Sharpen your Life


image by Kim Malmberg

[Special Announcement: The leadership Mandate audiobook is in production and it will be ready in the next 4-6 weeks. I’m going through and Ben Cummins is narrating my book. Stay tuned for the release and special offers.]

It was an especially busy two years of my life. When I was working on my Bachelors of Human Development I was also had a full time job, was newly married, and volunteered 15-20 hours a week as a youth leader at my church.

The first part of this season was difficult because I was focusing more on outward actions while overlooking the responsibility of first leading myself. What started to happen was I began to be ineffective in all areas of my life. I was “burning the candle on both ends” and was on the verge of burning out.

It was the advice of my wife and a mentor who really helped me. They wisely informed me that I needed to cut back on some areas of my life so I could devote my attention to the most important areas of responsibility. Even though I enjoyed volunteering I had to cut back on the amount of hours I sent on that activity. It allowed me to better sharpen and lead my own life.

Effective leaders first take care of themselves. I’ve learned a person will be unsuccessful at leading if they fail to lead and manage themselves well. The person in the mirror should be the first and most important person you ever lead. If you want to take care of yourself you must “sharpen your saw.” In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Affiliate link) Stephen Covey shared a story that shows the importance of sharpening yourself:

“Suppose you came upon someone in the woods working to saw down a tree. They are exhausted from working for hours. You suggest they take a break to sharpen the saw. They might reply, ” I don’t have time to sharpen the saw, I’m busy sawing!”

Three areas every leader must consistently sharpen include your body, mind, and spirit. Let’s discuss each of those areas:


We should be good steward of the one and only body we have. Two key components to keeping your body share include regular exercise and choosing healthy eating options. In my friend Kimanzi Constable’s post Exercise And Your Dream he provides several benefits to exercising. Including:

  • “It gives you more energy.”
  • “It teaches you focus.”
  • “You’ll live a longer life.”
  • “You will especially need it with your dream.”

Take time to sharpen your body this week.


When a person stops sharpening their mind they will soon become ineffective. To sharpen your mind I suggest: getting out of your comfort zone on a regular basis, engaging in new experiences that are outside of your normal routine, and daily engage in personal growth and development. A sharpened mind allows you to stay sharp as a leader.

Spirit- defines spirit as “the principle of conscious life; the vital principle in humans, animating the body or mediating between body and soul.” Every human has a soul that needs to be taken care of and nourished. The main way to sharpen your spirit is through God or spending time concentrating on your religious beliefs. Spending time praying, reading spiritual growth material, meditation, attending religious services or events will all feed your spirit (soul).

Question: How do lead yourself well and sharpen your saw?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Zechariah Newman

    Great post Dan. The moment I say I don’t have time for those things you listed is the moment I know I am going in the wrong direction. We need to come from a place of being full. We pour out of a full cup not an empty cup. Keep up the good work:)

    • Dan Black

      So true my friend. It’s something we all need to remember. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  • Lincoln Parks

    Awesome news on the audio book Dan. Can’t wait to pop it in my car while I’m driving. Well I am not good in this area and you laid out some things that I need to really change ASAP. Leading myself is difficult because I tend to not focus for too long. However, I know things need to get done. I will sharpen my body this week. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Dan Black

      I’m excited, thank you for encouraging me to do it:)

      I think anyone would see better results if they first focus on themselves. It’s amazing how much more productive and effective we are when we sharpen our self. Thank you for taking the time to read and add to the discussion.

  • kimanzi constable

    A lot of times we just have too much going on, stepping back and focusing really does give us clarity. Glad you got some good advice brother :)

    • Dan Black

      Great advice! I totally agree.

  • floyd

    Good one, Dan. I like to study God’s word and write to help sharpen my saw. A good reminder that we all need to.

    • Dan Black

      AMEN! Thank you for reading and sharing.

  • Derek McCullough

    Love it, Dan!
    I challenge myself physically through running, lifting, and calisthenics to keep myself on edge. Mentally, I’m always reading, writing, drawing, painting, you name it. Spiritually, I try to help as many people as I can. To me that creates fulfillment unmatched with no other reward.

    • Dan Black

      Hello Derek,

      That’s great! It sounds like your staying sharp in all of those areas. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I hope to hear from you again.

  • Caleb

    In the area of “body” I try to walk daily with my wife. We usually are able to walk about 5-7km each day. It’s not only a time for us to keep our bodies fit but also for us to stay in tune with each other.

    • DS

      Long walks with the wife are a great way to stay connected. When my wife and I first began our friendship it was long walks and talks that created our foundation.

