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I was driving home from work the other day listening to the brilliant The Success Habit podcast by Robert Herdman. This episode finished with a short story about a wood-cutter, which really resonated with me, and I suspect will do the same with anyone who works in marketing.

Once upon a time there was a very strong wood-cutter who got a great job from a timber merchant. His boss gave him an axe and showed him where he was to work.

The first day he cut down 18 trees. His boss was extremely impressed and said, “Well done. Keep it up. You are our best wood-cutter yet.” Motivated by his boss’s words, the wood-cutter tried even harder the next day, but he only cut down 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder but only cut down 10 trees.

Day after day the wood-cutter cut down fewer and fewer trees. His boss came to him and told him that if he did not chop down more trees each day he would lose his job. The wood-cutter needed the job, so he tried harder and harder. He worked during his lunch breaks but could not cut down enough trees.

Eventually his boss told him he was fired. He sadly handed his axe back. The boss took one look at the axe and asked, “When was the last time you sharpened your axe?

“Sharpen my axe? I have never sharpened my axe. I have been too busy trying to cut down enough trees.”

Moral of the story: Don’t get so busy that you don’t take time to sharpen your axe.

This short story certainly opened my mind.

It’s is so easy to get comfortable in your day-to-day and focus on deadlines or the next project.

I know we’re not all wood-cutters, and our marketing axes won’t necessarily blunt or the work we produce degrade, but without sharpening them how will things ever improve?

Don’t get so busy that you cannot train yourself in additional areas or attend courses.

If the opportunity comes up make sure that you go to that conference or out of work event.

Take a look at processes you follow and see what could be done better. Dedicate some time to reading blogs (tell your friends about this one) or articles by your peers and see what you can learn.

Here are a few examples I use:

These are all ways of sharpening your axe and enable you to face your day-to-day challenges the best you possibly can.

The next stage is simple, go sharpen your axe. Download that podcast or signup to the online course you’ve been thinking about and see the difference it makes the next time you cut down a tree.