posted by Jill Henning on June 21, 2024

Sheryl Barden, CEO, Aviation Personnel International on a cruise in the Mediterranean Sea

The phrase “sharpen the axe” reminds us of Abraham Lincoln’s famous words: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first six hours sharpening my axe.” This bit of wisdom highlights the importance of preparation and taking time to ensure that we’re at our best.

The maxim applies to nearly everyone in business aviation, where the necessities of planning and preparation are critical and ever-present. Under normal circumstances, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working nonstop. But just like the lumberjack who takes time to sharpen his axe, we need to schedule in enough time to take breaks to rejuvenate ourselves. Doing so isn’t just a nice idea; it’s essential for our mental and physical well-being.

In fact, I’m writing this having just returned from two full weeks off, traveling out of the country. Thankfully, I’m able to take a much-needed break because our company culture and values are set up to allow each of us to fully disconnect. While I was away from the office, I didn’t deal with a single work issue. It can be done, and I want to encourage each of you to take time to sharpen your axe.

A Reset to “Sharpen the Axe”

Taking time off provides us with a chance to reset our day-to-day patterns. It helps us step back from the intense focus on our work and allows us the perspective to examine aspects of our industry more broadly. Whether it’s attending an in-person conference, participating in a virtual webinar, or simply taking a fishing trip with friends, the act of disconnecting from our daily responsibilities is crucial. These moments away from the everyday hustle give us the space for new insights and ideas that we might not have considered otherwise.

But time off from the usual grind needs to be qualified. For example, when you’re on a vacation with other adults, your ability to truly relax and reset is different than it is when vacationing with your family.

A family beach vacation, while it’s often wonderful, usually means that you’re still “on the clock,” watching the kids, planning meals, and applying sunscreen, among myriad other things. It’s a different kind of work, and it doesn’t always provide us with the mental break we need. On the other hand, spending downtime with peers in any number of non-work-related activities allows us to truly unhook and unwind. This kind of break is vital for our mental health, giving us the space to step back from our daily duties and gain a fresh perspective.

It’s no revelation that mental health is a significant issue in our industry, and being able to put day-to-day responsibilities temporarily on the shelf is essential. When we don’t take time to recharge, our performance inevitably suffers. It’s like the lumberjack who cuts fewer trees each day because he doesn’t take the time to sharpen his axe. We need to recognize the signs of degraded performance and understand the importance of stepping back to rejuvenate.

Avoid Burnout

One of the best times to unwind is when you’re between jobs. Unfortunately, we don’t often have the luxury of taking leisure time under those circumstances. If you find yourself having to transition between roles without a break, it’s essential to develop strategies to manage this period effectively. It’s all about shuttering one set of responsibilities and opening yourself up to new ones without burning out in the process.

Returning to the axe metaphor, Simon Sinek beautifully illustrates the story of the two lumberjacks in this enlightening video. He talks about two lumberjacks who begin chopping wood at the same time every day. One of them disappears for an hour in the middle of the day, yet he consistently chops more wood than the other.

Curious, the hardworking lumberjack asks his colleague how he manages to be so efficient despite taking a daily break. His response is simple: “I go home and sharpen my axe.” This story resonates deeply with me, emphasizing the value of taking breaks to maintain efficiency and productivity.

To sum it up, taking breaks and disconnecting from our daily tasks isn’t just beneficial; it’s absolutely necessary for our sustained success in aviation. It enables us to return to our work with renewed energy, sharper focus, and improved efficiency. So, let’s embrace the power of disconnecting and make time to sharpen our axes regularly. The results will speak for themselves.

View the original article on Aviation International News.

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