Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Big Rocks

I came across a statement today, attributed to Robert Heinlein, that struck me to the core.

"In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it."

It is so easy for all of us to get caught up in the minutia of daily life and watch time slide by us without accomplishing the things we say are most important to us.

I love the story by Alan Smith about 'rocks in a jar.'

One day an expert on the subject of time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will likely never forget. As this man 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 mason jar and set it on a 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 spaces between the big rocks.

He smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?" By this time the class was onto him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all 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 up 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 into 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."

Not only that, but the same items, in the same volume would not fit into that same jar in any other order! If you filled the jar with sand, you could not fit in the gravel or the big rocks. Several other combinations would yield a full jar, but the 'big rocks' would not be inside with the other 'stuff.'

This story gets at the same point as my opening quote. There will always be a lot of little nitty gritty details that are screaming for our attention in life. If, however, we focus on those little details first, we will never get to the big priorities. We will never achieve our deepest desires and our highest aspirations.

I know lots of people who fill their days with minutia (myself included at times) to avoid facing the things that need to be faced, or dealing with the things that really are worthy of attention. It is a coping mechanism. It is used to deal with fear or overwhelm. It is an attempt to keep things manageable and not venture too far our of our comfort zones.

The one who suffers most from the implementation of that strategy is the implementer themselves. The other thing to keep in mind, however, is that all of us suffer when any one of us does not give their gift to this world. If any one of us fails to get our big rocks into the jar... the world loses.

We all have 'big rocks' that we want and need to achieve. The key is to put those things first... no matter what they are, and fit everything else in around the edges.

What are your big rocks for 2008? For your life? Make sure that you are spending time on the big rocks each and every day. Fulfil yourself and at the same time you are serving the world!

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