Have you ever noticed how some people manage to pack so much into their lives? Not only do they deal with the pressures of modern life – efficiently, but they also get the important projects accomplished and have the time to look after themselves and their families. Unconsciously or knowingly, they probably have mastered a simple strategy which I like to call “time-rocking.” Today, while reading Sháá Wasmund‘s latest book, I was reminded of one my favourite time-management metaphor – the jar. Although it is best demonstrated with props, the following story summarises it well:
A Tibetan Lama was speaking to a group of monks and to make a point, pulled out a large jar, set it on a table in front of him, produced a few fist-sized rocks, and placed them, one by one, into the jar.
When no more rocks would fit inside, he asked: “Is the jar full?” Everyone said: “Yes.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel, dumped some in and shook the jar, the gravel worked between the rocks. Again he asked: “Is this jar full?” The monks were catching on . “Probably not,” one answered.
“Good!” he replied and reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He dumped the sand into the jar until it filled all the crevices. Once more he asked: “Is this jar full?”
“No.” the monks shouted. “Good!” he said and grabbed a pitcher of water and poured it until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he asked, “what is the point of this illustration?” One young monk responded,”the point is, no matter how full your day you can always fit some more things in.”
“No, ” the speaker replied, “the point is that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all. What are your priorities in your life?
The image is clear. The jar cannot expand and the order in which we do things matters. The trick, as usual, is to put it into practice. It requires a little discipline especially when we have been working differently for years. I used to deal with things as they came to me (first come first served) and felt very reluctant prioritising tasks. Very often, with this approach, I did not get around to the projects that mattered. I am starting to learn to rock things around. Firstly, I take the time to identify the big rocks in my life. Secondly, I start my day working on my ‘MIT-one’ (Most Important Task), I may not finish it but at least I get the ball rolling and ensure I know what to the next actionable step before I stop. Lastly, in the evening, I review the day grateful for the time I have spent ‘rocking’. On the days, I don’t do too well, I smile it off, knowing that there is another opportunity the following day to fill my jar differently.
Time-rocking is about giving priority to meaningful projects before the habitual, gritty and the mundane takes over. It requires being watchful and not to succumb to the urgency of the small stuff. I am now better at identifying my big rocks and make more space for them. The rest tends to fall into place around it. I have had to shake off poor habits, time-thieves such as social media and television. With time, it becomes more natural to focus on the things that matter most and make everything else fit around the rocks.
If at times, you are struggling to fit everything in, this image may be useful to you and influence your workflow.
Photo credit: Aaron Thomas
This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.