Sharpening the saw

Sharpening the Saw

Stephen Covey used the illustration of sharpening the Saw in his book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” His premise was that it was more valuable to spend time sharpening the saw periodically than trying to chop down the tree with a blunt blade, which would take longer.

As a consultant, it’s common to have gaps between major projects. When this happened at other consulting companies I worked for in the past, I was forced to come into the office the next day despite working 80-hour weeks for months. It was one reason why I tended to burn out at jobs.

Now that I control my time, I find the Sharpening the Saw concept applicable for learning, but I also find it useful for rest and recovery, knowing how hard I work when I have a major project. So, I’ve adopted this approach with my newest business, Roundbox Consulting.

Sharpening the Saw this time:

With this current major project gap, this is how I sharpened my saw.

  • Visited family in the US (which I haven’t been able to see for three years because of Covid).
  • Spent extra time with friends around Australia.
  • Attended an in-person conference and two virtual ones for software vendors.
  • Began an online course with UC Berkley.
  • Hired a new strength coach to help me with my fitness goals.
  • Documented some processes for the podcast to help me eventually delegate more work to others.
  • Finished my marketing plans for the year with a supporting budget.
  • Read many books / listened to podcasts to help my business.
  • Investigated some new software, specifically around notes and research.
  • Prepared for the final closure of The Refoundry so that I can finally focus on Roundbox full time.
  • Created lots and lots of new content to help with SEO.

This list is not exhaustive, but it represents what “Sharpening the Saw” looks like for me personally when I execute it well. I may not always have such long gaps between major projects, but my goal is not to waste that time whenever I do.

What would “Sharpening the Saw” look like for you?

5 year rule

Five year rule

I love this quote below by James Clear that’s aligned with my five year rule.

“Most big, deeply satisfying accomplishments in life take at least five years to achieve. Five years is a long time. It is much slower than most of us would like. If you accept the reality of slow progress, you have every reason to take action today. If you resist the reality of slow progress, five years from now you’ll simply be five years older and still looking for a shortcut.”

Five years has always felt like an eternity for me. I’ve never stayed in a job that long. For a while, I moved to different cities (and often countries) every 2-3 years. And, I haven’t had a business make it to Year 4 (yet!). However, something is changing for me as I get older and wiser.

When I look back at those things that mattered the most, it truly did take years to achieve anything. Most of my closest friendships are at least a decade long. I built my career on top of 6 years of business school education. And I’ve had opportunities to paddle around the world because of many years of training.

At the time, I took those time investments for granted. However, today it’s become clear to me that if you want to start anything new and actually become good at it, you shouldn’t begin unless you’re willing to commit five years. It’s a rule I’ve started incorporated into my life because I know how easily I get distracted by shiny new ideas and opportunities.

With this in mind, I started learning Spanish again, and four years later I’m not yet fluent but getting closer. I started playing guitar during our last Covid lock-down and then realised it would take years to gain the dexterity in my fingers to hit the cords. I didn’t want to commit that time, so I donated my guitar to a charity.

This new rule also relates to my career and business. A few years ago, I would have dropped what I was doing for the next best job opportunity or business idea that came along. Now, I’m very committed to seeing my current consulting practice grow.

And to be clear, quitting something early is not breaking the rule when you know that it’s the right thing to do. The five year rule is more about the decision to start new things. So, if you’re someone like me that’s easily distracted with the next shiny opportunity, consider incorporating this rule into your life and see real achievements emerge.

2020 on the beach

2020 Lessons Learned

It’s already the middle of January, and I just realised that I haven’t documented my 2020 Lessons Learned. In this crazy year, I’ve definitely had just as many personal learnings as professional ones. So, here they are:

