Do you find yourself scrambling for time? Do you often think, “I have plenty of time to do this,” then end up rushing at the last minute to finish up? Do you frequently arrive late because you delayed getting ready but then time got away from you?
Steven Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, tells a story in one of his other books which appears in many places on the Internet. (I took this version from http://food.unl.edu/web/fnh/big-rocks-first).
In First Things First , Stephen Covey tells a story that one of his associates heard at a seminar. The seminar presenter pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar and placed it next to a pile of fist-sized rocks. After filling the jar to the top with rocks, he asked, “Is the jar full?”
The group replied, “Yes.”
He then got some gravel from under the table and added it to the jar. The speaker jiggled the jar until the gravel filled the spaces between the rocks. Again, he asked, “Is the jar full?”
This time, the group replied, “Probably not.”
The speaker then added some sand and asked, “Is the jar full?”
“No!” shouted the group.
Finally, the speaker filled the jar to the brim with water and asked the group the point of this illustration.
Someone replied that you could always fit more things into your life if “you really work at it.”
“No,” countered the speaker. “The point is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?”
I often think of this story when I’m trying to manage my own time. Suppose I finish my breakfast and calculate that I have two hours left before I have to leave for a client appointment. Two hours seems like a nice chunk of time, and I have some things I want to get done first, so I sit down at my computer and get started.
What’s wrong with this picture? I haven’t gotten dressed, I haven’t packed up the things I’ll need for my client appointment, and I haven’t made my lunch. So when 1 1/2 hours has gone by and I suddenly need to rush to get all of those things done and leave on time, I end up angry at myself for not prioritizing correctly.
The best way to manage your time is to finish the things you MUST do before starting on the optional things. Interruptions and unexpected events will happen — better that they should interrupt you when you are working on those tasks that can easily be postponed until later, instead of when you are squeezing in the task that absolutely needs to be finished now.
So when faced with a block of time, ask yourself, “What are my big rocks right now?” Get those done first, and you’ll be able to breathe a lot easier!