Balancing Act

Ask yourself this: what are the most important things in your life? And then read this short piece.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, 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. 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.” 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 smiled and 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. And 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.”

First Things First, “Big Rocks” by Stephen R. Covey


Progress Over Process

Now, some of you may disagree with the process of placing the big rocks first. Depending on where you are discipline-wise, you might need to sift through the gravel and sand before you ever reach your big rocks. But if you only fill your jar (heart and mind and life) with sand and gravel, you will only ever accomplish small things.

I’m not saying tackle the big rocks head on. I know, at least where I am in my growth, that I can focus on one big rock at a time. The hardest part is determining which big rock is the most important to tackle. Or, not letting the other important goals of mine override my current focus. Furthermore, letting the gravel and sand accumulate distracts me from getting to the bottom of the jar.

The worst part is, we can be so caught up in shoveling aside the sand, that the progress we make there become one more obstacle to the bigger goals. This is why I emphasize progress over process. Your self-control and personal follow-through are just that–personal. That means what works for you in accomplishing goals may not work for everyone else, even if it works for the majority.

Figure out what works for you. Tackle that. Clarify your goals before you try and accomplish them. The less focused you are, the more off course you become. Use these big rocks as anchors and beacons. Let them ground you and give yourself something bigger to work towards.

Presidential Preferential Prioritization

Try saying that five times fast. Or just use the Eisenhower matrix to figure your sand and gravel bits out. This handy little bugger, first introduced by President Eisenhower has been carefully broken down for you by Mr. Covey.

For those of you looking for excuses not to get your act together, or for those of you who like things to write on and/or interactive digital elements, I recommend that you visit this site, which provides a blank matrix for you.

The goal is a Quadrant Two (Q2) lifestyle. If you’re willing to buy the pickaxe and mine for the gold life has to offer, you can be richer than forty thieves or a greedy dragon.

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