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In his business leadership bestseller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey talks about the need to balance productivity and effectiveness in order to maximize potential. The most successful leaders maintain their personal equilibrium, Covey says, by staying sharp through an ongoing process of personal change and improvement. He likens the lifelong journey to “sharpening the saw,” which he says needs to happen across four dimensions: physical, spiritual, mental and social/emotional.

Staying sharp is a disciplined process that takes shape over a period of time. For anyone who wants to develop a plan for self-improvement, increasing motivation and creativity will be critical. Here are some ideas that may help:

  • Rest your mind. Diverting one’s attention from the problems of the day and, especially, work-related problems, invigorates the mind for expanded innovation and problem-solving. A rested mind improves your memory and your mood. A rested mind also empowers self-knowledge for those already skilled in their jobs. Self-knowledge helps us be receptive to talking about other people’s problems, needs and expectations. Improving self-knowledge helps managers learn from their mistakes and deal effectively with criticism and feedback.
  • Manage your time. Leaders skilled in time management use their time effectively and efficiently, which allows them to focus efforts on priorities. They are less likely to be overwhelmed by the wide assortment of challenges and demands in their jobs. Effective time managers can address a broader range of activities and delegate with greater clarity because they recognize a start and stop to discussions, tasks and problems.

On the other hand, managers who are unskilled in time management are disorganized and wasteful of time and other important resources. They tend to drift from problem to problem, leaving co-workers confused about priorities. The resulting inefficiency only seems to grow with time.

  • Pursue work/life balance. In a servant-leadership capacity, balance is sometimes fleeting because we’re always putting the needs of others before our own. Nevertheless, pursuing balance between the professional and the personal is critical to effectiveness in each. This balance is a direct result of taking time to sharpen the saw; it prevents leaders from becoming one-dimensional and fully capable.

Normally one is considered to be out-of-balance when he or she overdoes one at the harmful expense of the other. At one end, workaholics seem to find never-ending demands for working while those lacking balance place greater emphasis on on-the-job fun and activities at the expense of effective professional conduct. A clear signal of being out of whack is the inability to address priorities on either side of the balance point.

Bringing harmony to your four-dimensional needs – physical, spiritual, mental and social/emotional – helps managers be more productive and fulfilled in their lives. Covey says it’s often a matter of working smarter rather than working harder. Here are a handful of activities to consider while sharpening your own saw:

  • Invest time and energy into learning. Learn a new language or how to play a new instrument. It is difficult to worry about problems at work when your mind is at work learning.
  • Read about the lives of great leaders and the challenges they overcame to reach their potential. We’re inspired by the trials and perseverance of others, which have a way of making our challenges a little less daunting.
  • Travel to a new city, region or country. Travel provides a literal and figurative escape that often clears our minds and brings new perspectives to problems and challenges.

Finding balance not only takes time to sharpen our saws, it also takes a plan. We can all learn from one of the great woodcutters in history, Abraham Lincoln, who said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

Henry DeLozier is a principal in the Global Golf Advisors consultancy. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of Audubon International.