The Daily Challenge: Big Rocks, Pebbles, Sand - How to manage it all?


Imagine you need to fill a jar with some big rocks, pebbles, and sand. What do you put in the jar first?

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Big Rocks, Pebbles, Sand

Time to Read: 4 Mins

A frequently used metaphor for prioritization is the example of trying to fit big rocks, pebbles, and sand into an empty jar.

If you start filling the jar by first adding sand, then pebbles, you will not have room for rocks.

The big rocks symbolize the things that are the most important in your workload. The pebbles represent everything of medium importance. And, finally, the sand represents all of the smaller items that are less important in your work. 

The lesson? if you don’t put the big rocks in the jar first, they won't fit in later. 

When we fill our time with the little things that are not important, we leave little time to take care of the things that actually matter.

Put differently, you need to schedule the big, important things first, then fill in the remaining time gaps with less important and less urgent to-dos.

The example has been used countless times and in slightly different contexts.

Within time management in the workplace, we can look at the sand as email, instant messages from team members, other “pings”, calls, etc. Pebbles are tasks that have slight, but manageable, consequences if we don't do them. Big rocks are the things that can have serious negative consequences if we don't do them.

Take a moment to consider your to-do list and whether you are making enough time for your big rocks.

Step 1: Identify your big rocks. Considering your role and your expertise, what should you be prioritizing? What does your team need most from you? Given your strengths, skills, expertise, capabilities, and role, where does your time add the most value to your team and company? 

Step 2: Identify your pebbles. What are other things that you need to be spending time on, things that are important, but not as important or not as necessary to spend a lot of time on?

Step 3: Identify your sand. Often, your sand is the things that are urgent, but not important. Things you feel you need to take care of right away, but that aren't actually as important than a lot of the other things on your plate. Sand is usually things that distract you and take away your ability to focus and be productive.

Step 4: Reflect on how you could reprioritize your to-do list. Consider how you could reprioritize and reorder your to-do list to better take into account what is most important and what is less important. 

Pro Tip:Consider using the Eisenhower Principle/Stephen Covey's Urgent/Important Quadrant to organize and categorize your big rocks, pebbles, and sand. 

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