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Increased Productivity is Like Rocks and Sand

When clients ask about time management, setting priorities, and mastering goals, I like to recall an old but reliable metaphor. There is a demonstration that I have used many times. I don’t know who first created this idea, but it can be profound. It goes like this…..

It’s called The Jar of Life. If you fill a container with a certain amount of sand, then try to insert several large rocks, not all of the rocks can fit into the container. But, if you start with the rocks, then pour in the sand, you can get all the rocks and all of the sand into the container.

This story can be applied in many ways, but here is the chief message I use.

The container is the 24 hours in our day; 86,400 seconds, the one constant we all share. Trying to decide what we choose to fill our day is like the combination of rocks and sand. The rocks are the important things, large challenges or tasks we really should be handling day by day. Those big rocks include progress toward key goals.

The sand is the little stuff; emails, phone calls, text messages, etc. If we spend our time focused on the small stuff, we fill our day and pretty soon there is no time left. We try to grab a few rocks. Some get done, but most do not.

The better approach is to handle the rocks first. Get them handled, then add in the little stuff. You will be pleasantly surprised that you find yourself doing it all, missing nothing. The total time in the day didn’t change, but your use of those minutes and seconds did change.

Try These Ideas

So what are the ways to maximize the use of every day? Here are my main suggestions.

  1. Be sure you know what the big things are. It is amazing how few people actually set the targets and know what they are. In particular, a big goal may require smaller steps. The corny but old adage “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” is true. Your days need to include those smaller bites.  Yes, compared to all the really small stuff like calls and emails, the bite sized task may just be your big rock for the day, so do it first.
  2. Avoid rationalization about time management. Too many folks love their smart phones. The sense of importance derived from the number of tweets or Instagram message you see blinds you to the really important things. Find a discipline about being constantly connected and budget the usage of non-critical social media.
  3. Rebound quickly. Sometimes the day gets away from us. Those random calls and emails turn into big time wasters. Quitting time comes around and you feel like you didn’t get anything accomplished. Let the pity party last no longer than midnight, then start a fresh new day. Forget about the reasons you missed the mark yesterday. Do better today.
  4. Accumulate victories. Keep track of those amazing days where you were a Titan! Big things got done, progress was accomplished. Reward yourself by staying focused on why and how that happened. Create a habit of success. Winning is habit forming.

Keep this visual in mind as you go about working through your day. Whether the big tasks are work related or personal, handle the big rocks first, then you can fill in the spaces with all the small stuff. You will be amazed at the increase in productivity.