Monday, October 8, 2007

Stephen Covey's "Big Rocks" (First Things First)

The following idea comes from Stephen Covey. It continues to be a reminder to me of how to focus on the most important priorities.

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

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."

In both our business and personal lives, we have big rocks, gravel,
sand and water. The natural tendency seems to favor the latter three
elements, leaving little space for the big rocks. In an effort to
respond to the urgent, the important is sometimes set aside.

What are the 'big rocks' in your life? A large project? Spending
time with your family? Your health? Your finances? Your faith?
Your personal development? Your dreams?

Make a list of your big rocks. Then make a plan to ensure that your
big rocks are put first. Block out the time in your schedule for those
activities. Amazingly, the other stuff still gets done.

Periodically reflect on how you're doing. Are you putting your big
rocks first, or does gravel, sand and water dominate your life?
If the big rocks aren't getting in, what will have to happen so that
they do?

When you're planning your month, your week or your day, and
even when you're making specific decisions during the day, refer
back to your list of big rocks. Then, put those in your jar first.