Sharpening Our Saw

A number of years ago I read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and subsequently had the opportunity to take a 7 Habits Workshop. The lessons I learned from this material have stayed with me, they’ve become integrated into who I am; I believe they’ve made me a better person.

The habits, in case you haven’t heard of them are as follows. (You can read more detail about each habit on Covey’s website.)

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win-win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

This week, as I’ve struggled with a personal issue, I was reminded of the wisdom of every one of the habits. I’ve tried to focus on those things that I have control over and let go of the rest: what Covey referred to as the Circle of Control vs the Circle of Influence.

The past few weeks have been hectic: a trip to Cleveland to present at the American Adoption Congress conference, a trip to Canada to visit the grands, late nights due to photography classes Gerry and I are taking, not eating properly (due to the hectic pace and not enough time to shop or cook), all topped off with a lack of rest and sleep.

I’m realizing that I’m not able to keep the same pace as I could when I was younger; nor do I want to. One good thing about being at this midlife stage of life is that you kind of have permission to slow down when you need to; you can play the “I’m not as young as I used to be” card sometimes.

If we’re wise enough to listen to the messages our mind and bodies give us, we’re okay with saying no sometimes. We understand the value of maintaining balance in the physical, social, mental, and spiritual areas of our life. We know that what works for someone else may not work for us. We usually know what it is that we need, we’re willing to ask for and actively pursue it.

Many of us have only to look at our desks or read our email to be reminded of all that clamors for our attention. We’ve got “must do”, “should do”, “shouldn’t do”, and “want to do” items all over the place. It’s too easy to forget what’s important.

One of my favorite Covey quotes is:

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage–pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.”

Sometimes we need to return to the seventh habit, to “sharpen the saw” as Covey says, to take time to rebuild our physical, mental, and emotional reserves so we can be ready for all that is ahead of us–the good and the not-so-good.

Sometimes we need to take time for quiet and reflection. Sometimes we need to play; to dance, laugh, twirl, and appreciate all that is right in our world. Sometimes we just need to take a nap and eat some protein.

In that quiet place inside we know what it is we need to sharpen our own saws at any given time. The challenge, sometimes, is just to do it.

Dancing with my granddaughter


I’m a writer, reader, and creative. I thought by now I’d have things figured out, but I keep coming up with more questions. I think that’s okay. I’m here most mornings pondering ordinary things and the thin places where faith intersects.
  1. What a timely reminder , Linda as I try to make sense of my own hectic schedule. I love Covey’s statement to “say no to other things by having a bigger yes inside.” And taking time to play with grandkids is the best antidote, as your picture shows! Thank you.

    1. Isn’t it a blessing though Kathleen, to have all of these competing priorities at our age; an age at which our grandparents were considered “old”. The same age at which both you and I are embarking on our next career. We are blessed, aren’t we?!

  2. Dear Linda, your response to Kathleen seems so true to me. I remember my grandmother Ready at my age and she seemed so old. She sat in her chair all day and watched television. And I’m so grateful that I can write and read and continue to learn new things.

    What does the following line by Covey mean? “The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good.'”

    You seem to me, Linda, to be going about this business of retiring in such a creative way. Congratulations. Peace.

    1. I interpret Covey’s quote as meaning that we can spend a lot of time on something that seems to be “good” when, in fact, we’re taking time away from something that in the long run is the better thing for us, Dee.

      1. Dear Linda, thanks for explaining Covey’s sentence. I can now see what he means and I think I’ve been doing just that. Peace.

  3. Linda, timeliness is so important to our everyday lives, and this post is so timely for me right now. Between family trips, and wondering how I’m going to catch up from the last in order to feel sane when the next comes along in less than 15 days, I wonder at the reasonableness of all I commit to. And you have given me with Stephen Covey’s quote, the mantra I shall repeat time and time again. I love the way he describes saying “no.” That greater “yes” burning within is my gatekeeper from now on. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us the things you are experiencing as you head toward retirement.

    When I think of where my parents and grandparents were at my age, I’m so grateful to be able to do all that I do! And yet, I want to remain healthy and here among family and friends for as long as I can so I must temper my activities to remain so. 🙂

    1. Sherrey, I hope you find time to be still and ground yourself as you go through this flurry of activity. I’m beginning to realize that in order to stay in that place of peace I MUST make quiet, reflection, and solitude a priority in my life. Balance. It seems to be all about balance.

      It is interesting, isn’t it, to compare the way we are at this age with how it was for our parents and grandparents?


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