Big rocks, little rocks

There are few management ideas that have made as much difference to me as this one. And it’s such a straight forward idea.

Photo by RTimages/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by RTimages/iStock / Getty Images

Imagine you have a large glass jar.

You are now going to take a bunch of rocks and place them in your jar. Is it full? Well, you might not be able to fit anymore big rocks in, but how about some smaller rocks. Could you fit them in?

Why yes, you can. So let’s fill up around the big rocks with lots of little rocks. Is it full now? No. We can still get some pebbles in around all the rocks.

How about now – is it full? Not at all. We can fill up all the cracks with sand.

Surely you say, that glass jar is FULL. But no, we can now carefully pour in water, right up to the lip of the jar.

Now, the jar is full. There is no air or space left, it is completely filled up.

The jar is your time.

Despite the best advances in science, there are still only 24 hours in a day, and seven days in a week. No amount of wishing it to be otherwise will make it so. You can always get more people, and more money, but you simply cannot get any more time.

Time therefore, is your most precious resource. And strangely, it seems to be the thing that we most easily give away.

Most people start filling up their time/jar with water, sand and pebbles. I don’t know about you, but once the jar is half full of that combo, it’s going to be very hard to squash a few little rocks in, let alone any big rocks.

Instead, start with your big rocks. Determine the 3-5 things that will make the most difference to your business, and allocate time for them first. And when I say allocate, I mean block out time in your calendar. And stick to it! If you need 20 of your 40 hours a week (or however many hours you work) for your big rocks, well, that’s what you need to do. You might spend that time alone, or working with other people – it depends on what your big rocks need.

It’s important to be selfish about this. Because without focusing on your big rocks, you can be very busy, but not getting anywhere. And we all know how that feels. You get to Friday night, exhausted, fall in to bed and then think, ‘what have I achieved this week?’. It’s a nasty, unsettling feeling when the answer to that question is ‘not much. In fact, it’s highly stress inducing to know that you are not spending time on the things that matter most. Especially when it’s your business we are talking about.

Once you have allocated time for your big rocks, then you can allocate time for everything else around them.

One possible outcome of this process is that you realise that your current set up is NEVER going to allow you to achieve your business goals. This might be because all the client time each week is just too much, or because you simply can’t work 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. If this is you, then it’s time to think seriously about what you really want, and what you are prepared to spend and/or sacrifice to get there. Tough choices I know, but that’s what business is about.

Or you might be lucky, and realise that you do in fact have the time you need to focus on your big rocks, it’s just that you haven’t been in charge of your own time before. This can feel like quite a change, taking charge of your own destiny. But it is so worth it. Ask me how I know.