How Self-Care Can ‘Sharpen Your Saw’

Follow these tips to "sharpen the saw" and invest in your wellness.

Imagine trying to cut down a tree with a saw that has rounded teeth, or dicing a dozen tomatoes with a dull blade. You might be able to get the job done, but probably not well — and not without a lot of frustration.  

Taking the time to sharpen the teeth of the saw or the blade of the knife before you start cutting seems tangential to the work you need to do. It means stepping aside from the task at hand and improving the quality of the tool before you use it. This requires time and effort in the short-term, but yields better results in the long-term.

The same could be said about investing in our well-being — it requires conscious effort and seems unrelated to the tasks we might have for a given day or week, but these are practices that will make us much more effective over the long-term. If we can instill habits that make us feel regularly renewed, we’ll stay strong in body, heart, mind, and spirit.

Dr. Steven Covey has identified seven habits that are common to successful, happy people — and investing in wellness and renewal is a foundational one. So here are some ways to “sharpen your saw.”

Intentional integration

As much as we try to compartmentalize our lives, our wellness comes from integration: our physical health affects our mental health, our spiritual strength affects our social and emotional health, and so on. Taking time to focus on one aspect of ourselves can lead to wellness in others.

The approach here is not groundbreaking — we already know the kinds of things we can do to become healthier in each dimension. For the body, work on exercise, nutrition, rest, and stress management. For the heart, improve our relationships by connecting in meaningful ways. For the mind, read, write, learn, and study to keep our mental acuity up. And for the spirit, pray, read inspirational literature, meditate, and reconnect with nature.

If you’ve heard it all before, now’s the time to get intentional about making a plan. Focus in on one area that needs help, or take steps to attend to all of these dimensions.

Sit down to assess yourself and think about what areas would bring more balance and health to your life. Maybe you’re in top physical shape, but your friendships are a mess and you’re drowning in loneliness. Or perhaps everything is clicking in your life, but you are wondering about purpose and need to feel more connected to God.

The conditions of your life are always changing, so regular introspection will help you stay attuned to what you need in each area.

A long-term investment

At its core, developing a habit around self-care and wellness as a way to “sharpen your saw” depends upon discipline and personal accountability. Taking time at the beginning of each week to put this habit first can make the rest of your week feel more manageable, just like a sharpened saw will cut down the tree faster. It’s about consistently doing the work ahead of time to reap the benefits later.

This sort of investment falls in the category of tasks that are important, but not urgent. Not attending to renewal and wellness in a given day won’t ruin anything — and might even mean we get 15 or 30 minutes back. But if we continually put off self-improvement and wellness for later, we may find ourselves suffering the consequences at the worst times in our lives.

Working on yourself and planning out your week is important, but not ever urgent — until it is.


Building a habit to develop integrated wellness encourages us to find balance in our busy lives. We must take time to seek renewal because we know the painful alternative: burnout.

Dr. Covey explains that “sharpening the saw” with intentional care for every aspect of our lives can lead to an upward spiral. The more we see our lives changing with intentional habits, the more we commit to them and seek more improvement. The cycle continues upward and we slowly get to a point where our efforts are less about finding a way to heal a broken part of our lives and more about maintaining a level of wholeness.

Attending to our overall well-being is the most important thing we can do to improve ourselves. Developing this habit affects everything else. It’s a long-term investment that will transform our personal and professional lives.


This post is part 7 in a series on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Read about the other habits here:

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