How are You Staying Sharp, Focused, and Productive?Jack Zenger’s latest Forbes column brings to mind the ancient woodcutter’s fable. A strong young pioneer is energetically chopping down trees with his broad axe to clear farming land. His productivity amazes and surpasses everyone else. As his axe dulls from heavy use his production drops while his frustration rises. A veteran community member working alongside him advises that if he stops to sharpen his axe his production will increase. “That will slow me down,” he replies between heavy breaths.” I don’t have time to sharpen my axe. I am too busy chopping trees.”

Most managers quickly recognize how foolish that thinking is. Production managers know that regular maintenance is critical to keep equipment running at optimum levels. Yet, like the young woodcutter, too many leaders get caught up in the busyness trap and don’t continually sharpen their leadership skills.

In Throw Your Old Plan Away: 6 New Ways To Build Leadership Development Into Your Job Jack provides these steps to stay sharp and productive:

1. Learn new information.
2. Build new relationships.
3. Organize colleagues who share a common interest.
4. Take time to plan and review your day.
5. Create feedback mechanisms for yourself.
6. Restructure your job.

Today’s frenetic pace has trapped and stressed out far too many leaders. We need to step back to step ahead and to increase our effectiveness. An outstanding body of research was reported in Harvard Business Review a few years ago on this critical problem (see The “Acceleration Trap: Frantic Busyness and Priority Overload is Overwhelming Way Too Many Teams and Organizations“). A few readers added their insightful perspectives and advice in “Reader Reflections on Frantic Busyness, Priority Overload, and The Acceleration Trap“.

We need to slow down in order to speed up (see “Another Study on Slowing Down to Speed Up” for supporting research). As I cited Attention Deficit Disorder expert, Edward Hallowell, in “Reclaim Your Time, Reclaim Your Life“, “you can feel like a tin can surrounded by a hundred powerful magnets” pulling you in all directions at once.

Multi-tasking is like that young woodsman trying to swing a dull axe in each hand at two different trees at the same time. How are you staying sharp, focused, and productive?