Have You Sharpened Your Pencil Today?

Do something today that your future self will thank you for

Have You Sharpened Your Pencil Today?

Reflections and continuous learnings help to work through limitations, enables generation of new ideas that will lead to success. It is often common for us to be so engrossed in our tasks that we do not spend enough time to pause, reflect and reframe our approach. The question that arises is “has the pencil become blunt?”

This topic draws from the analogy of sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln said. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” There are many variations of the story of sharpening the axe and let me recount one of these….

A wood cutter was looking for a job and a timber merchant offered him a job to cut trees. The pay was good and the woodcutter was determined to do his best. The timber merchant gave him an axe and showed him an area in the forest where he was supposed to cut trees. The first day the woodcutter cut down 18 trees and his boss was extremely happy and very impressed and said that he was by far the best in terms of productivity. The wood cutter was motivated by these words and tried even harder the next few days. However his productivity started dropping. The woodcutter was puzzled as to why his productivity was dropping despite spending the same number of hours every day. He then went on to spend extra hours but realised that his output still did not improve, rather it made him more tired.

The wood cutter approached the timber merchant to explain the drop in his output. The merchant looked at the axe and asked him a question , “when was the last time you sharpened your axe?” The wood cutter replied that he had been busy cutting trees and never had the time to sharpen his axe. There lies the reason for the dropping productivity. The wood cutter never looked to keep his axe sharp.

Let us use this analogy in the executive world and replace the axe with a pencil. The more one writes with it, the more it gets blunter and the quality of writing comes down. It has to be periodically sharpened. When sharpening, the old skin peels away making the tip sharper.  In the corporate world, one often feels a sense of being overwhelmed and encounters limitations to proceed. It is here that the pencil needs to be sharpened. Sometimes there has to be unlearning to learn something new. The feeling of being “stuck” can be undone through this process of realising one’s limited beliefs and reframing the challenges. It is important to suspend the inner voice of judgement that often sows doubt in the mind. Reframing the challenges in the “stuck situation” through sharpening the ideas leads to discovering new paths to succeed. The sharpening of the pencil leads to uncovering new insights and ideas.

Conversations often help and this is where a coach’s role becomes important. The coach can be visualised as a sharpener. The effort of sharpening is done by the individual, the sharpener only supports this activity, helping uncover new insights. The coach can partner the client on this journey of  reflective practice and self-discovery to help identify new perspectives to chart the route to success.  Constant upgradation of skills, pausing to reframe and looking at alternate approaches leads to success.

One must always make sure to keep sharpening their pencil for the journey ahead.

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