Dedicating yourself to lifelong learning – Sharpening the Saw

Sharpening the Saw – a story by Stephen Covey, The 7 habits of highly effective people: “In the woods, a man is sawing a log. The work is going slowly and the man is exhausted. The more he saws, the less he cuts. A passer-by watches for a while, and suggests that the man should take a break to sharpen the saw. But the man says he can’t stop to sharpen the saw because he is too busy sawing! A dull saw makes work tiresome, tedious and unproductive.”

Whatever industry you work in, the ability to continually learn and improve your performance is now more important than ever. Like the man in the woods, our work and lives can get tiresome if we don’t take time to ‘sharpen our saw’ – that is, our minds and bodies.

Learning something new can re-awaken hopes and dreams within us that we weren’t aware of before and prove transformational to our futures. In addition, the major barrier to learn something new is not usually intellectual; it’s emotional. It is our own fear of the unknown, or our own beliefs in our abilities and of what we can achieve that stops us from continuing to invest in our lifelong development.

With that in mind, here are some steps you can take to ensure that you never stop learning and growing as an individual:

  • Cultivate an enquiring mind; as children, we constantly asked ‘why’ to our family and friends. The desire to learn new things can also come from going back to that state and being curious about life. So keep seeking to understand what inspires and intrigues you!
  • Plan your learning; don’t wait for learning opportunities to land at your feet – think about what you want to learn and search experiences that fulfil those needs. Use all of the tools at your disposal, constant learning is not necessarily about going back to school. Whether it’s the internet, books, audio books, videos or podcasts – seek your own answers and find the best source of knowledge that works for you.
  • Motivate yourself to learn; once you know what you want to dedicate your time to, do this for at least 20 hours – even just one hour over 20 weeks. Experts say that it’s this sort of timed commitment that is the important thing to keep you going. Turn off the TV one night a week and do something that contributes to your life or job in a more rewarding way.
  • Keep stretching your comfort zone; set goals and seek challenges. Think back to a time when you thought you couldn’t do something that you can now – we are usually the only ones stopping ourselves. In order to grow as an individual, you will need to always push yourself, both in your personal and professional life.


You are your choices. It is what you do habitually that makes you who you are, so create a habit of lifelong learning and ‘sharpen your saw’!

By Ana Canabarro, senior operations manager, Mitie Client Services – Follow Ana on Twitter

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