I know some of you blog readers are busy people thinking you need more breathing room and boundaries in your life. Others of you blog readers are too idle, with gaping, vacant time on your hands. Either way, I think a proper sense of both balance and of reflecting better the infinite, can help. We can all do more than we do. Certainly it is better to be assiduous than merely busy, or purposeful than apathetic by default.
Speaking with some of you recently reminded me of Stephen Covey’s seventh habit in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. For the last eleven years that book has been listed in the footer of this website as one of my favorite books. To say that book changed my life is a huge understatement. Because of that book, I closed my own structural engineering firm, and started in the full time public practice of Christian Science instead. If you haven’t read that book, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Anyway, that seventh habit is about sharpening one’s saw. Imagine two wood cutters. One works, and works, and works, cutting down trees. The other one works a while, sharpens his saw, and works a while more. Which one cuts down more trees (let alone is more refreshed)? Yup, the guy who stops to sharpen his saw.
Now Covey would say that everyone should have seven roles in their life, which could evolve or change depending on what season of life you are living in. My seven roles are very different now, for example, than they were when I had three young children at home that I was homeschooling, while simultaneously working. The one caveat is that everyone’s seventh role should be what he calls “sharpening the saw,” but even that could look different for everyone.
Covey would say that whoever you are, whether you are a CEO or an entrepreneur, a factory worker or a school teacher, a housewife or a retiree, you need to figure out what your seven roles are, and plan each week for a way to move each role forward. Likewise, it is amazing how far you can get reading one chapter at a time. Just keep bring it all onward.
It is natural to have three or four of your seven categories be work related, and it helps to realize this, chunking down your responsibilities into separate roles. Give a thought to what really constitutes for you having your “saw” sharp; this fills another category. That leaves you a few other roles to fill outside of “work” that bring in the balance.
Being self-employed, I know I am far from typical, but this is what it looks like for me right now:
- Christian Science Practitioner: Prayer, spiritual study, client interaction, invoicing.
- Art: Creating art, photo editing, updating art websites, exhibitions, presentations, teaching workshops, artist residencies, materials purchasing, applications for shows, delivering paintings to shows, show openings, promotion, sales.
- Words: writing (books, articles, poetry, blog), professional development reading, website maintenance, email.
- Cooking, Home, and Exercise (Facilities management): Groceries, meal prep, housework, de-cluttering, gym.
- Marriage & Family: prioritizing my relationships with my inner circle
- Social: friends, church, book groups, ladies nights out, clergy meetings, local community groups, social media, virtual community
- Sharpen Saw: time in nature, fiction, Netflix, movies, morning pages, journaling, Quarry time, artist dates, travel, goal setting, planning.
I am particularly blessed and centered because some key things I do regularly for my work, like prayer, spiritual study, and creating artwork feel to me more like sharpening my saw than actual work. This is an ideal situation.
You’ll see that many of your categories may be more like groupings, including more than one thing. Also, it is clear from the way I divided my life above, that it could be divided in many other ways. A different person may have cooking, home, and exercise all in different categories, like cooking in creative things to learn, home in with gardening and laundry, or whatever. I know a lot of people that put exercise in their sharpening the saw category, which I also considered. Then, since I feel I need to emphasize exercise as an imperative, I considered putting exercise in its own category, and lumping “cooking and home” instead with “marriage and family.” What I settled on felt like a happy medium between the two, seeing in my metaphysical way that taking care of home and body are analogous things. Similarly, plunking marriage and family in “social” de-prioritized them in a way I did not want, and giving them their own category insures they get the time in my week that they deserve.
Also notice church and interfaith meetings went under social instead of under my professional practice time, even though tangentially they are part of that effort. However, by grouping them in “social” I don’t see them as pulling time away from what is more important to me in my spiritual work, nor do I burden them with needing to prove their worth beyond good human interaction. I’m getting my profound connections with God and making my spiritual impact elsewhere, and for me, church and interfaith work do better when unburdened from expectations for those results. Then I’m happier to show up with the right attitude– that I neither need to make something happen (these things are a collective demonstration anyway) nor that it is about what I can gain. For another person, church would naturally be central to their spirituality category, and not, as is the case for me, an occasion to get out and see people. Doing the solitary, cerebral work that I am, church saves me from being a hermit, when no other social activity is going on, and for that I am always grateful.
So jockey around your categories and divide them up in a way that most balances and empowers you. I considered having a category of administration, for example, which takes a lot of my time, but that I do not enjoy. If you have a category you resist, like the topic of exercise above, maybe it needs its own category. Or maybe, like me with admin, it is helpful to bury it in among the things I really want to do (invoicing in the practice, or art biz in the art) instead of having a time scheduled each week to feel like a drudge. Others may want to plan in a “what I don’t want to do but know I must– just get it over and done with” category, so when that’s done, the rest of their week feels like they are flying free. You know how best to overcome your own nonsense, and this process provides you a tool to mitigate it.
The more you work this, you’ll see that it is an attitudinal construct and a mind game, as much as a planning tool. I look at my list, and feel both free and excited, wanting to actually do it. Work your list until your life falls into some kind of proportion that is healthy, soul supporting, and energizing, one that makes you want to spring out of bed each morning and seize the day.
If, when you map out your own seven roles, work is more than four of them, some re-juggling is necessary for balance in your life. Contrariwise, if you don’t have enough going on to feel you can fill all seven roles, I encourage you to expand your thought to include more good. What can you dedicate yourself to learning, what way can you be of service to others, what else can you do to be a blessing?
I have also found it helpful when planning my week with my seven roles in mind, to use a different color pen for each one, when blocking out time. This helps me see right away when a category isn’t getting enough play. Then you can reshuffle to give that lagging one more room. There may not be equal play for each one every week, but each should move forward in some way every week, even if not equally. This is how I finished reading a book when I was mounting my current one woman show, for example. This is also how I stay balanced overall, even while doing a lot.
So whatever your roles are, map out your week to move each one a little further along. Giving each role an opportunity to be at least somewhat fulfilled, when you are NOT expecting yourself to be thinking about any other role, is emancipating. You’ve done your thoughtful work to chunk down and compartmentalize, taking everything into account, so now trust the process. Completely focus on one thing at a time, staying in the present now, knowing there will be a time soon enough to focus on those other things. Balance and refreshment are already built into the system, so there will neither be burn out or overwhelm, idleness or lassitude.
You will feel an enlarged capacity this way, with more of a sense of calm and dominion. You will be clear about what to say yes or no to. You will get the needed margin in your life, because you have planned for it and defended its territory. You will feel that you are on your way to actualizing your own unique purpose in life, which we all so need you to do. You will feel more joy and satisfaction, and I want that for each of you.