Rocks in the Jar

Bumped into this story earlier today…

A philosophy professor walked into a classroom with a large empty jar and a seemingly heavy bag. He placed the jar on the table and put the bag down. Then he bent over to open the bag and started to put all the rocks from it to fill the jar. He then asked his students if the jar was full? They unanimously agreed that the jar was full.

So professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked his students again if the jar was full. Again, they unanimously agreed that the jar was full.

Then the professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

“Now,” the professor said, “I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things: your family, your partner, your friends, your health, your children, and things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.”

Besides the weird setup (where the heck did the box of pebbles come from?) the story does convey a very strong point: if you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, there won’t be enough for the big ones that really matter.

Chances are that you probably know this but struggle to nail it down to some degree. I can understand. Most of my friends, acquaintances and even family members experience the same dilemma — making time for the “important” stuff in their lives.

Here’s what I have understood from studying productivity and the art of keeping the main thing, the main thing — the simpler your system the better it is for you. Some of the highest performing executives and employees (some of whom I’ve had the privilege to work with) credit their success to their trusted system. And surprisingly, their system just might be a checklist with 5-7 things — out of the 30/40/50 odd things they may have planned for the whole week or month — they plan to strike off during a given work day.

Do you see a trend there? A simple system. Less moving parts. Easier to understand, execute, modify and even remember! Are you still looking for the ultimate productivity system? Trust me, there isn’t any. The only antidote to getting things done is to roll up the sleeves and actually get the work done.

Whining and complaining about it won’t make it any easier for you. Focus on execution. And please (for lord’s sake!), simplify your to-do list! Don’t make it any tougher than what it already is.