The classic Stephen Covey story goes like this:

In the middle of a seminar on time management, recalls Covey in his book First Things First, the lecturer said, “Okay, it’s time for a quiz.” Reaching under the table, he pulled out a wide-mouthed gallon jar and set it on the table next to a platter covered with fist-sized rocks. “How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked the audience.

After the students made their guesses, the seminar leader said, “Okay, let’s find out.” He put one rock in the jar, then another, then another–until no more rocks would fit. Then he asked, “Is the jar full?”

Everybody could see that not one more of the rocks would fit, so they said, “Yes.”

“Not so fast,” he cautioned. From under the table he lifted out a bucket of gravel, dumped it in the jar, and shook it. The gravel slid into all the little spaces left by the big rocks. Grinning, the seminar leader asked once more, “Is the jar full?”

A little wiser by now, the students responded, “Probably not.”

“Good,” the teacher said. Then he reached under the table to bring up a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar. While the students watched, the sand filled in the little spaces left by the rocks and gravel. Once more he looked at the class and said, “Now, is the jar full?”

“No,” everyone shouted back.

“Good!” said the seminar leader, who then grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it into the jar. He got something like a quart of water into that jar before he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the jar is now full. Can anybody tell me the lesson you can learn from this? What’s my point?”

An eager participant spoke up: “Well, there are gaps in your schedule. And if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”

“No,” the leader said. “That’s not the point. The point is this: if I hadn’t put those big rocks in first, I would never have gotten them in.”

This is a great story about prioritizing and focusing first on what is most important to you. So, what are your big rocks? How do you decide what takes precedence when you have a lot of competing priorities?

Decide how you want to be remembered. It may sound morbid, but think about your funeral. Friends, colleagues and family pay tribute to you by delivering a eulogy. What do you want them to say? What aspects of your life do you want to be commemorated? Family ties, career accomplishments, community service, or something different? This exercise focuses you to turn away from everyday concerns to a more long-term legacy view. John Maxwell recommends you juggle your top priorities as if they were glass balls that would break if you let them drop. 

Focus strategically. Zoom out from the day-to-day. Look for those things that you are uniquely qualified to do that will add long term value for your family, team, organization or other entity that matters.  You don’t need to get stuck on the hamster wheel of “doing” if you step back and take time for “planning.”

Journal your dreams. Find a repository for notes about the projects/ideas/dreams you want to accomplish, but don’t find time to address. This could be a small notebook, a note on your phone or any other tech/non-tech solution that works for you. As you think, “Awww, I didn’t have time to X,” make a note of it. This will identify the hopes and aspirations that are excellent rock fodder.

Be goal-oriented. Big rocks aren’t activities. They’re destinations or future states – your compelling, specific vision you intend to create. Big rocks are “Be a gourmet chef” or “Write a prize-winning book.” Big rocks are not, “Cook more” or “Write once a week.” If you’re not jazzed about the destination, you’ll never be able to ignore the siren call of urgent emails or even cute cat videos on social media. So make sure that your big rock is one you really, really want to achieve. Then boost performance by regularly visualizing the future you want to create.

Once you know your priorities, you will face the question, “How do I achieve them?” That’s the subject of another blog. Free bonus tip on priorities: Not everything is a priority. Your list should be pretty small. Just like glass jars, people have a limited capacity for rocks of any size.

Want to accomplish the (right) big things – or have a no-fail strategy for focusing on top priorities? Comment below or message us.

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