How Sharp is Your Saw? Taking the time to focus on activities that are important, but not urgent.

In Stephen Covey’s legendary book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Habit #7 is “Sharpen the Saw”. This phrase comes from the idea that if you are trying to bring down a very large tree, over time the saw will gradually lose its sharp edge. If you continue sawing, your job will be more difficult, take more time, and the end result will be less than optimal. Habit #7 says that if you are in this situation, you are much better off to stop and take the time to sharpen the saw.

This story applies to virtually any undertaking that we pursue, whether it’s at our job, on the golf course, in the classroom or in your personal relationships. Sometimes you must take a moment, step out of your normal routine, and be intentional about improving the skills and systems that are needed to succeed in the task at hand.

Although most people understand this concept, and believe it is key to any successful endeavor, the vast majority of us fail to take the time necessary to do this work. We always can come up with excuses, you know the ones. “I’m too busy”. “It’s good enough for now”. “We’ll get to that after the holiday”.

That being said, if there is one (kind of) silver lining to the COVID-19 crisis, it would be that it has given many of us a little time during our workday that was previously not available. Even if your day still feels busy, you do have more hours available for work due to no commuting, fewer distractions, fewer idle conversations, and other changes related to working from home. Depending on the source, studies have shown that working from home can save 5-15 hours per week!

So, the question is, how can you use this time to help your practice for the long-term?

Now is the time to “Sharpen the Saw”.

Let’s say working from home has added 5 available hours to your work week. If you give half of that time back to your family, that leaves 2 ½ hours per week to “Sharpen the Saw”.

The next question is, what needs sharpening?

In “The 7 Habits”, Habit #3 is “Put First Things First”. For this habit, Mr. Covey created a model with 4 quadrants you can use to help make sure you are allotting your time in a way that will help you be more effective.

The model categorizes daily activities on two axes, Important/Not Important and Urgent/Not Urgent. As you can see below, Quadrant #1 includes activities that are urgent, but not important. Quadrant #2 is made up of activities that are important, but not urgent. Quadrant #3 consists of activities that are urgent, but not important. Quadrant #4 is where the “time-wasters” reside that are not urgent and not important. The idea is that the more time you can spend in Quadrant #2, the less time you will spend in the others, especially Quadrant #1.

“Sharpening the Saw” falls squarely in Quadrant #2.

Now, looking at this model, we need to identify the activities that are important, but not urgent to your firm’s success.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Schedule a monthly call with the management team dedicated to discussing “Big Picture” issues.
  • Analyze your Marketing and Business Development strategy. How much are you spending? What mediums and methods are you using? Are your efforts achieving the desired results?
  • Discuss growth strategy. Should you consider hiring a few associates? Are there lateral hires that make sense? Are there merger opportunities that would complement your current practice and enable you to offer additional services to the clients of both firms?
  • Analyze and add/upgrade the technology solutions that are necessary for effectiveness and efficiency. If you do not already have cloud-based practice and matter management solutions, you are missing the value that these solutions deliver for your firm and your clients.
  • Discuss transition plans. When do the partners plan on retiring? What are the processes you need to have in place to ensure the long-term success of the partnership?
  • Business Development Training. Learning to communicate your value to prospective clients, and having a good system to follow, are critical to the growth of your practice.
  • If there are any changes or improvements that need to be made to your office space, now is a great time.
  • Analyze vendors and consider other options.

This list could go on and on and should reflect your firm’s goals. Bottom line: Now is the time to turn more of your focus to activities that you know must be done, but you never seem to have the time to address.

We have no idea how long this crisis is going to last. Make it a priority today to identify some areas that you can focus on for 1-2 hours per week that will help you grow your firm and enable you to spend more time in Quadrant #2.

If you would like to discuss how Legato can help you define your Quadrant #2 activities and implement some of the ideas discussed in this article, please email us at or call (800) 863-5272. Also, if you would like to receive our blog posts directly in your inbox, please subscribe below.