Reality Check: Placing the Big Rock First

Like many others at this time, I’m taking down the Christmas tree and packing away decorations. Among them are a set of straw ornaments of various shapes; I enjoy them particularly for their non-breakable quality. They go into their matching straw box.
Every year, I puzzle over how to get all those ornaments into that little box. But I’ve done this before and I know that it’s possible. First, put in the big round balls. Then go the oddly-shaped angels. The wreaths follow, and I finish up with the pointy little cones that nestle in the crevices.
Will it work any other way? Nope.
The big ones have to go in first. The rest find their place around them.
We might think that as long as we do all the right things, we will get a right result. But it’s not always the case, is it? Sometimes, the sequence that we choose matters as much as what we do.
Try building your foundation after you’ve constructed your house. It might be possible, but it’s hardly convenient. Or till the garden after you’ve planted the seeds. Doesn’t work so well. Neither does rushing into trusting someone before you’ve established a trust-worthy relationship.
A well-known demonstration for priority management is the rocks, pebbles and sand in a jar. Here’s how it goes:
Take a jar. Put as many big rocks in it as will fit. Is it full? It looks like it is!
Then try pouring in some pebbles. Shake the jar, and the pebbles will find their way into the spaces. Put in as many as you can. Is the jar full now? Looks to be!
Finally, try adding some sand. Again, shake it around, and you’ll find that the sand will also find spaces to rest among the rocks and pebbles.
What’s the lesson? What we do first matters. Look at the big rocks as our most important priorities. Deal with those first. The pebbles are lower priority, but still important. The sand represents even-lower priorities.
If we fill the jar with sand first, then there’s no room for the rocks, is there? If we fill our days with tasks that don’t really matter, there is no room left—no time left—for the tasks that do matter.
It’s so easy to forget that. It’s appealing to put sand in the empty jar, just as it’s easy to start doing the trivial tasks. We’ll save the important stuff for later, when we have more time. Yet they are the priorities that matter.
What you choose as your priorities, your big rocks, is up to you. Perhaps your priorities are to grow a relationship, develop a career, master a skill, create conditions for children to thrive, and so on. What’s essential to you may not matter at all to someone else.
The message of the jar is simply to put first things first. Figure out which rocks are your big rocks. Put those in your life first, lest their space be taken up by less important matters.
The jar can serve as a reminder that the time in our lives will get filled, one way or another. Each day, twenty-four hours will pass. We may use it on our priorities, or fritter it away on activities that bring us little joy or satisfaction.
What’s in your jar?

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