How many of you know the story of The Wood-Cutter? It is an oft-told tale and it contains a meaningful lesson. Here is the story of The Wood-Cutter.
Once upon a time there was a very strong wood-cutter. He asked for a job from a timber merchant and he got it. The pay was very good and so were the work conditions and for that reason the wood-cutter was determined to do his very best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area in the forest where he was to work.
The first day the wood-cutter cut down 18 trees. His boss was extremely impressed and said, “Well done. Keep it up. You are our best wood-cutter yet.” Motivated by his boss’s words, the wood-cutter tried even harder the next day, but he only cut down 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder but only cut down 10 trees.
Day after day the woodcutter cut down fewer and fewer trees. His boss came to him and told him that if he did not chop down more trees each day he would lose his job. The wood-cutter needed the job, so he tried harder and harder. He worked during his lunch breaks and tea breaks, but still he could not cut down enough trees. “I must be losing my strength” the wood-cutter thought to himself. He worked over-time, but still it was not enough.
Eventually his boss came to him and told him he was fired. The wood-cutter was really upset, but he knew that he had worked as hard as he could and just did not have enough time to chop more trees. He sadly handed his axe back.
The boss took one look at the axe and asked, “When was the last time you sharpened your axe?”
“Sharpen my axe?” the wood-cutter replied. “I have never sharpened my axe. I have been too busy trying to cut down enough trees.”
Moral of the story:
Don’t get so busy that you don’t take time to sharpen your axe.
I often feel like The Wood-Cutter at work. Some days, I feel like I work hard but get little done. So the next day, I try to work harder. Yet I feel like I am falling behind, juggling lots of balls, and hoping that the ones that I drop are of low priority. The faster I go, the more behinder I get.
Last week, I attended a class about Managing Multiple Projects. It was interesting and motivating but I didn’t learn anything new. We learned about Covey’s 7 Habits, having a master to-do list, prioritizing, blocking time on calendars. I’ve been working for 39 years so I’ve probably heard it all, seen it all, tried it all. But the class reminded me that it is up to me to make things change, to make it work, to manage my work. Int the past few days, I have learned that starting from an out-of-control place will lead to failure and frustration. So today, I put down the axe and started to gain control. I have a very long to-do list and I’m not finished with it. But at least I feel like I know what I’m dealing with. I know which balls need to be juggled, which can wait, and which have already fallen on the floor. And, to top it off, I feel less stress and frustration.
Now it’s up to me to keep it going, to stay organized, to stay in control. All it takes is a little self-discipline and some time each day to sharpen my axe.