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Sharpening the saw

Balancing pressing business with maintenance, and assessing the big picture, can make you more productive

August 26, 2015  By Colleen Cross

It’s so easy to deal with the fires, isn’t it? And by easy I mean not easy but straightforward.

As each pressing issue comes up, you swing into action. As each new job appears, you make hay while the sun shines by eagerly taking it on.

Ontario Ground Water Association president Darren Juneau reminded us how important it is to balance new and pressing business with regular maintenance. In his spring newsletter address, Juneau said the board had worked on items that impact the organization and members and not enough on the organization itself. “All of our energy goes into dealing and negotiating with organizations like Ontario College of Trades, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and Electrical Safety Association on items that have a direct impact on our members. Of equal importance is the work being done on our by-laws to be compliant with new regulations…” Questions like “How do we deal with complaints?” and “Where are we headed?” often are neglected in favour of more pressing issues, Juneau said, comparing the situation to his own shop’s decision to prioritize maintenance and pass up on jobs so the company’s rigs could get fixed properly in the shop.


We all need to perform those everyday tasks, and in the drilling business that means everything from the mundane (tuning up rigs, reviewing safety procedures, backing up computer files) to the motivating (asking for employee feedback, organizing social events).

Stephen Covey’s self-help book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People identifies a principle he calls “sharpening the saw” that encompasses this important, supportive work.

The phrase alludes to the example of a person who’s been trying to saw down a tree for five hours and is getting nowhere. When asked why he doesn’t stop sawing, sharpen his saw, then go back to sawing, he says he doesn’t have time to stop and sharpen his saw because he’s too busy sawing.

The author’s formula for physical, social, emotional, mental and spiritual self-renewal and a balanced life is a program for personal growth. But it translates well to the workplace.

The process is intended to keep you fresh so you can increase your capacity – and your business’s capacity – to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the business may become stagnant and weak.

There are two broad ways to sharpen your saw, or drill bit: be consistent in your everyday operations and take time to look at the big picture. This last idea of recharging, which lends itself to the slower season, helps us avoid mental and physical burnout and also pushes us to answer one of Juneau’s questions: “Where are we going?”

This stirs up other, more specific, questions: How much do you want to grow your business and how fast? What kind of business do you want to be? How do you want customers to describe you? How do you want employees to describe you?

Pinning down answers can have unexpected benefits. It can help you attract talented and forward-thinking employees: the good ones. These days the good ones are looking for employers who have a long-term plan, keep up with new technology and see themselves as part of a larger picture of industry sustainability. They value employers who take steps to ensure their employees’ well-being such as prioritizing safety, and helping them hone technical and “soft” skills. These elements raise morale, lead to good word of mouth and bring employees to your doorstep.

However you choose to do it, sharpening your saw and helping others sharpen theirs is good for everyone and good for business.

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