On the opposite side of hard (and smart) work, there are two important concepts you have to follow in life for a long-term success. The first one is called “sharpening the saw”. The idea of sharpening the saw was developed by Steven Covey and it simply means that you shouldn’t only work hard, but also regularly take care of your physical wellness, emotional health, competences and sense of mission. The second important concept is putting the saw down, which means resting enough and that also includes taking the time completely away from all electronic devices.
Sharpening the saw
Let's first say a few words about sharpening the saw. Below are some general minimums connected to sharpening the saw that you should follow each day in order to stay efficient, strong and successfully cope with life challenges.
- Body: Exercise at least 3 times per week for one hour, eat some seasonal fruit every day, eat veggies with every single meal, drink 1 liter of water daily, and minimize your sugar and junk food intake.
- Emotions: You need strong and loving relationships with your (1) family – with as many members as possible, since in most cases, it’s very difficult to get along with all of them, (2) spouse, and (3) a few close friends in your private and business life. These are the three pillars of strong personal relationships and sound emotional health. You also have to make sure you wipe out all cognitive distortions and develop an outlook on life that’s as positive as possible. You should have zero tolerance towards negative thoughts. Zero.
- Intellect: You should read something positive and motivational every day. You should read at least one book per month. You should devote at least two days per month to updating your professional knowledge and analyzing all industry novelties, trends etc. Going to a few seminars or conferences per year also makes sense.
- Soul: Every day, before going to sleep and when waking up, you should think about everything you’re grateful for and why you’re proud of yourself. You should review your life mission at least once a month, reminding yourself why you’re here and how you can contribute to the world the most. You should also donate some of your time or money every month.
Putting down the saw
The second important concept is putting down the saw. You’re a human being not a robot, so only sawing and sharpening the saw, which is also a kind of work, doesn’t lead to bigger long-term productivity. When you push yourself over a certain level of hard work, your efficiency and good mood start to suffer. You start making mistakes, it’s much harder to keep priorities in check, your level of tolerance drops, and so on.
Being a workaholic is an emotional issue, not something to admire and be proud of. I haven’t seen any truly successful person who’s extremely tired all the time, totally burned-out and doesn’t take care of themselves first. So let’s look at some general guidelines for putting the saw down in order to keep long-term productivity and happiness in check:
- Take one day per week totally off
- Take one extended weekend (4 days) completely off every quarter
- Go on vacation for a whole week (8 – 9 days) at least two times per year
An important part of putting down the saw is to really do zero work. That means doing nothing connected to your job and doing no other intense work for your body, emotions, mind or soul. Of course you can go hiking or surfing, which means you’re also taking care of your body, of course you can read fiction, which means you’re also training your mind, you can definitely spend quality time with the people you love, which also means you’re building deep and loving connections, and so on. But the main idea of putting down the saw is zero pressure and zero stress.
However, the “contemporary saw” has one big problem. It’s always with you, no matter if you are working, if you are spending time outside of the office or if you are taking time for pleasure. It’s connected to the internet and it can always interrupt you. Your sawing equipment (all the electronic devices you work with) has become a very capable machine that can either dramatically increase your productivity or, if you don’t manage it properly, stifle it; and you don’t want the latter to happen.
Really turning off and putting down your saw
Your saw (mobile phone, tablet, notebook, desktop PC) is like a slot machine in the casino: the most addictive invention ever. With a simple drag or by pressing the refresh button, you have access to an endless feed of news, entertainment, social connections, mail, work and other information. You basically always take your office (work) with you no matter where you go (except maybe into the pool). And work isn’t the only thing you have with you all the time. Instead, there’s also all the various “social pressures”, which put stress on you if you’re enjoying life more than your acquaintances who are posting selfies on social networks.
So many times you may think you put down the saw, but in reality you did not. Being on vacation and obsessively checking your e-mail, news feeds and social networks doesn’t really mean putting down your saw.
It only means putting down the saw, picking it up, checking the display, putting it down, picking it up, checking the display again, putting it down, picking it up, and so on endlessly throughout the day.
Doing that is the worst possible option, because you’re neither really working nor completely resting. You may recharge your batteries slightly, but not nearly as much as you could if you were resting completely. I’m very aware that jobs are becoming more and more demanding and require you to be available at least on email, even when you’re on vacation, but if you want to stay at the peak of your productivity in the long term, there must be periods when you completely disconnect; and you can easily explain that to your boss, clients, coworkers or anyone else.
I call it “technology detox”. Too much of anything, even good things, becomes toxic. You can even poison yourself and die from drinking too much water. Well, for that to happen, you’d have to drink a huge amount of water in a really short period of time, but you get the point.
An average person checks their smart phone a few hundred times a day. A few hundred times. Doing that continuously day by day, week by week, month by month and even year by year of course leaves negative consequences.
You can find many studies that clearly show that if you don’t manage technology, but instead technology manages you (meaning you have zero discipline about when and how much you use technology), then sooner or later, you may start suffering from an inability to focus, concentrate, and prioritize important tasks. You can also damage your eyesight, your posture gets worse, you lose the connection with your inner self, and so on.
Therefore it’s extremely important that you regularly take the time off and completely away from your digital devices. No smart phones, no notebooks, no netbooks, no tablets, no desktop computers, no smart watches and no TV. The only device allowed is an e-book reader like Kindle, but only for reading books, not for browsing the internet or anything like that.
Here are my minimums for technology detox, when I turn off all devices that need electricity:
- One day every two weeks (two days per month, basically)
- One weekend every quarter
- One or two whole weeks during the summer vacation
Going off the grid isn’t easy, but after a day or two, something magical happens.
- You really become completely relaxed,
- you get more alert to your surroundings (nature, environment …),
- you notice what’s happening around you much better (actions, reactions, connections),
- you can pay a lot more attention to the people you meet, but the best thing by far is that
- you start feeling much more connected to yourself.
- You can think better,
- you can enjoy life by being more present in the moment,
- you stop worrying about other people and
- you can really feel your batteries being recharged.
Try it and you’ll be surprised how much good the technology detox can do for you.
Technology is like fire, you can cook a meal with it or you can get burned. If you manage technology and not vice versa, then it’s the best tool and leverage to work, connect, create and have fun. But if you become too addicted and don’t know how to set limits, you can quickly become a slave to technology and to everyone sending you e-mails and poking you on social networks – you start following their agenda. At that point, you stop living your own life and start wasting precious seconds on thousands of people who are competing for a moment of your attention.