My brother-in-law once told me about a demonstration done by a time-management expert. The expert filled a large jar with rocks and asked, “Is the jar full?” “Yes,” the group replied. The expert took out a bag of gravel and poured it into the jar. “Is the jar full now?” he asked. “Maybe not,” the group thought. The expert took out a bag of sand and poured it into the jar. “What about now?” he asked. “No?” the group wondered. The expert took a jug of water and poured it into the jar. Now it was full.
The point of this demonstration is that we need to put the big rocks, our greatest priorities, in the jar first, otherwise they might not fit. But which of my to-do list items are rocks, gravel, sand or water? Chores, for example — are chores sand or water? Hanging out with friends — is that rock or gravel? Some of my activities are easier to identify: spending time with the kids or writing are rocks. But others are confusing. I care about my family eating healthy, homemade, organic food, but I would rate cooking lower down than reading the children a book.
Sometimes the sand and water, my chores, weigh on me so much that I cannot get the big rocks done. Scheduling doctor and dentist appointments, paying bills, and grocery shopping might be less important, but postponing them can irritate me enough that my mind, instead of concentrating on writing, will obsess on what still needs to get done.
So what are my priorities? The children, writing, exercising, hiking, my family and friends, eating healthy. But there are many activities which I would love to do and have given up on: singing, drawing, walking the dogs. Isn’t that too many rocks in one jar? This jar metaphor is stressing me out! Perhaps it is not meant to be used on a daily basis but more as a big picture kind of ideal: the jar being life and the big rocks my goals?
A coach once told me to make a plan and write down where I’d like to see myself tomorrow, next month, in a year, and in five years. Perhaps, to continue the jar and rocks metaphor, each of these time goals ought to have a jar of its own, with an appropriate size. Expecting myself to be published tomorrow is probably unreasonable, but setting small goals like writing a blog, revising my novel for an hour, reading a book, talking on the phone with the kids — those are manageable rocks which I can fit in.
In my five-year jar so much more can fit! More books to write and to read, more hopes and dreams for the kids, places to travel to, empty canvases to fill. And even more in the jar of life, where each day is no more than a grain of sand, and the rocks are the big goals of life: self fulfillment, parenthood, love.
What do you do to find time for what’s most important to you?