COMMENTARY: A Jar Full of Rocks

Prioritize Your Life – What You Can Learn From a Jar Full of Rocks

It seems that no one has enough time to do all the things they want to do. After all, there’s only so many hours in a day. It’s true we can’t expand our day but we can make better use of it by being more intentional about priorities.

An activity we use in our CHARACTER COUNTS! trainings of ver busy teachers is to present the class with a large empty jar and three bags – one filled with 12 fair size rocks, another filled with gravel and the third filled with sand.

First we pour in the sand explaining this represents all the little things we do and want to do all day – such as texting, tweeting, Facebook and instagram, and on-line surfing and shopping. Then we pour in the gravel which we say represents more important things we should or really want to do – errands, chores, significant social occasions, etc. Finally we try to put in the rocks which represent the really important things, the things that have the greatest impact on our jobs, relationships or personal well-being. There is never enough room. At least five of the 12 rocks won’t fit in the jar. This explains our anxiety and frustration and the feeling that we are on an endless treadmill.

Then we take a new jar and a new set of rocks, gravel and sand. First we put in all the rocks – they fit but there are large gaps of pace. Then we pour in the gravel an wiggle the jar a little and it all goes in leaving smaller sace s. Finally we pour in the sand and it fills the spaces and everything fits.

Once the class sees the very full jar with no visible room we ask is this jar completely full. After the class affirms that the jar is full we take a small pitcher of water and pour it into the jar.

“What does this demonstration prove?” .

Some students will point out that “Even when we think we can’t possibly take on any more, there is always enough room for a little more.”

Others will say, “Sequence and planning are important to maximizing productivity.”

Still others will say that “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.

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