The Power of Saw Sharpening

When you’re an entrepreneur, there’s never enough time for everything.  One common response is to set up a to-do list, with the highest priority items at the top.  The problem is that this always prioritizes the urgent and important (what Stephen Covey labeled “Quadrant 1”), leaving important but not urgent items to languish.

Covey called focusing on these critical items, “sharpening the saw,” referring to the wisdom of pausing to sharpen your tools, rather than simply sawing away without pause.

It looks like two of the startup world’s great CEOs, Jack Dorsey and Lew Cirne, have figured out this principle:

“For Cirne at New Relic, Monday is for strategic review. On Tuesday, the
whole day is for tactical product review. On Wednesday, Cirne does press
interviews, folllows up with calls and generally catches up. On
Thursday and Friday he codes.

Now with the space and time left open by operations out of his hands, Cirne can code during the week and take breaks to get away to do development. He spent his first week-long coding marathon starting January 1 in Lake Tahoe at his family’s cabin. He did another week in March at the family cabin. A few weeks ago, he invited a few other developers to spend a week in a cabin on Mount Hood. He’ll go to Santa Barbara in the next few weeks for his next retreat.”

Cirne has the luxury of past success (Wily Technology) and an experienced and trusted president to run things on a day to day basis, but any startup entrepreneur can apply the “theme day” approach to time allocation.

Start by simply setting aside one day per week–trust me, unless you’re also running all the technical operations and customer support for your startup singlehanded, you can manage one day per week.

And as you sharpen your saw and improve your productivity, you’ll be able to leverage a positive feedback loop.  The more productive you become, the more time you’ll be able to set aside for strategic pursuits, which in turn will improve your productivity further.

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