Brian Lockwood

Sharpen your ax

July 4, 2018 by

This is a popular story which illustrates the advantages of not just plowing away at your work, but improving your knowledge, planning, skills and preparation first to achieve a better outcome in the end

Once upon a time there were two men who lived in the same forest and decided to have a contest chopping wood.  The first man was in good physical shape and very muscular.  The second man was in good shape but smaller in statute and wiry.  They would chop wood all day and at the end of the day compare to see who had chopped the most wood.  The first man laughed to himself that there was no way this wiry little man would beat him and so they began the contest.  Every 45 minutes the second smaller man would take a break and seems to just wonder off somewhere.  The first man laughed again to himself and said “Yep there’s no way this wiry little man is going to beat me.”  This happens several times during the day.  At the end of the day the two men compare their piles of chopped wood and unbelievably enough the wiry little man has chopped twice as much wood as the more physically fit man.  He says “I don’t understand.  First I’m twice your size and twice your strength!  On top of that every 45 minutes you rolled off and took a break or a nap or something.  You must have cheated!”  The smaller man says “I didn’t cheat.  It was easy to beat you because every 45 minutes when you thought I was taking a break, I was out back sharpening my ax.” 1

Sharpening your ax could be

  • reading books, blogs, slack streams, trade magazines. aka Read, Read, Read
  • targeted searches to find specific things to improve your efficiency, skill, performance on a particular task
  • asking for time from your mentor
  • taking time off to meditate, travel, think
  • refreshing your motivation with exercise, reading, personal challenges
  • goal setting exercises – distilling your task into a number/ratio that you can see daily progress towards accomplishing. This sharpens your focus and your ax
  • narrowing your task, more closely defining it, reducing it to shorter (ideally daily) deliverables. Long tasks dull axes and don’t give you opportunities to sharpen your ax – so this is a double whammy
  • reducing multi-tasking. Focus on no more than 2-3 tasks in total – ever. Ideally focus on accomplishing one task in a given day. Chopping too many trees at once really dulls your ax. Every completed task should trigger some ax sharpening
  • sanity checking what you are doing. Is it the most efficient approach? Is this task even worth doing? Does this task support the accomplishment of my goals?

When do you know it is time to sharpen your ax?

  • When things are going really well and you can coast a bit on what you are doing already and still get good results. This allows you time to sharpen to be ready when they slow down
  • When you hit the point of diminishing returns and you need to make some changes now to get better results
  • When things seem to be stagnating and nothing is changing, you are falling into the same pattern, just going through the motions
  • When you get the sense that your tool set and techniques are stale, obsolete, antiquated
  • When you begin to feel comfortable with what you are doing and afraid of change
  • When you are tired, at the end of the day, your productivity is waning. This is a great time to switch gears and use the other side of your brain which is for learning, ax sharpening
  • If you haven’t sharpened your ax in a long time – regardless of any of the above. A long time is generally more than 2-3 days
  • When your hours are creeping up and/or your productivity seems to be waning

1 Franchising Demystified: The Definitive Franchise Handbook.


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