the big rocks

rocksWhen I was working at Calvin, my wonderful boss sent around a powerful article about time management. Perhaps if you read the article at the end of this post, you’ll realize why I loved working for him.

Today, I had to take that article to heart yet again. I had to “empty my jar” and put the big rocks back in. This meant resigning from committees I actually like, canceling plans with people I’d really like to see. Slowing myself down.

This was really hard. But really necessary. And the casualty in all this down-sizing, I’m afraid, is none other than my pride.

I have always liked being busy. I over-schedule with a certain wicked glee at all I am “accomplishing.” Last night and this morning, though, my accomplishments got the best of me and I found that I was by no means a victor over the laws of nature.

So. Gulp. Back to the big rocks. I believe Mark and Zoe won’t mind.

Here’s the article:

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.”

8 thoughts on “the big rocks

  1. I’ve been reading a little Steven Covey lately, and this sounds like exactly the type of thing he would say. Good advice. And nice post.

  2. You know Tash, after reading your Labor Day post and the corresponding comments, it occurred to me that the names of those two unions, competing Trotsky and Lennin like for members, are all wrong.

    The union work described in the posts by the members – the painting of attic floors, the polishing of rafters, the washing of driveways, etc. – while indeed “hard work”, is more accurately described as “make work”

    (And, I must say this comports with my recollection of the summer projects dreamt up by the leader of the TLofAHW union when as a youth I worked as a summer apprentice to him. These projects reached a crescendo of logic in late August with the jacking up of our rusty cars and the painting of their already gaping undersides with roofing tar, a job that had the dual “make work” virtues of being both useless and particularly unpleasant.)

    It seems, then, that these two unions have in fact been formed to advance the unstated belief of their members that while works might not save you, work very well might.

    This true purpose is so hidden (in fact, one might say fraudulently so in that the unions do claim that their work is in “service to others”) that several well-meaning commentators to your blog confused the two – works and work, that is – and publicly flogged themselves as somehow unworthy non-unionists by comparison.

    I, on the other hand, proudly belong to the most agreeable of unions, the Antinomian Solipsists United. We don’t put any truck by works, very little by work (and then only that which is necessary to make one’s life pleasant and complete), and nothing by what others might think of us (in fact, we are not quite certain that others exist at all).

    If you’d like to join, membership is always open and the meetings, while few, are always at the Green Well.

  3. YIIPPEE!! and you got to do it on a rainy day too…PERFECT!…let’s see….movie time, more popcorn made my Mark, and don’t you have a copy of WAR and PEACE on your night stand??

    I Can’t think of a better way to waste a rainy day than in a warm and fuzzy place with people and critters I adore, snuggled up with everyone, a book to read, a movie to glace at and popcorn to munch!

    Oh and if a Jacuzzi Tub is in order…mine is sparkling clean and I have delicious smelling BUBBLES TOO! You’re more than welcome to it ~ just ask and I’ll have my basement vacated just for you.

  4. May you wake up to the joy of an uncluttered day- free of all oughtas and shouldofs. Downsizing and quietude are really quite pleasant.

  5. I liked Chris’s response. the need to be busy b/c it validates how “good” we are at being productive, hardworking, or any other ideal we strive for… it truly is, “make work”.

    I know that the big rocks in your life appreciate all the little stuff, like time to spend with you simply cuz’ you’re pretty wonderful….

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