  • Good friends are very, very important! This is especially true for someone like me who doesn’t have any family in Australia.
  • If you keep trying, it will always work out – just not the way you had planned. A year ago, I only had a faint idea that I would be starting a hair and bodycare brand to try to reduce plastic amenities in hotels. Covid got in the way, but we’re getting closer. In the meantime, Harvestcare was born for consumers.
  • I never again want to work by directly trading my hours for money. Even when I do consulting work, it will forever be by the fixed price in the future.
  • Products-based businesses are a bit boring at the beginning (at least for me) with the repeated make-sell-make-sell model. I can’t wait until my business has scaled enough to make it more interesting.
  • If you’re willing to build a business slower, it may not be necessary to bring on investors. The benefit is the ability to maintain full control over the brand – something that I think many entrepreneurs undervalue.
  • Start-ups can be expensive! In 19/20 I invested over $50k of my savings into the business. While I’ve made progress, the company is still a long way off from paying me a salary.
  • Energy is the fuel for achieving everything – not time or money. Managing my energy needs must be a priority if I want to reach my big goals.
  • Creating a podcast is a great way to learn quickly and meet important people, but they’re a lot of work. It’s also tough to grow niche topics especially when channels draw geographic boundaries that make it harder for new listeners in other countries to find you.
  • I’m still not great with my hands i.e. making recycled plastic products for example. Yet, it’s amazing what I have been able to achieve despite this.
  • The marketplace will always decide if your product is a winner or loser. No amount of effort or even lack of effort will change this. If the customer wants it, they’ll tell you.
  • It’s better to be moving in some direction than not at all.
  • “What would a guy do?” This is a question I learned to ask myself whenever I’m feeling self-doubt about a decision. This is definitely something that more women should ask.
  • I actually like doing IT strategy work. When I left the industry years ago, I never thought I would go back. Yet doing consulting work, especially for not for profits, feels meaningful and is mentally stimulating. Plus it’s giving me a nice little niche to help pay the bills while building the business.
  • My sanity is dependent on the ability to exercise outdoors. The 2020 bushfires taught me this more than the lockdown.
  • It takes about 2 years of consistent effort to change a personal brand. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it will happen any faster if you already had a known brand.

I’m sure there’s a few more to add to this list, but certainly this was a pivotal year for me. My 2020 Lessons Learned were the result of my personal journey as an entrepreneur, but also the environmental impacts of the bushfires, hailstorm and pandemic.

I’m not sure that many others can say this, but I actually think overall I am personally better off because of what has happened in 2020. And I feel so grateful!

Looking for a mentor in plastics manufacturing

One of the most difficult things about starting something completely new is when you don’t have a coach or mentor. While Google and YouTube has been decent in giving me an understanding of the recycled plastics manufacturing process, it hasn’t been so useful in answering my specific questions – like around pricing.

As much as I’ve asked around for the last few months, I still haven’t found a mentor or coach locally with plastics manufacturing experience. This is partially to do because I live in Canberra, Australia which is the nation’s capital. Here, most people work for or with the local and federal government rather than in industries like manufacturing.

So, I’ve expanded my network to outside of Canberra – first to Brisbane. Next week, I’ll be meeting with the CEO of a social enterprise accelerator who has already invested in circular economy type businesses like mine.

I’m more interested in meeting the other companies than I am in the program itself. It would be amazing to find a peer group of complimentary businesses all trying to do great things for the environment. With that type of network, I know that learning curve will flatten sooner too.

Fingers crossed.

Auxiliary Skills

I’m attending a writing conference this weekend. It may seem like an odd thing to do while I’m trying to build a products manufacturing business. However, I also believe in investing in my personal development even while I’m learning other things (like a new industry) for my career.

Writing happens to be an auxiliary skill, just like public speaking. And these types of skills come in handy in all aspects of life – such as when I write a personal post on social media or MC a good friend’s wedding.

In the last year, I have taken a lot more creative writing classes – forcing me down a path of fiction that I never saw coming. While I may never publish any such works, I believe that these skills have already upped my game as a communicator and storyteller.

Furthermore, the need to really understand a fictional character in order to write about them has helped me become a better observer of body language, tone and often endearing quirks of people. These are all good skills to learn, if nothing more than to be “present” in the moment.

Of course, attending this conference also means that I’m working later than normal most nights this week in order to fit in everything on my To Do list. I don’t mind. If we all waited until we had more time for personal development, we’d never do it. Unfortunately, that’s what most people do.