Earlier today I was challenged as I recalled an anecdote that I heard many years ago in a Sunday morning service. It’s a well known story that you may have heard before regarding the importance of prioritising certain aspects of our lives. It goes like this:
One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget. As he stood in front of the group of high powered overachievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed jar and set it on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?”
Everyone in the class said, “Yes.”
Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all of the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”
“No!” the class shouted.
Once again he said, “Good.” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?” One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!”
“No,” the speaker replied, “That’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.” What are the ‘big rocks’ in your life? Your children; Your loved ones; Your education; Your dreams; A worthy cause; Teaching or mentoring others; Doing things that you love; Time for yourself; Your health; Your significant other? Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all. If you sweat the little stuff (the gravel, the sand) then you’ll fill your life with little things you worry about that don’t really matter, and you’ll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff (the big rocks). So, tonight, or in the morning, when you are reflecting on this short story, ask yourself this question: What are the ‘big rocks’ in my life? Then, put those in your jar first.”
Every so often I remember this message of ‘getting the big rocks in’ and like to take stock of whether I’m doing this. Amidst the daily flurry of activities in a family, from overseeing homework to sorting out faulty heating, along with the pressures of health concerns and a variety of appointments or deadlines, it’s easy to get swept up by the mundane and the necessary. Little thought is given to purposefully planning time with a loved one or friend, or to achieving a specific goal, and it’s easy to think “Well, there just isn’t time!”
The image of the jar stays with me. It would be so easy to fill it with gravel and water, only to find no room for any of the big rocks. Days, weeks and years can go by, where all sorts of plans, ideas or visions simply lie dormant in your heart as you see no way to pursue them. Time for fun activities may be dismissed as insignificant or unnecessary. And yet, at the end of it all, the fun memories are important. That amazing idea you had could have helped or blessed many people. Building relationships is worthy of effort.
Time is fleeting. The lyrics in the video reflect that so well, and none of us knows how long we have left. The song is almost haunting with its compelling question “What is it I’ve done with my life?”
I’d like to focus on ‘getting the big rocks in’ – in both my family life and my spiritual life – and to pull back from sweating the small stuff. All the minor issues and activities can easily lodge their way into the remaining gaps. How about you? How could you better rearrange your time to ensure that the most important features of your life are given the priority they deserve?