Sharpen the Shovel: Spending Time to Save Time

It is snowing heavily again today. It has been snowing for five days now. Over the past five days we have seen more snow, less snow, shoveled snow, piled-up snow. How much more snow can we take?!? Well, we can keep taking it as long as Mother Nature keeps dishing it out. And it looks like she will be serving it up to us on platters the size of Those Jack found in the giant's castle when he scaled the the Beanstalk and didnt a "break and the enter", for a few more days to come ( http: // ).

Let's not talk about snow. Let's talk about taking time to "sharpen the shovel" instead. Stephen Covey, the author of all the "Habit" books (I use only this word because he now has out "The 8th Habit". "The Seven Habits of … books" is insufficient) always talks about "sharpening the saw" . My interpretation or understanding of this is basically taking the time to hone your abilities to a "razor edge finish" so that you are more productive in the goals you want to accomplish. This means not panicking nor rushing to get the job done.

Like sawing through a tree with a blade that becomes dull, you just waste time and energy if you rush through your tasks and try to get them done as quickly as possible. Instead, if you take the time to put the teeth back on the blade, you can cut through the tree in less time, and with less energy while letting the saw do its job.

Like shoveling through a huge pile of snow, if you try to push the heavy stuff in big piles, try to rush through it, you only succeed in snapping the shovel like I did ([ /ph/camswitzer/detail?.dir=6034&.dnm=80cf.jpg&.src=ph]). We had to buy a new shovel.

Spend time to save time.

On a production line in business, here in Japan, managers of excellent companies take into consideration the "total running cost" of the system. This may mean that by spending a little more money or time here and there, in the long run they can decrease overall time (= money) and expenses. I have noted that this is not often done in the USA or Europe because "cost right now" is the only thing the managers see. In China, labour seems to be so cheap that nobody cares about "total running cost" because the human element is almost free (this will change as quality-of-product and quality-of-life increases in China).

Not to be waxing philosophically, here is a good real-life example for you to consider:

There is a very special tiny screw that I sell to manufacturers; it is designed in such a way that one simple screw cuts off an amazing amount of processes and time in the product's production line. Even though the screw costs about 4X the amount of a standard screw ($ 0.08 as opposed to $ 0.02) the labor costs are dramatically reduced. The managers that spend time to consider this and not just look at the "bottom line" are the true winners. They are the ones that save the company true costs by knowing when to spend a little more to save a lot more. Take the time to think about how better to do the activities you need to accomplish. It also means spending the time to learn about what you want to do, educate yourself, do due diligence, clear your mind of other things so that you can focus, develop other good habits to assist you in your ventures and so forth.

(Here I take a break in writing to help my wife get out to work by cleaning the path, shoveling out her can and pushing the snow off so she can drive away)

Let me get back to my "sharpen the shovel" theme if I may.

This morning I was out shoveling snow (again) into the street for the front end loader to push away. I do this every morning. I do it every few hours to be more precise. I even shovel the snow down to the concrete in the street in front of my house to reduce the load. By taking the time to do this, the amount of snow that piles up is dramatically reduced so that when the loader pushes the street snow away the boulders left behind blocking the parking area are much smaller than those heaped up in front of all the neighbor's homes . When they get home from work they have one giant backbreaking chore to take care of.

The man running the front end loader this morning seemed in a hurry. He sped through the narrow street pushing snow. When he was done I looked down and noted that the road had not been cleanly cleared, but that there was a lot of rutted snow, hard packed left over. Also, the amount of snow boulders piled up at each driveway was quite substantial. He did his job, moved the snow and moved on to the next street. The other three days a different driver took more time, went more slowly and cleared the snow much more professionally. After he had been through three times the concrete was visible, the ruts were gone, the street was wider than that which one-pass only would offer and the hard-packed snow chunks in front of people's entries were dramatically less.

He took the time to do the job slowly, efficiently and effectively. He "sharpened the shovel". In so doing, he dramatically reduced the work for everyone in the street when they came home in the evening from a long drive through the snowstorm.

The snow on the roof is near 2m now (over six feet). It is very heavy due to the warm temperatures we have (just above 0C / 32F). I have a lot of work to do today but I know that if I do not take the time to "sharpen the shovel", get up on the roof and push the snow off today the house could be damaged from the weight.

In life and business, like in winter, things (like snow) pile up. If you do not take the time to "sharpen the shovel" you could get snowed under, or worse, your entire surroundings could come crashing down upon you.

Taking the time to set your priorities, to do the right things, to do things right, is essential in life. And what is business if not one aspect of life itself?

When you have finished reading this article, take a break. Go outside and breathe in the fresh air. Look around. Enjoy life. It will clear your head and you can come back and focus even better on your work at hand.

Sharpen the Shovel

Cam Switzer

Kamishii-mura, Japan 2005/12/16

PS No matter whether it is business, or household, or family, or friendship never forget to say "thank you" to people that are doing a job which somehow affects you. Even if it is "atarimae" or expected of them, a simple heartfelt "you did a great job. Thank you" goes a very long way. In a company everyone has duties. They perform them. If you want them to excel beyond what they would do naturally take the time to tell them that you appreciate their work. It may seem strange to them at first because that is the reason they were hired, and the company is paying them to do the job. But by doing that extra little thing like showing appreciation for a job well-done, you are helping them to "sharpen their shovel". This will go a very long way. It also applies to family, especially family. Tell your husband, wife, kids that they did a fantastic job shoveling off the driveway, or cooking dinner, or putting their toys away, or doing the laundry, or even walking the dog. Everyone deserves praise. Everyone deserves a "sharp shovel".

I thanked the drivers of the front-end loader this morning by reaching up and giving them two cans of hot coffee. I did not tell you this earlier, but they came back later for a second run at my street and helped me clean the boulders out of the entry to the parking pad. It works.