Time Management: Big Rocks & Beer

Stephen Covey once told a story about when he attended a session conducted by another teacher. The person apparently performed a little demonstration in front of the class.

He took a wide mouthed jar and some rocks from beneath the desk and then proceeded to fill the jar with the rocks until he could no longer fit any more rocks in the jar. He then asked the class, “is the jar full?”

“Yes” came the reply.

He smiled and then took from beneath the desk another bag of shingle. He put some of the shingle into the jar and shook it. The shingle fell into the holes between the rocks and he repeated the process a number of times until the shingle reached all the way to the top of the jar. Again he asked, “is the jar full?”

But this time, the audience was smarter.

“No!” was the united response.

“Very good” he said, now taking a jar of water from beneath the desk. He then proceeded to fill the jar with water, right up to the brim.

“OK, so what’s the point?” he asked.

One person began to say there would always be little chunks of time that you could fit small tasks into as you get on with your day and, whilst that is a valid point, it was not the one that the teacher was trying to make.

“The point is” he said in response, “that if you don’t put the big rocks in there first, you will not be able to get them in at all.”

He went on to explain that the big rocks are the activities that related to accomplishing your most important goals and those are the activities that tend to get squeezed out of your schedule by the ton of minutia that is going to come your way. Many people fail to accomplish their goals for this very reason i.e. they fail to put the big rocks in first.

So remember this little lesson when it comes to the scheduling of your own time. You do have goals don’t you? If you are going to achieve significant success, you need them – see here. You have got those goals broken down into the activities you need to perform to achieve them haven’t you? Those activities are the big rocks.

Each day, make sure you get your most important tasks (big rocks) done first, before an endless deluge of tiny, inconsequential activities come your way and rob you of the time.

Postscript: There is a version of this story doing the rounds on the internet in which instead of the teacher pouring in the water, a student pours in a pint of beer. The morale being: no matter how busy you are, there is always time for beer.

Personally, I think both stories make a valid point.

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