Some days ago, I got an email from a colleague asking whether I could suggest a book or course on time management that he could share with his students. On the spot, I did not know exactly what to reply other than sharing some techniques which have been useful for me.
But then I remembered a story I read once and I suddenly realised that that story probably holds the secret for accomplishing what is really important to us. And in so doing, it also reminds us of the things that really matter in life.
One day a wise teacher was speaking to a group of his students. He pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then 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.”
“Really?” he asked. “Let’s see.” 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. Looking carefully from face to face, he smiled benevolently and asked again, “Is the jar full?”
His class was catching on quickly. “Probably not,” one of them answered.
“Very good!” he replied. He then 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. When he was finished he once again asked, “Is this jar full?”
“No!” the class shouted.
“Excellent!” he replied. Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and poured it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Once again looking intently into the eyes of each student, he 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!”
“Aha, that’s very good!” the teacher replied, “But let us look a bit deeper. This illustration also teaches us a higher truth: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in at all!”
As the year draws to a close, I hope you may find some time to reflect on your ‘big rocks’ for the new year ahead. Is this something you want to accomplish, maybe finish off your PhD thesis, or submit that long-due paper? Is it re-gaining your physical fitness? Is it learning a new skill that would be useful for your next career move? Or is it starting a journey of personal growth? Or simply spending more quality time with your loved ones?
Whatever your priorities are, my wish for you is that you may treasure this story and find a way to put your big rocks first, before any pebbles or sand.