SEN Blog

Sharpening the Saw to Greater Self-Discipline

“We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw in all four ways of our nature.”
—Stephen Covey

Busy is the most overused and dreaded word in the kitchen and bath industry. You’re busy because your job involves lots of projects to develop and manage. Not only to maintain productivity but to avoid disaster. There’s so much to do. Lots of details to direct and control that owners count themselves as being responsible for maintaining.

Are you driving your career or trying to keep up with it?

The problem with being busy

In his timeless best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey defines a habit as the intersection of three essential attributes: knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is what to do and the why to do it. Skill is how to do it, and desire is the motivation, the want to do it.

To make something a habit in our lives, we must leverage self-discipline to have all three.

Covey writes: “the most important habit it is number seven—taking the time to sharpen the saw.…because it is the habit that makes all other habits possible, it’s preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you!”

Busy does not equate to being productive—and that’s easier understood than done because time never seems to be on our side. I hear it all the time “we are busy.”

“We are busy,” says to me that a company reacts to stimuli rather than creating them. That makes it highly likely that far more busywork is taking place than an owner would like.

People who are not self-disciplined will react to the stimuli around them rather than focus on the task at hand. So a fundamental change needs to happen to replace bad habits with good ones and get ahead of the curve!

Becoming efficient is a gradual process that begins by adopting new habits

True efficiency doesn’t come from just doing a task well in the desired length of time. Efficiency comes from all working parts making the best possible contribution to the goals at hand. Efficiency is something that a person becomes daily, hourly, and then, in the end—automatically.

A good goal is to become more efficient as an owner, oversee a smoother operating business, and ultimately, spend more time with your family.

Dale Carnegie was an educator specializing in self-improvement, salesmanship, and corporate training who was best remembered for his decades-long best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Carnegie said people need to optimize seven personal requirements to become successful salespeople:

  • Appearance
  • Enthusiasm
  • Confidence
  • Assertiveness
  • Self-discipline
  • Time management
  • Motivation

While Carnegie himself believed time management and motivation are the two most important personal requirements, it’s clear now there’s one personal requirement that could be argued as being central to the other six, and that’s self-discipline.

Self-discipline leads to increased productivity and success

Owners actively seek what’s best for their company, so what’s the problem with self-discipline?

Self-discipline is controlling how we feel to overcome our weaknesses and to do what we believe is right even if we would like not to. This can be difficult to achieve especially for those who are in positions of power. There is no one who is more responsible for holding themselves back from growing their businesses than the owners themselves! Business owners often don’t know what they don’t know, and if they do, they don’t need to answer to anyone but themselves. Quite a problem to have!

An even better question to ask is how do we improve our self-discipline for greater efficiency?

In Covey’s Maturity Continuum, dependence is the paradigm of you

The majority of owners and sales designers in our industry are in a state of independence. This sounds like it’s a good thing for an owner to be. But what if I pointed out something you already may know but don’t realize where it lacks in your life?

We accomplish more and achieve our highest level of functionality with interdependence!

In his iconic book, Covey describes Maturity Continuum as a developmental progression moving from dependence to independence, then ultimately to interdependence.

We recognize the benefit of collaboration in team sports or in strategizing huge marketing launches. Indeed, even in the kitchen and bath industry, an owner values collaboration from team members in producing projects to fit like a glove.

But too many owners set themselves apart from certain crucial aspects of it; such as knowing the true worth of their company.


Interdependence is the maturation of independence—and a far more advanced concept.

It is the paradigm of we; we can do it; we cooperate; we combine our talents to create something greater together.

When you work with a network of interdependent people, you are self-reliant and capable of achieving so much more than you can alone. Interdependent people combine their efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest successes. This principle is precisely what a SEN membership is based upon, as evidenced in our group purchasing power, conference dealer roundtables, and networking events.

A hit since it was first published in 1989, Covey’s book has been used to leverage efficiency in corporate environments for three decades.

Covey’s ideas have been so influential in corporate environments that in 2011, Time listed 7 Habits as one of the 25 most influential business management books of all time. Dale Carnegie’s iconic book is also on the list.

Five ways to strive for greater efficiency

You can exercise greater efficiency by changing your habits in five simple ways. Each suggestion works with the others to help you sharpen your saw.

#1 – Read

  • Select material that can help you improve your business and or your mind
  • Dedicate an hour of your day to reading and do it consistently
  • Don’t just read books; study them!
  • When in doubt of what to read, search in Google for books listed as the best in the field they cover

#2 – Exercise

  • It’s the only way to scientifically offset the pain and other serious health concerns that come with aging
  • Do it vigorously at least one hour per day, six days a week for the rest of your life
  • If you start early enough in your life, you could easily live pain-free to 100 years old or more!

#3 – Write

  • Start with the top 3 things you learned from your reading and sketch a plan to implement them into your business
  • Set 20 uninterrupted minutes a day to write
  • Develop a list of critical success factors that can be eventually carried over to your company’s strategic plan

#4 – Block out two days per month for formal, in-depth training

  • Whether industry-specific or not, choose a course covering a topic that you don’t know much about that can help you grow your business
  • Follow up any training education with spot reading to support it. Research shows that retention exceeds 70% when new material is reviewed and implemented within 48 hours!

#5 – Engage with a business development group

  • Study outside of your expertise
  • Join groups in areas that you are flagging—this is an excellent choice for a leader to make!
  • Don’t let your ego get in the way of your learning—otherwise, you risk not achieving your best

Adopt a new routine and sharpen the saw regularly

“Too busy!” shouldn’t be an excuse anymore. Covey’s teachings are in harmony with the natural laws of growth. They provide an incremental, highly integrated approach to the development of personal and interpersonal effectiveness.

Action leads to motivation. Sharpen your saw by making small changes now to invest in yourself. Little by little, if not all at once, will motivate your self-discipline to become even more fine-tuned. Give yourself a year to see the change. You don’t have to wait until January 1st to begin. Start making the change now!

—Bryan Winemiller