Who Has Time to Be On It, When You’re Going 100 mph To Stay In It?

Dan CulhaneBlog

Axe chopping wood

Everyone knows we should “work smarter, not harder,” right? In fact, to most of us this seems self-evident. Simplifying your work life should be… well, simple, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen this way, because the process of change—even changing from hard work to smart work—can take a bit of extra work.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had five minutes to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first three sharpening my axe.” Or, as one of my former bosses said, sometimes we need to be on it, instead of in it—which reveals the barrier to simplifying: who has time to be on it, when you’re going 100 mph to stay in it?

Simplifying, then, actually takes two steps:

  1. Lift your head up from your work to see where you could get better results for less work, if you just made a change (or, in Honest Abe’s parlance, notice where you swing the axe too many times for the number of trees you are cutting down), then
  2. Deliberately and proactively invest the small amount of time and energy right now to replace your inefficient habit with a better one—take three minutes to sharpen your axe.

But there’s one other element that makes simplifying so hard: the exact time when you most desperately need to simplify (usually because your normal way of getting the job done is inadequate) is the worst time to change your habit. It’s harder to stop and sharpen your axe when the tree-chopping timer has already started.

First, when you are working your hardest to chop the trees, this is the time to pause for a moment to ask yourself if there is a better way. If there is, great—make a note of it. Most likely you won’t be able to break away and change your processes right then and there, because the timer is running and the trees need to be chopped. But really, actually, make a note of the problem.

Second, immediately when your crisis/deadline is over, this is the time for axe-sharpening. Get out your note of the problem, while the pain is still fresh. This will propel you along to fixing the problem.

Third, right now (yes, right now), ask yourself if you have habits and practices to be on it instead of in it. Do you have a daily half-hour for coffee, planning your day, and thinking broadly about your work? Do you have a weekly meeting with a mentor or assistant to discuss big-picture problems and solutions? If not, why not?

Your daily half hour, weekly meeting, or whatever works best for you to look at the big picture might be the key to identifying a whole shed full of axes you can sharpen, and save yourself a whole ton of axe-swinging. Gandhi spent an entire day every week in meditation and reflection—and he said that this was the key to how he overthrew the entire British Empire.

Here’s wishing you a whole lot more axe-sharpening, and a whole lot less axe-swinging!

Take care,

FYI – At Discovery Genie we usually get the frantic call about using our system in that desperate moment when the normal way of getting the job done is inadequate, but the timer has already started, and a discovery deadline is imminent.

But what if you made the call earlier?

What if, instead of feeling frantic you knew in advance exactly how you were going to tackle your discovery obligations? What if your discovery axe was sharpened and ready to swing?

Our on-line training takes less than an hour and sets you up for making a simple change that adds an effective tool to your practice.