Time Management: Putting in the Big Rocks First

A long time ago, I heard this awesome story/analogy for time management. Here it is:

One day teacher was speaking to a group of students about time management. He pulled out an empty aquarium and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen large rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the container.  When it was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this container 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 the gravel in and shook the aquarium causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.  Then he asked again, “Is it 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 same question, “Is it full?”

“No!” the class shouted. “Good!” He said and 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 student raised their 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 teacher 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.”

Whenever I feel like I have no time, I remember this story.  I always try to place the big rocks in first.  However, just recently I have been having a lot of trouble deciding which rocks are the big rocks, setting my priorities – everything seems important.

The rocks in the aquarium analogy works really well even for this shift in priorities:  When a big rock is removed from the aquarium, the gravel, sand and water take it’s place rapidly, and it’s hard to refill the aquarium with another big rock.  I find that when a drastic change occurs in my life, it’s hard for me to readjust, and prioritize like I used to.  I think a complete “dump of the aquarium” and restart will have to take place, before I can again feel as if ALL my “big rocks” find their way into the aquarium.  For now, my days are gone, before I even start to think about my “big rocks”.