Too many big rocks

You've probably heard this one.

It's the story of a professor who used a jar filled with rocks to teach his students a lesson about priorities.

Although the origin of the story is unclear, Stephen Covey popularized it in his book The 7 habits of highly effective people. (paid link)

Basically the story goes like this:

The professor takes out a jar and fills it with big rocks, then asks his students "Is the jar full?"

He gets a resounding "Yes!"

The professor then pours gravel into the jar, shaking it until the gravel fills in the space between the big rocks.

He asks the students again if the jar is full and this time gets a timid "Probably not."

The professor goes on to pour in sand and then water making the point that you can effectively fit a lot more in than you think so long as your big rocks (top priorities) go in first.

It's not a bad story.

In fact it's a pretty helpful parable.

But here's where it all kind of falls apart.

I recently listened to a podcast episode by Ali Abduul where he interviewed Oliver Burkeman, author of the book 4,000 weeks. (paid link)

In this episode he brings up the fact that the professor in the story had pre-selected a number of rocks and amount of gravel, sand, and water that he knew would fit into the jar.

His ingredients were prepared in advance to make it appear easy and foolproof, like you might see on a cooking show.

But life doesn't give us pre-measured ingredients.

That part's up to us.

No matter what order we use to put the rocks into the jar, if we're trying to fit twice as many big rocks as will fit in the jar, it's not going to work.

I talked about this a bit in my last post.

If we try to do everything, we'll inevitably do nothing well... at best!

At worst, we'll burn out completely or meltdown like I did a few weeks back.

So I ask myself, what are all these rocks I'm trying to cram into my life jar - and which ones should I take out?

When the jar gets too full I have to take something out before I can add anything else in. I would prefer to be intentional about that, selecting what to keep and what to let go, rather than try to cram everything in and break or overflow the jar.

I have not mastered this, obviously.

I'm still processing.

I'm still learning.

I wish this all came a bit easier to me but I do find this to be a helpful way to think about the things I'm taking on and prioritizing.

In time, I trust that I'll get better at it.

Mark Armstrong

Mark Armstrong

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