“Sharpen Your Saw” to Stay Creative, Productive & Stress Free (One of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Latte & Journal by Myra Golden
Latte & Journal, a photo by Myra Golden on Flickr.

I start my mornings with a latte and journaling and then I go for a run. This is how I “sharpen my saw.”

In his stunning best seller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey tells the story of someone working feverishly to saw down a tree. An observer asks how long the man has been working on the tree. “Over 5 hours,” he says, “and I’m beat!” The observer suggests the man take a break to sharpen the saw, explaining that a sharper saw will make the work go much faster. The man retorts, “I’m too busy sawing!”

I read that in Covey’s book over 20 years ago and I’ve never forgotten the lesson here. I know I can work more creatively and productively after sharpening my saw. This year has been incredible for me. I’ve been booked solid with some amazing clients and feedback on my work has been so very positive. But this wonderful work and feeling comes with a price. I’ve had more business trips than I care to count. And there’s conference calls, meetings, proposal writing, webinars, networking lunches and on and on. Not to mention my family. My daughter cheers and my son plays football. That means 5 practices weekly and 2 games weekly between the 2 kids. It’s a lot for me.

I couldn’t maintain my chock-full schedule if I didn’t take time to relax, refresh and renew. I have to “sharpen my saw” in order to function at peak performance.

Stephen Covey says we must take time to sharpen our saw in 4 areas:

  1. Mental – For me this is journaling and reading. Sharpen your mental saw by reading, visualizing, planning or writing.
  2. Physical – My mental sharpening is running. What is it for you? Any exercise counts as physical saw sharpening, so get moving!
  3. Spiritual – Daily prayer and prayer throughout the day is my way of spiritual sharpening. What is it for you? Meditation and value clarification could also be spiritual saw sharpening.
  4. Social/Emotional – Covey describes this area as service, empathy, synergy and intrinsic security.

I try to sharpen my saw in each of these 4 areas daily and I challenge you to try to do so as well. When you do, you’ll work more productively and creatively and likely even faster.

This is How I Chose to Wind Down After Today’s Amazing Workshop

It’s been a tiring couple of days. Our team worked late into the night last night preparing for a big workshop for the Tulsa City-County Health Department. The workshop was a smashing success today and I’m still basking in the blessing of all of the great feedback I received from my awesome client.

Still, I am exhausted. After the workshop, I picked my kids up from school and we went and got ice cream near the lake. Afterwards, I captured this image of our favorite white duck. The trip to the ice creamery with my kids followed by duck watching has balanced me out. I feel good now. 🙂

Rejection Hurts. Real Talk.

When I feel stressed or overwhelmed with work, I often pick up my camera and go. This morning I went to a park by the river to take some shots of a waterfall. While I was shooting the waterfall, a man was trimming a tree with his bare hands. I initially thought the man worked for the parks and recreation department, but when he moved closer, I saw that he wore ragged jeans and a dirty shirt instead of a uniform. There was no park & recreation vehicle nearby. On the bench in front of the waterfall was a jacket and an over-stuffed backpack. I presumed they belonged to the tree-trimming man. I think he may have been homeless. His diligence and skill with the tree trimming impressed me. I think he trimmed the tree simply because it needed trimming. After he finished trimming the tree, he sat on the bench next to the jacket and backpack. As he rested and regrouped on the bench, I captured this shot, just as he rubbed his face with his rugged, dirty hands.

From first glance, I loved this photo. Later at home I showed it to my family with great pride and excitement. My husband asked questions about how close I was to the man and whether or not it was safe to be that close to a man I didn’t know and boldly snapping his picture. He said nothing about the aesthetic value of the photo. He didn’t ask about the man in the photo. My daughter said she didn’t like the photo. She said she doesn’t care for black and white photography and that nothing about the photo jumped out at her. My son simply asked, “Who is that man?” No one saw the beauty I did. I saw strength, initiative and love in the man in my photo. The dirt under his bitten fingernails, the curls in his greying hair, and the wrinkles in his sunburned skin all spoke to me. I saw beauty in the man and art in my capture of the man. I wondered about the journey of his life. But they didn’t see what I saw. I felt a little rejected by my family because they didn’t think the photo I so proudly presented was spectacular and I have to admit, it hurt.

But I had to realize that just because my family didn’t see the photo as beautiful, doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. I was reminded of that today. My family wasn’t trying to reject me or hurt me. They just saw the photo differently. Their opinions don’t take away from the impact the tree-trimming man had on me. The photo is still beautiful…to me.

