What a jar of rocks and sand can tell you about your life

rocks and sand for analogy for pritorization

The other day I was teaching a leadership course, and I shared the following video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6m9WnNdpSw

Rocks and Sand

In it, it depicts Charlie Chaplin attempting to fill a container first with sand, and then cram a number of large rocks in at the top.  The rocks spill over as obviously there’s not enough room.  And then he tries again.  He puts the big rocks in first, and then pours the sand in.  This time, everything fits, as the sand fills up the empty cracks around the rocks.

What are the big rocks in your life?

There’s an obvious metaphor to our day to day lives in this short and insightful little rocks and sand video.  The rocks represent the big things in our lives.  Things like important projects, health and wellness, our career development, our family.  And it’s important to realize that the big rocks also change over time.  The sand are the small bits like emails, phone calls, administrative tasks and recurring minor deliverables.

The question I asked the group, was “Where do you tend to focus first – the rocks or the sand?  I was hoping they’d be honest and they were.  Just about every of the 28 participants owned up to wanting to focus on the sand first, and push off the big rocks in their life.

Why do we focus on the sand first?

We do this for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the bigger things are often the more nebulous ones.  So often we don’t even know where to start.  When we don’t know where to start, it makes it easier to avoid these things.  Secondly, the sand is easier to tackle.  These are often quick emails, phone calls, reports that need to be run.  We know what to do, and so it’s just easier to drive right in.  The third reason is rooted is physiology.  We often get a small dopamine hit from crossing something off our to do list.  So we pick the path of least resistance and higher reward, at least in the short term.

Tips for getting the big rocks

It’s no surprise that the big things often allude us in life.  We tell folks that we’re just too busy, and never seem to be able to find enough time to do all the things we want to do.  And that makes perfect sense when the sand comes first.  A few tips I often share with clients on this front, that help to minimize the sand and put the rocks first are:

  • Turn off the notification on your phone and laptop that dings or pops up to let you know you have more email. The notifications will hijack your attention from the important rock you’re focused on.  And good luck getting refocused.
  • Spend time at the end of the day or at the beginning of the day, getting clear on the 2-3 big rocks you want to make a dent in. It only takes a few minutes to remind yourself what’s really important versus what is masquerading as important.
  • Make a list of your big life rocks and put it a place where you will see it. It’s harder to avoid these things when they are staring you in the face.
  • Save up the sand and fit it in amongst the big rocks when you have 15 minutes in between meetings, or when you are the least fresh. I’m always more productive in the morning, so I try to get to my big rocks then.

What are you ready to try to help you sift through the mess of rocks and sand in your life?

Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!


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