Coaching Moment – Sharpen the Axe

Yesterday I was in a career planning meeting with a developer, who complained she didn’t have enough free time to learn all the stuff she needed to learn to move forward. She had too many meetings during the week, and too many too many tasks assigned to her on her project team. Even worse, the tasks she was getting that they all were the same ‘kind’ of tasks. She said “I’m not getting better. I’m stuck. <<Another developer on her team>> has already started working on <<a new technology>>, and I don’t have time to even look at it.”

That comment was an absolute heart-breaker for me.

I despise being stagnant. I am also distinctly competitive. That feeling of being stuck on a team and watching everyone else do bigger and newer things is one I have a lot of empathy for.

One of the telling moments of our conversation was how this particular developer was filling her time. In her mind, work hours meant she was working on her project, full stop. She had forty hours a week planned towards project work, and even basic administrative stuff like email, meetings, was designed to fit in to that time.


A long time ago, I heard this quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, and I’d spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Lincoln, maybe? I have no idea…

“We have tons of training options. What are you doing to train yourself?”

She mentioned a Pluralsight course she had started in her off-hours, but not finished. I told her I wanted her to add learning time to her week, and I wanted a bi-weekly status report on what she had done. She asked about fitting in her project work.

“Sharpening the axe IS project work, when the project is chopping down a tree.”


As someone in technology, maintaining a continual pattern of learning and training is a personal responsibility. Google made themselves well known with their advent of ‘20% time for personal projects’. Having never been a Googler, I couldn’t tell you if that’s true, but I do know staying up on the developments in the industry is crucial for personal fulfillment and job growth.

Take the time, and sharpen your axe.

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