The lesson. Sometimes in life we are rejected by those closest to us. Rejection hurts. Real talk. But we don’t have to become defensive or distant in the midst of this hurt. Try to believe the best of those who hurt you. The rejection may not have been intentional. And even if it was, don’t stop seeing the beauty in you and the things you do. (When my family left the room, I prayed for the man in the photo. I prayed that God would bless him with favor and protection and that all of his needs would be met. And then I prayed that God would protect me from pride and ego so that I don’t so easily feel rejected.)

Donations to help him, and beautiful people like him, can be made here.

Here’s Why You Need to Let Your Employees Cool Down After a Busy Period

My son cooling down after a family game of basketball Sunday afternoon

I started running a little more than a year ago. The running training program I started with insisted on a 5-minute cool down after each run. Sometimes I’d cool down and sometimes I wouldn’t. I didn’t notice any problems when I didn’t cool down so I really didn’t think it was a big deal. For weeks I ran 2-3 miles with my indifferent attitude toward the cool down. Then one day I ran 4 miles, my longest and most vigorous at that point. I was so proud of myself and I felt amazing. I felt so good that I didn’t “cool down.” After my run, I showered and resumed normal activities. Or, at least I tried to resume normal activities.

Within an hour of my amazing run I was feeling dizzy and nauseous. I couldn’t shake the feeling for hours. It was that day that I learned the importance of cooling down after a run. I now know that physiologically, cooling down helps the body transition from intense activity to normal activity. Cooling down helps prevent blood from pooling in the legs, which I now know can happen after a hard run. This limits blood flow to the heart and brain, and can lead to the dizziness and nausea I experienced that day.

What happens when employees don’t cool down after a busy season?

When employees come out of a tremendously busy season such as a large product recall, holiday season or a new product launch, the mental toll is not unlike a vigorous run. Just because they “survived” the busy season doesn’t mean all is well. I survived my first 4 mile run, but I didn’t transition to normal activity well at all. Provide your employees with a “cool down” period so they can transition into normal business activity.

How do you cool down after a busy season?

Offer paid time off if you can, celebrate accomplishments, award your employees with gift cards, have lunch brought in or bring fun into the office. Get creative. The important thing is to acknowledge the sacrifice and challenge and to provide a transition into normal activity.

Cooling down after a busy period helps your employees de-stress and refresh. Failing to cool down can lead to burnout and low morale. Proactively provide a corporate cool down and you’ll avoid potentially serious problems later on…and your people will be better prepared for the next busy season. (I now cool down after every run!)

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.  ~Ovid

Learn How to Become a Stress & Time Management Role Model

Last week I presented a keynote for Progressive Business Conferences on Time Management. The presentation was aimed at helping customer service directors and managers learn to better manage their schedules and tasks so that they experience less stress and pressure at work. My presentation was very well received and I had a ball sharing some of my own strategies for managing my schedule. Today I am sharing with you some of the highlights from my presentation. My hope is that you will walk away from this blog post feeling more empowered to take control of your schedule and as a result you will experience less stress and pressure at work.

1. Take 10-15 Minutes to Plan Your Day

The first thing I do when I get to my office (most days) is make a task-list of the most important things I want to accomplish. These are all things outside of my scheduled presentations, meetings, etc. Today’s task list includes write a blog post, register for NSA meeting, create first draft of client training objectives, map out 4-week webinar marketing plan. Identifying your top tasks for the day helps keep you focused and you’re more likely to accomplish tasks when you write them down and think through them.

2. Return Calls in Batches

Don’t procrastinate on returning calls and don’t let calls take over your entire day. Unless the mater is urgent, hold off on calls and return several calls back-to-back during a block of time that works for you. I learned this technique when I worked from home with 2 small children. I had to return calls during naptime or when my kids were watching something entertaining on television. I still maintain the habit of returning calls in batches because it makes my day flow so much smoother. I answer calls as they come in if I’m available, but missed calls that aren’t urgent are returned during my drive to pick up my son from school and while I wait in the pick up line for my son. This is a great use of my short commute and it always feels so good to return calls quickly in batches and get that task out of the way.

3. Check Emails On A Schedule

It’s easy to let emails consume your day, especially when you’re getting work emails on a smartphone. I turned off the email alert on my iPhone. I don’t need to be alerted and distracted every time I get an email. Even at my desk, I have learned to close Outlook except for times when I am intentionally checking and responding to emails. Find an email schedule that makes sense for you and stick to it. I check emails at the top of the morning on my iPhone and I don’t usually open Outlook on my computer until 11am and then again around 1:30ish. I don’t check emails again until I’m in the pick up line at my son’s school. After that, I’ll periodically check my emails on my phone.

