Abraham Lincoln and the First Four Hours Sharpening Your Axe

When asked what he would do if he had only six hours to chop down a tree, President Lincoln replied, “I would spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.”

There is a lot to unpack here, but two things specifically are worth looking at. First is the condition of the asset being deployed against the objective. Second, and equally important, there is power in preparation when it comes to producing results.

People are horrified when I tell them that I wake up at 4:30 AM. There are two reasons they find the idea horrifying. One is the fact that they wake up much later than that, and so to them it sounds early. The other reason it startles them is the fact that they believe I stay up as late as they do. I don’t. I am in bed by 9:00 PM and asleep by 9:30 PM, barring some extraordinary circumstances. That’s because I need seven hours of sleep to have the energy I need to do all I do in a single day.

The condition of the asset you deploy against your goals, your objectives, your mission, and your purpose is a critical constraint. If that asset is run down, unhealthy, tired, and emotionally drained, it isn’t going to generate those results. Truth be told, the asset is all you’ve really got, but it’s enough if you take care of it, and if you keep it sharp.

There is also something to be said for preparation. If you spend time deciding what your work is, when you are going to do it, and preparing to do that work, that time is returned to you in insane productivity when you start working. This preparation removes the obstacle of having to do the work of deciding what work you are going to do, and that prevents you from falling into reactive mode.

The time you spend sharpening your axe increases the amount of wood you can chop and the speed at which you can do so.

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