chopped more trees than his hard-working (and hungry) competitor and by mid-afternoon he had taken a clear lead. Mid-afternoon, the same man stopped chopping again and said "I’m just going for a short break." The other man thought "Here is my chance again to keep working hard and push on." Again, a while later the man came back to work and it wasn’t long before he had caught up again.
When sundown came, the man who had taken the breaks had chopped almost twice as many trees as the other man, who was now drenched in sweat, hungry and exhausted.
"How did you beat me?" he asked puzzled. "You were lazier than I and even took breaks!"
"Ah," said the other man, "I suppose I may have gone against the culture around here and taken a couple of breaks, but it was during those breaks that I sharpened my axe."
Moral of the story: Taking time out to sharpen your axe is worth many hours of hard toil. It you keep doing what you have always done you will just get the same result or even a poorer result. Ask yourself, how often do you really sharpen your axe, and how often do you question your thinking, your view of the world or just simply the way you do things.
Try it today for just 15 minutes, then every day. You might be astonished at the results!