Put first things first

Imagine walking into a room and on a table is a bucket. Beside it are three very large rocks, about six smaller rocks, about a dozen pebbles, and a pile of sand. Now imagine that you’re asked to place each of those things in the bucket in a specific order, and explain why.

The explanation, according to most business school professors who enjoy this analogy, is simple: each of those items represents the priorities in your life. With that in mind, you place the large rocks in first, as these represent your big goals – healthy family, better job, bigger house, for instance – followed by the medium priorities or smaller rocks. You get the idea. The pebbles, then the sand come next. But guess what? If you don’t have enough room for all the pebbles and sand, you stop filling the bucket.

If this analogy sounds familiar, it’s because it mirrors what 7 Habits of Highly Effective People guru Stephen Covey advocates as his third habit: put first things first. This not only means organizing your priorities in size order, but also knowing when to say no.

“First things are those things you, personally, find of most worth,” Covey says. That’s it. Of course, in Covey’s world, the third habit is in context of the other habits you ought to follow. But in your world, take a moment to think about what you’re currently putting first.

Chances are, you’re dumping smaller rocks and pebbles into that bucket – maybe even some sand – before you’ve even thought about the big rocks. One recommended exercise: try to identify what the pebbles and sand are in your life. Often, these are little things that can wait, or demands others are making on your time that you can perhaps push aside. Think about it.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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