Put the Big Rocks In First 735.1

There’s a well-traveled story about a teacher who showed his class a one-gallon jar and a dozen large rocks.

After a little rearranging, he got all the rocks into the jar, filling it to the top. He then dumped a bag of gravel into the jar until the spaces between the rocks were filled. Next he poured sand into the jar, shaking it so the sand filled the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. Finally, he emptied a pitcher of water into it.

“What does this demonstration prove?” he asked.

One student said, “No matter how full your life seems, you can always take on a little more.”

Another said, “Sequence and planning is important to maximizing productivity.”

A third said, “It’s about setting priorities. If you don’t deal with the big rocks first, all you’ll end up with is a jar of wet sand and gravel.”

There’s validity to each response, but the idea of identifying and dealing with the big rocks first is a particularly valuable insight.

We will live fuller and more fulfilling lives if we set our priorities – not only at work but in our life as a whole. Our relationships, work, spiritual life, hobbies, and charitable causes all claim our attention. We have to decide what’s really important.

Too often we surrender control of our days, even the direction of our lives, by letting circumstances or other people determine how we spend our time. Thus, we deal with what comes at us in the order that it comes or with squeaking wheels and demanding people.

Unless we distinguish between the rocks, gravel, sand, and water in our lives, we’re likely to neglect or forget the things that truly matter.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 9

  1. Don’t small things often turn into big things? For example, if you ignore small behavioral problems with your child they could grow into a bully. Or maybe a rapist or murderer. Then you have a big problem to deal with – but only because you didn’t deal with the small ones to begin with. Shouldn’t you address problems based on relevancy rather than their size at any specific point of time?

  2. Maggie, I believe that Just because it is a small problem, doesn’t mean that it’s not important or top priority… Just like you mentioned, it is always based on relevancy rather than their size, therefore it is all subjective to each individual.
    I think that Mr. Josephson’s point is exactly that – don’t worry about external pressure, rather, distinguish what’s really important to yourself and not to forget or neglect things that truly matter to you.
    At least that’s how I took it… and I love it.

  3. I always love your commentaries on the radio. One can learn so much from your message and they are for real! With your permission, I would like to print David Weatherford’s poem “Slow Dance” to share with the guest who will be present during my retirement party on 9 16 11. I will include that I heard it from “Michael Josephson’s Charater Counts.”
    Thank you and may you have more wisdom to share with the piublic. God bless you and your station.

  4. Gotta side with Maggie on this. If the teacher had put some big rocks in followed by some gravel, some sand and some water, and repeated a few times, than this story would make more sense. That

  5. Maggie and Albert – you are missing one key element. A big rock does not equate to a big problem, sand does not equate to a small problem. A big rock is a big priority. The point of Mr. Josephson’s commentary is that you need to determine what your life’s priorities are and give primary focus to the most important things first. The analogy of the jar is that if you fill the jar with sand, you cannot get the gravel and rocks in – thus, the big rocks (most important, not largest, issues) must be placed in the jar first … or be given priority. Certainly, we deal with more than one issue at a time, but if we focus all our energies on the less important ones, then we will not have anything left for what matters most.

  6. Indeed Cindy you are so very right! This is all about finding our purpose in life. What does each and everyone of us want for ourselves, family, friends, society, the whole world? Many of us do not even have the time/energy or even knowledge to determine this, let alone prioritise them. The story posted by Mr Josephson is a very vivid way of teaching us how we can effectively deal with all situations, all our issues, all that needs to be done. Best of luck!

  7. I thought it was beer that was poured in last. The lesson being that no matter what happens in life, there is always room for beer.

  8. Let’s remember the rocks, gravel, sand, and water represent priorities, not problems. The largest rocks symbolize what matters most to us, and these go in the jar first. If the small stuff goes in first, there may not be enough room for the big stuff, but if the most important, largest items are put first, there’s plenty of space for smaller stuff.

  9. I think a lot of us get into trouble because we are mistaken about what the big rocks are. Many of us put career over family. For example, I know a pediatrician who always put her career above her own children. Materially, they were well-off, but emotionally, they were starved. All three children went to extremes to get their parents attention, but to no avail. (Dad, a lawyer, also put career first at all times.)
    I know many who have ruined their lives because they think romance is the most important thing and, so, they run from one ill-considered relationship, always sexual, to another.
    To become the people we were created to be, we have to put spiritual and ethical values first. Then, eventually, we will have the desires of our hearts.
    P.S. I enjoyed the comment about the beer. A sense of humor is one of those big rocks that will get you through the day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *