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NEWS | Feb. 23, 2011

Always look to improve

By Capt. Randy Johnson Naval Air Facility Washington commanding officer

February is the middle of winter here in the Nation's Capital, normally marked with cold and cloudy days. The Midshipmen at the Naval Academy in Annapolis call February and March the "Dark Ages" as they look forward to Spring break. My theme for this month is "sustaining excellence". The performance of NAF/NOSC Washington over the last few months has certainly been excellent by all measures. Some recent examples are our best in the forces processing rate of security clearances, average DTS processing rates under 14 days and flu vaccine completion percentage above 95%. Seventy eight of our 119 Reserve Units have an overall readiness of over 85% as measured on our monthly report card at the end of January. How do we as a team continue to not just maintain this excellence, but improve as we go forward?

Here are some ideas:

Habit #7, in Steve Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" is called 'Sharpen the Saw'. From Covey's recently blog, he uses the common analogy of a woodcutter who is sawing for several straight days and is becoming less and less productive. The process of cutting dulls the blade. So, the solution is to periodically sharpen the saw.

In practice, however, most people fail to understand what 'sharpening the saw' really means. If you're overworking yourself and your productivity begins to fall off, common wisdom says to take a break or maybe go on a vacation. However, that isn't 'sharpening the saw' - that's just putting the saw down. When you put down a dull blade for a while, the blade will still be dull when you pick it up again.

Sharpening the saw is actually an activity, just as the analogy suggests. Think about what it would mean to 'sharpen the saw' of life. Here are some saw-sharpening ideas:

· Exercise
· Improve your diet
· Educate yourself (read, listen to audio programs, attend a seminar)
· Learn a new skill
· Meditate
· Have a deep conversation with someone
· Set some new goals or review/update your old goals
· Organize your home or office
· Clear out a bunch of little tasks that you've been putting off

Now the woodcutter can't just alternate between cutting wood and sharpening the saw indefinitely. Downtime is needed too, but it isn't the same as sharpening the saw. The woodcutter can become even more productive by sharpening the blade, studying new woodcutting techniques, working out to become stronger and learning from other woodcutters.

Forgetting to intentionally sharpen the saw can lead to a feeling of burnout. If you merely alternate between productive work and downtime, your production capacity will drop off. You're still working hard, but you don't feel as productive as you think you should be. When you sharpen yourself regularly, you'll find that you can flow along at a steady pace week after week without getting burned out.

How are your various blades doing? Your skills, your knowledge, your mind, your physical body, your relationships, your motivation, your commitment, your capacity for enjoyment, your emotions - are all of them still sharp? If not, which ones are dull and what can you do to sharpen them?

Thank you for your service and your daily sacrifices!