Sharpen your axe — Take time for yourself if you want to be productive

Ion Padilla
Published in
4 min readMay 28, 2020


Do you know this feeling? You wake up, have breakfast, get in front of your laptop and get completely paralyzed. You have tons of ideas to work on, an agenda full of meetings and to-do items, but you just cannot seem to concentrate and get your work done. You might think that a break or a walk could help you regain focus, but it wouldn’t be right since your tasks are not finished.

This probably sounds familiar to you, especially during the COVID-19 crisis: The pressure to stay productive at all cost, even in situations when you do not feel like you are getting any work done. Your work is left unfinished or lacking quality, and you start doubting yourself: What is wrong with me? Did I lose my grit?

Let me tell you a story:

The tale of the Lumberjack

A village in the middle of the country side is looking for a lumberjack to cut down a forest near by. In order to do the work on time, they hire the most experienced lumberjack in the region.

The very next day, our lumberjack goes to the forest, takes out her beautiful shiny axe and starts cutting down trees. The first day she cuts 50 trees and the villagers are amazed by her capability. Right after finishing her work, she went to bed. The next day she has breakfast and starts working, she manages to cut 50 trees. The villagers are really impressed and believe she will definitely finish the job the same week!

On the third day, she wakes up and goes back to work. This time, she feels her capabilities are not at 100%, but she manages to cut 40 trees. The villagers are still very impressed. On the fourth day, she goes back to work and only manages to cut 30 trees down. On the fifth day, she only cuts 20, and 10 on the sixth day. By the end of the week all the villagers doubt if she will be able to finish the job. What is happening? She was doing a great job at the beginning…

She was so focused cutting down trees fearlessly, she forgot to sit down, breathe, relax and sharpen her axe.

Credits to Malte Wingen

In the startup world, this feeling is ever-present. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of things you need to take care of and worry about, and sometimes this feeling of paralysis can take you over by surprise. Running a startup is a challenge: You need to be ready for everything and you need to move fast. This environment fosters a mindset that you are not allowed to stop for a second and that you always need to be productive- otherwise you are missing opportunities.

With time I learnt that the contrary is true: Pushing your limits will make you produce mediocre results and lose opportunities, because people will realize that you lack focus.

So, how can I sharpen my axe?

Everybody is different, so you will not find any miraculous solution that will free your mind and recharge your energy in seconds. Nonetheless, I want to present to you the activities that help most people. If they do not work for you, don’t get discouraged and keep trying new things!

- Exercise

Go for a run, walk your dog, get together with a friend for a match, go swimming. Whatever works for you. Choose a sport you like, create some endorphins and make sure your short-term work troubles disappear while you are on it.

- Get your hands dirty

2020 is a strange year and every single media post out there is enforcing us to move our efforts to a digital space at all costs. However, I find that “getting your hands dirty” with some manual work helps you free your mind from your day-to-day life. Cooking, doing some bricolage, gardening, painting, etc. You will feel accomplished by building and finishing manual work, and it will help you to return full of energy.

- Spend some time with family and friends

It looks quite an obvious one, but sometimes we forget about the basics. Spending time with family and friends helps you disconnect and think about other topics, shifting your focus from your professional to your personal life. In the end, the small things in life bring the most joy. Trust the people close to you to help you stay healthy and happy!


If you feel your axe is not working, stop cutting trees! You are wasting your time and energy, and putting yourself at risk of delivering low-quality work. It should not feel like failure to take some time to yourself. Relax, rest, do something you enjoy to recharge, and get back to work with full energy and productivity. Forget about the productivity propaganda and remember to take care of yourself to reach your full potential.



Ion Padilla
Editor for

CEO & Co-Founder @ WeGaw — exCERN, exHewlett-Packard, TEDx Speaker