Anyway, back to the rocks. First I'll tell you the story behind it, then I'll tell you how you can start your own rock collection. Don't worry. It's not about the big rocks, it's about time management — balancing your life, achieving inner peace, and all other things we try desperately to do but are sure that we're failing at miserably.
Years ago, I had a teacher give a brilliant demonstration. From that moment on, I thought this teacher was God (that is, until I opened the book First Things First by Steven Covey and read the same story). So although I now know my teacher didn't invent it, and I'm still unclear who did, the story bears repeating.
One day, an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget. As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers, he said, "O.K., time for a quiz."
Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. He produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?"
Everyone in the class said, "Yes."
Then he said, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?"
By this time the class was onto him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" He replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?"
"No!" The class shouted. Once again he said, "Good!"
Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?" One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!"
"No," the speaker replied, "that's not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."
O.K., all you "Supermoms" who sped through that story because you've heard it before — go back right now and reread it. Is it sinking in yet? The Big Rocks? How many of us put the sand in first?
I'll admit, when I first saw this, although I was properly awed, I couldn't really relate to it. I wasn't married, didn't have kids, didn't even have a mortgage payment. Fast forward a few years into careers and husbands, run headfirst into motherhood while still doing all the other things, and BAM! I get it!
Maybe you get it, too. Maybe you've already done this in your life and are super-organized with your priorities straight as arrows. But for most of us, our priorities shift if not day-to-day, then week to week. We create list after list trying to keep it all straight. It took a day at the park with my toddler to make this story click for me.
My son loves all things dirty, of course, and this particular trip to the park he found nirvana in a huge pile of rocks. He kept bringing me rocks, one after the other, saying, "Rock for mommy!" As our collection grew, I started thinking about the rock story, and thinking about my life. I decided right then and there to create my own rock collection.
We picked out a lot of nice, big rocks and brought them home. I cleaned up the ones I wanted, gave the others to my son for his sandbox, and got out my trusty Sharpie. I labeled those big rocks with my top priorities (sadly, weekly manicures didn't make the cut) and hence turned them into my Big Rocks.
I put them in a plastic pitcher and it sat on a bookshelf for awhile. I was so proud of this cool representation of my priorities. But I wasn't constantly reminded of my priorities, until I got the bright idea to bring it to work.
When I start to get frazzled and stressed and feel out of kilter, I look at that pitcher and try to determine which rock this stress belongs to. If I can't find a rock to match, then I know that my stress is not worth it.
My pitcher of rocks may be a strange desk accessory, but I will never give it up. They aren't just Big Rocks; they're my values, my dreams, my life. What will you put in your pitcher?
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