Sharpening the Saw… a Case for Stepping Away for Awhile 

I find that after say six weeks of intense interaction with my clients; one-on-one coaching, group coaching, training –and all that goes with preparing for delivering a workshop- I need a break.  This is not the kind of break one gets from the weekend or taking vacation- but at least a week’s break away from the above interactions- but still working.

So every six weeks or so, I take this break.  I learned this from a long time friend who is a regional director for a very successful financial company.  I would have lunch with this friend every so often and catch up on what’s happening with us, our families and of course-our careers.

I remember sharing with him some challenges I was experiencing in achieving some goals I had set out. My challenges at the time were around really making the time to consistently work on the long-term projects and be really creative at what I do.  The kinds of projects that Stephen Covey refers to as important but not urgent.  They don’t scream at you to attend to them. They just quietly sit there-no noise. No complaints.  Until one day you realize they are due in a few days and you make a mad rush to get them done.

Some people are energized by this last minute rush to meet a deadline- others are drained.  I find I experience a bit of both but prefer to have my work done ahead of due dates.

So back to my friend, his question to me was whether I took time away from work.  Naturally, I interpreted this to mean taking vacation time away from work- so I replied of course.   He probed more and I then realized just what he meant.

Time away from the the above interactions not working but still working.  Here’s what I mean.

Every six weeks or so I have a week on my calendar blocked as ‘in office’ but no clients are seen that week. No workshops/training delivered. What I do this week is work diligently on the long-term projects. Essentially I sharpen the saw intensely for that week. 

I find this approach really propels and advances these projects. Now I have a total of about 9 full weeks each year to dedicate to just these kinds of projects. When you add the daily 30-60 minutes added to these projects- you can see how one would truly sharpen the saw.

But, this approach requires a discipline that I find in itself must first be achieved.  My version of sharpening the saw is not what my friend initially challenged me to put in place.  His idea was for me to completely remove from my calendar all work-related activities for a week.

Similar to what the author recommends in the book Work like your dogEven the readings one does at this time ought not be related to work.  I find this super challenging so I modified it to the above version- and it has served me really well.

Below are some pointers for sharpening the saw using my version of my friend’s suggestion:


  • Be clear on the long-term important but not urgent projects.   


  1. Identify in your work plan a detailed approach for what needs to be done by when.  This ensures the project gets chipped away daily without you having to sacrifice a few years of your life to rush to get them done.
  2. Commit to investing at a minimum 30-60 minutes each day on the important but not urgent projects.  Too many people busy themselves putting out fires daily and miss out on investing in these projects- which if done, would save them many a fire from propping up.
  3. Block off your week well in advance. This means making the time early in the year to look ahead at your calendar to identify when it’s best to take this “working but not working week”.
  4. Honour the week YET do aim not to be too rigid in keeping it.   I added this point as things come up with my clients from time-to-time when it’s the very week ‘off’ that is best.  I am here to serve my clients to the best of my ability.
  5. If you use the “week off” for clients, then commit to booking another week if possible. This ensures you stay on track and still meet your targets.
  6. Finally, have some fun relaxing events each day during the “week off”.  I like to do many hobbies that are not work-related so I ensure these are factored in to the week.  This feeds the creative and artistic parts of me.  The result- I feel more rested, more creative and I get more done.

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