Take Care of the Big Rocks First

As the calendar turns over to January, everyone looks ahead and either writes down or thinks about all the items they would like to accomplish in the new year. Whatever is on your list, regardless of your geographic location, job function or socio-economic position, there’s one invaluable resource we all possess in exactly the same amount...Time.

Which can be illustrated with this old story about a college professor’s demonstration for her incoming freshman class.  

The professor walked into the class carrying a cardboard box, which she set on the table in front of the room.  Without addressing the class, she pulled a large glass jar out of the box and set it on the table. She then reached into the box, and pulled out several golf-ball sized rocks and added them to the jar one by one. The sounds of the rocks clinking against the sides of the jar filled the room, and the curiosity of the students rose, as they sat up to see what she was doing. After adding about a dozen rocks, she pushed the jar toward the front of the table and addressed the class.

“Is the jar full?” he asked the students.  

“Yes” came the response from several students.

The professor pulled the jar back toward herself, reached into the box, remove a gray bag, and started pouring smaller stones into the jar.  The smaller stones tumbled into the spaces between the larger rocks, until they leveled off near the top.

“Is the jar full now?” she again asked the class.

“Yes” was the louder and more enthusiastic reply from the room.

The professor removed a brown bag from the box and started pouring sand into the jar, which worked its way in between the big rocks and smaller stones, until it too leveled off near the top.

She repeated her question, “Is the jar full now?”  

“Yes” came the unanimous response from the students.

The classroom roared with laughter when the professor pulled out a bottle of beer, opened it and poured it into the jar. The foamy liquid filled the air pockets between the rocks, stones and grains of sand, up to the rim of the jar.

One last time she asked the class, “Is the jar full now?”

“YES!” the students replied in unison.

The professor then explained the purpose of the demonstration. “The jar represents time. It can’t grow or shrink, and if I gave you each a similar jar, they would all have the same capacity. The rocks represent the major priorities, your family, your health, passions. The stones represent important priorities, such as your car, your home, your job. The sand represents the requirements of daily living and everything else. And the order in which each was added to the jar related to its relative importance. If the sand or the gravel was put in first, there wouldn’t have been room for all of the big rocks, so make sure you allocate time to the most important priorities first.”

One brave student raised his hand and asked, “Excuse me professor, but what does the beer represent?”

Raising the mostly empty bottle to the class in a toast, she replied, “No matter how packed your agenda may seem, you always have time for a drink with friends!”

Twelve months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, or as the famous song from Rent tells us, 525,600 minutes, make up a year. Time cannot be stopped, managed, stretched or saved. It can only be used effectively, or lost forever.

So as you look ahead to your aspirations for 2017, professional goals such as getting a certification, upgrading iMIS, or embarking on another major project, or personal goals like getting in better shape, saving for college or a vacation, or writing the next best selling novel, remember to chunk the goal down into major and minor priority tasks, and take care of the big rocks first.