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  • Writer's pictureJacob Curtis

How to Get Off the Struggle Bus

Suppose you are out in the forest and come across someone working feverishly to cut down a tree with a saw.

"You look exhausted," you say. "How long have you been at it?"

"Over five hours," they reply in between their heavy breathing.

"Why don't you take a break and, while taking a break, sharpen your saw so that it goes faster?" you inquire.

"I don't have time for that," they reply emphatically. "I'm too busy cutting this tree down."

The last and seventh habit of Stephen Covey's highly effective people is: Sharpen the saw. The guiding principle is that by proactively renewing yourself, you maintain your ability to practice the first six habits effectively and get off the struggle bus.

My name is Jacob Curtis. I co-own Utah Valley Quilting and founded Curtis Accounting Solutions, where we help quilt shops piece together financial freedom by doing the bookkeeping, payroll, and taxes and by providing sound business advice.

Sharpening the saw is about preserving and enhancing what Stephen Covey calls your production capacity or ability to produce. It's about wisely exercising the four dimensions of your nature to be most effective.

This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life--investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have to deal with life and contribute. We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to be proactive and recognize the importance of regularly taking time to sharpen the saw in four areas: physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.

First Area

The first area is physical. We need to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get adequate sleep and relaxation. This is an example of putting first things first and doing the important, but not urgent, things now so they don't become urgent later.

We often say we don't have time to exercise. But what a distorted viewpoint. Research shows that walking just 30 minutes daily positively impacts our health for decades.

If you haven't been exercising, your body will undoubtedly protest this change in its comfortable downhill direction. You won't like it at first. You may even hate it. But be proactive. Do it anyway. Even if it's raining outside when you're scheduled for a walk, do it anyway. Say to yourself, "Oh good! It's raining! Now, I get to develop my willpower and body."

Remember, this isn't a quick fix; you're dealing with an important, non-urgent activity that will bring phenomenal long-term results. The most significant benefit you will experience from exercising will be the development of your Habit 1 muscle of proactivity.

Area 2

The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, and your commitment to your value system. It's a very private area of your life and a supremely important one. It draws upon the sources that inspire and uplift you and tie you to the timeless truths of all humanity. And people do it very, very differently.

When you can leave the noise and discord of daily life and give yourself up to the harmony and rhythm of correct principles, you come back renewed. The great reformer Martin Luther is quoted as saying, "I have so much to do today. I'll need to spend another hour on my knees." To him, prayer was not a mechanical duty but rather a source of power in releasing and multiplying his energies.

David McKay taught that "The greatest battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of our soul." If you win the battles there and settle the internal conflict, you will feel a sense of peace and know what you're about. You will find yourself thinking cooperatively, promoting the welfare and good of others, and being genuinely happy for others' success.

Area 3

Most of our mental development and study discipline comes through formal education. But as soon as we leave the discipline of school, many of us let our minds atrophy. We don't do any more serious reading, explore new subjects in depth outside our action fields, think analytically, or write in any way that tests our abilities to express ourselves in distilled, clear, and concise language. Instead, we watch TV for thirty-five to forty-five hours a week.

We need to manage ourselves effectively to maximize the use of any resource in accomplishing our goals. Education, continually honing and expanding the mind, is vital in mental renewal. Stephen Covey says, and I agree, "There's no better way to inform and expand your mind on a regular basis than to get into the habit of reading good literature. You can get into the best minds that are now or that have ever been in the world." Remember, the person who doesn't read is no better off than the person who can't.

Other great activities include keeping a journal and organizing and planning your daily activities and vacations.

In terms of value and results, nothing is more worthwhile than investing in yourself an hour a day; than sharpening the saw for an hour daily.

The physical, spiritual, and mental dimensions are closely related to the first three habits: Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, and Put First Things First. These dimensions focus on the principles of personal vision, leadership, and management.

Area 4

The social and emotional dimension focuses on the later three habits: Think Win/Win; Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood; and Synergize. This dimension is centered on the principles of interpersonal leadership, emphatic communication, and creative cooperation.

Our social and emotional dimensions are tied together because our emotional life is primarily, but not exclusively, developed out of and manifested in our relationships with others.

Renewing our social/emotional dimension does not take time in the same sense that renewing the other dimensions do. We can do it in our everyday interactions with other people. But it definitely requires practice. We may have to push ourselves because many of us have not achieved the level and skill necessary for these habits to come naturally to us in all our interactions.

Success in Habits 4, 5, and 6 is not primarily a matter of intellect; it's primarily a matter of emotion. It's highly related to our sense of personal security.

Where does this personal or intrinsic security come from? It does not come from what others think of us. It does not come from our circumstances or position. It comes from within.

It comes from accurate paradigms and correct principles deep in our own mind and heart. It comes from inside-out congruence, from living a life of integrity in which our daily habits reflect our deepest values. Living a life of integrity is the most fundamental source of personal worth.

Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way.

How to apply this to business

These dimensions also apply to businesses. The physical dimension is expressed in terms of economic terms. The mental dimension deals with recognizing, developing, and using talent. The social/emotional dimension has to do with human relations, with how people are treated. And the spiritual dimension deals with finding meaning through purpose, contribution, and organizational integrity.

A business suffers when these dimensions are not balanced. We can't effectively thrive without making money, but that's an insufficient reason for organizational existence. We can't live without eating, but we don't live to eat.

Organizational and individual effectiveness requires the development and renewal of all four dimensions in a wise and balanced way. Any neglected dimension will create resistance that pushes against efficacy and growth.

Renewal is the principle and the process that empowers us to move on an upward spiral of growth and change, of continuous improvement.

To make meaningful and consistent progress along that spiral, we need to consider one other aspect of renewal as it applies to the unique human endowment that directs this upward movement--our conscience. In the words of Madame de Stael, "The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it: but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it."

Conscience is the endowment that senses our congruence or disparity with correct principles and lifts us towards them--when it's in shape.

Just like an athlete must practice and eat healthy to perform at peak performance. We need to practice living in unity with correct principles. It requires regular feasting on inspiring literature, thinking noble thoughts, and listening to its voice.

Just like junk food and lazy practice hurt athletes' abilities, so will obscene and crude living distort and stunt our growth.

There is no shortcut to developing these habits and getting off the struggle bus. The law of harvest governs; we reap what we sow--no more, no less. The law of justice is immutable, and the closer we align ourselves with correct principles, the better our judgment will be about how the world operates and our viewpoints' accuracy.

This week, commit to one specific activity for each of the four dimensions to sharpen your saw. Do them, then report back to me on how it went. You can send me an email at

Thank you for reading I look forward to hearing from you.

And remember to follow me at Curtis Accounting Solutions on FB, IG, Pin, and YT.


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