4. Know When You Work Best

Are you hyper-productive in the morning, but lose steam in the afternoon? If that’s the case, do your most creative or most pressing tasks in the mornings. If you’re more productive in the afternoon or midmornings, schedule your most important tasks during your most productive hours.

5. Find a “To-Do” App That Works for You

Chances are, you have a smartphone. If you do, find a good app to help you be more productive. I use 2 cool apps to help me stay on top of my day: “Siri” and “Reminders.” Siri lets me use my voice to schedule or reschedule meetings, dictate emails and texts and place phone calls. It’s hard to imagine getting through my work day without my “Reminders” app. Using Reminders I can tell my phone to “Remind me to email Jeff my portfolio.” Or “Remind me to book conference room for Client Experience Meeting.” I rarely forget things these days thanks to this app. Find some great apps that work for your needs and your style. Getting things done easily is a tremendous stress reliever.

6. Try the “Straight to Voicemail” App

Straight to Voicemail is a really cool app that lets me dial right into the cellphone voicemail of my friends, customers, and family. This comes in handy when I just want to “touch base,” don’t want to get into a long conversation and when I just need to leave a quick message. I find that I’m able to keep in touch with friends and clients really well because I can knock out 3 or 4 calls in just a few minutes by going straight to voicemail. The app is free and makes returning calls a cinch. Explore Straight to Voicemail.

Thanks for taking the time to read through my ideas for better managing your workload. Our work should be enjoyable and fulfilling and we should leave work at work when we go home. I sincerely hope some of the ideas here help you relieve stress and pressure with your work. A special thank you to Progressive Business for asking me to design and present this talk.

The Calming Gift of Water

The wishing well my son and I saw yesterday. (Click the photo enlarge.)

As my son and I were leaving the mall yesterday, I saw a beautiful wishing well. It was right behind Santa’s Workshop and the area was loud, busy and crazy crowded. My 8 year old son, Warren, was irritable and ready to go. He hadn’t wanted to go to the mall in the first place. I touched his shoulder and pointed at the wishing well without saying a word. As if magical, the water seemed to calm him just as it captivated me. The picture above is what I shot yesterday afternoon.

For so many of us, this is a crazy busy time. We’re closing the loop on year-end projects at work, setting corporate goals and strategies for the New Year. And all the while we’re Christmas shopping, planning for big dinners and house guests, taking time to attend our children’s holiday programs at school and evening holiday parties. It can get overwhelming.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with work and life, I invite you to turn to the water for calm. Water represents refreshment, motion, reflection, blessing, transformation and clarity. As I stood there watching the beautiful wishing well with my son yesterday, I let the water just bless me. Right now it’s cloudy and cool and I’m watching the soft rain fall outside my office window. Just watching the rain has brought me to a place of calm and refreshment.

After my son watched the wishing well for a couple of minutes, his attitude transformed from cranky to utterly amazed. May the water bless you as well. Your blessing of water might be rainfall, a wishing well, a tall glass of water or an hour-long soak in your whirlpool bath. As soon as I publish this post, I’m heading out for a run in the soft rain. And then I’ll soak and reflect in my whirlpool bath. Ahhh…the gift of water.

Downtime: What I do Offline to Recharge

Most of you know me from my online presence as a blogger, webinar host, eLearning producer or through social media. My online presence is so persistent that it leads some people to think that my entire professional life is online. That’s not true, of course. My core business is actually delivering keynotes at conferences and conventions and conducting customer service training for some pretty cool clients.  But still, I do spend a lot of time online.

So how do I spend my downtime? How do I recharge when I’m offline? Many ways actually. For starters, I limit my work hours. My workday ends at 2:10 pm when I leave to pick up my son from school. Three times a week I break away mid-morning to go for a run. My runs energize me and jump-start my creativity. Several times a month I meet with girlfriends over breakfast or lunch just to reconnect and recharge.

After work hours I stay happily busy cooking for my family, helping my kids with homework and attending my kid’s football and basketball games. My passion is photography. Photography gets my creative spirit flowing and it completely de-stresses me. (If you’re interested, you can check out some of my images on my Flickr.) When I have downtime in the evenings, I love to sit down with a good book and a glass of merlot. Right now I’m reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and the Zappos Experience by Joseph Michelli.

I enjoy my time online, but I love my life offline. Work life balance is critically important to me. So I make a point to recharge in wonderfully refreshing ways. Now let me ask you the question I’ve just answered in this blog post: What do you do offline to recharge? How do you achieve work life balance?