This book review blog post features affiliate links – the small percentage granted to The Self Leadership for purchases made through these links supports the work The SLI is doing to empower more self leaders in the world and only products/suppliers that align with the founding principles of The SLI would ever be promoted.

As you start the year, you may well have dedicated time to planning your goals and maybe even developing a vision board (see the blog for how to make a vision board). This is a great way to ensure that you reach your aspirations and use your time well. However, many of us can forget the importance of actually PLANNING breaks and time for learning into our lives. Read on to find out why these are essential and ideas to build into your week.


In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wraps up with the final habit ‘Sharpen the Saw’ (or at least he did until releasing ‘The Eighth Habit’). The basic premise of the habit is that we all need time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate if we are to perform well at anything. This is beautifully illustrated in his story of the woodcutter:

Once upon a time, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job in a timber merchant and he got it. The pay was really good and so was the work condition. For those reasons, the woodcutter was determined to do his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he supposed to work.

 The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees.

“Congratulations,” the boss said. “Go on that way!”

 Very motivated by the boss words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could only bring 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but he could only bring 10 trees. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees.

 “I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought. He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on.

“When was the last time you sharpened your axe?” the boss asked.

“Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been very busy trying to cut trees…”

Some later versions of this analogy go even further to compare the lives of two woodcutters – one of whom works flat out all day in order to maximise productivity and the other who stops to take comfort breaks and to sharpen his tools before carrying on. The woodcutter who never stops performs worse and is even a little burned out for his exertions whilst the one who took time to ‘sharpen the saw’ continues to perform well in a sustainable way.


The analogy of the woodcutter leads us to think about two different but important aspects of self care:


There are many different models of balance which can give us ideas about the various domains of life which require rest – some will have as few as four aspects (physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual) whilst others can be broader. Models with more areas empower you to assess your life in a wider way to identify where rest may benefit you. The definition of rest can be broad too – sometimes meaning avoiding that activity in order to have a break and at other times rest means engaging in that activity in a comfortable and refreshing way.

Physical rest

Mental rest

Emotional rest

Social rest

Spiritual rest

Intellectual rest

Sensory rest


There are three approaches to resting:

  1. Denial – either denying that you need to rest or knowing you need to rest but denying yourself the time. This will lead to burnout or other problems as stress piles up.
  2. Reactive – when you feel tired in one of the areas, you allocate some time to rest in order to get back to a normal or acceptable level. This helps to treat the symptoms.
  3. Proactive – being self-aware means that you know which areas of rest you require to be happy and healthy and you plan them into your schedule regularly so that you avoid getting tired in the first place.

If you want to become a proactive rester here are some thoughtful questions:

Working through these questions should help you to formulate a personalised action plan which will help you to proactively build rest into your day. It is important that you review your plan to see if it is working for you and if you want to make any amendments.


Taking a rest from cutting will only do so much if you continue to use a blunt axe on the trees. Once you have a good routine of proactive rest, you can add in the additional layer of learning and development.

Sharpening the saw can happen in the same broad areas of your life:

In order to learn and grow you may want to consider these reflective questions:

Investing in your learning and development ultimately means that you will be able to ‘work smarter’ instead of harder.

The Self Leadership Initiative is passionate about helping individuals and teams to reach their potential. If you want support in building rest into your life then get in touch today.