      • Caleb

        Don’t give up on those walks David! They’re great for keeping your marriage strong!

        • DS

          Totally agree – we joke that it’s our own “national pastime”.

    • Dan Black

      That’s great! Walking with your spouse has so many benefits.

  • Paul Sohn

    Keep up the awesome work Dan. I sharpen the saw by focusing on the Word of God which is the foundation of my life.

    • Dan Black

      Thank you Paul:) That’s a great way yo stay sharp.

  • Kari Scare

    Not doing these things led to my crash and burn 5 years ago, so I can attest to the importance of doing them. One thing I learned was to learn to say “no” to good in order to be able to say “yes” to better and best. This speaks to prioritizing. I simply had to let some good things go in order to be able to do the better and best with excellence. We simply must learn to “sharpen the saw.” And, it’s better to do it on our own terms rather than to be forced to do it when our bodies and/or life situations force us to do so.

    • Dan Black

      Great point about saying “no.” It’s something we have to be willing to say. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

  • DS

    Being honest and learning to say I’m sorry are ways that help keep me humble which impact both my mind and spirit. Enjoyed the personal touch of this post – good job Dan!

    • Dan Black

      Those are some good qualities to have. Thank you for taking the time to read and add your thoughts.

  • Bernard Haynes

    I learned to say no. I found myself in the same situation as you because I was doing too many things. I say yes to things that I value most and is in lined with my vision. Following this as taking a load off. Dan, good work.

    • Dan Black

      That’s great, saying no allows us to say yes to the best options. Thank you for adding your thoughts.

  • Kent Julian

    Love, love, love this! 7 Habits is the most impactful book I read in my 20s (besides the Bible). Positively shaped my life BIG-TIME. Love reading how it’s impacted your leadership. Excellent.

    BTW…you might like this video. Fits very well with this blog. It’s called Stop Sharpening Your Pencil.

    • Dan Black

      It’s an amazing book! Thank you for sharing the video:) Great point about “sharpening the pencil” to much instead of taking action. I totally agree!

      • Kent Julian

        You’re welcome.

        And yikes, I didn’t realize the link actually “posted” the video. Feel free to take it down. Was just sharing the link.

        • Dan Black

          I’m fine with it being up:) Maybe more people would watch it.

          • Kent Julian


            • Dan Black


    • Jimmy Burgess

      Great illustration Kent. Thanks for sharing.

      • Kent Julian

        My pleasure, Jimmy. Fun video to make :)

  • Ngina Otiende

    This is a great post Dan! (i love personal stories! lol) . I don’t always lead myself well or sharpen my saw as I ought ..cos yeah, i’m so busy leading others and cutting trees! : )
    I haven’t perfected the balance yet but one of the big ways l learn to lead myself better and sharpen the saw, is through spending time with God. Great post.

    • Dan Black

      Amen, spending time with God really will sharpen our life. It’s something all leaders must do. Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion.

  • Ludvig Sunström

    Haha as soon as I saw theheadline & image, I KNEW it was going to be about Covey!

    Covey was a great guy. I’ve listened to 7 Habits quite a lot as an audio book. The most important one for me, because it has been the most challenging, has been to “get the big stones in first”. To focus on the quadrant 1 activities.

    • Dan Black

      Ha, I think most readers thought that:)

      That’s an important habit to master. It’s something I struggle with at times. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

  • Steve

    This is such a great story:

    “Suppose you came upon someone in the woods working to saw down a
    tree. They are exhausted from working for hours. You suggest they take a
    break to sharpen the saw. They might reply, ” I don’t have time to
    sharpen the saw, I’m busy sawing!”

    So true. You have to take care of the fundamentals if you want to get anything done. Actually, I’ve been working on that lately too. Sleep has become a priority for me. I want to get it better and deeper so I’m more energized when I wake up. And wow, it has made a difference in every area of my life.

    • Dan Black

      Hello Steve,

      It’s a powerful example. That’s great! Those little things can really allow us to have more energy and be more productive. Thank you for sharing.

  • Elyssa

    This is so great. Those of us who tend to be always on the go have a nice handy little stack of excuses for not slowing down…but the truth of it is, we need to work at resting and recharging just like we work at everything else! I know my mind is so much sharper when I change up my routine or give myself an uninterrupted meditation time in the morning. It reminds me of what someone once told me, “When I need to speed up, I slow down.” I’ve heard we can be twice as productive when we make sharpening our mind, body, and spirit a priority. Great, reminder, Dan!

    • Dan Black

      Hello Elyssa,

      Great thoughts in your comment! We think we have no time to rest or recharge but if we do we are usually more productive and effective. Thank you for adding to the discussion.