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Weekly Planning 101:
How to Put the Big Rocks First
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” – Benjamin Franklin
The metaphor of the Big Rocks is a fundamental time-management and productivity principle. The short of it is to plan your week around the most important things, to ‘put in the big rocks first’. If you don’t allocate enough time to your Big Rocks then your time will be consumed by other people, by distractions. You must plan to own your week, don’t let the week own you.
The Story of The Big Rocks
In Steven Covey’s book First Things First, he tells a story about an expert on time management lecturing to a group of students. The lecturer used a powerful demonstration to drive home his point. The story goes like this:
In the middle of the seminar, the lecturer informs the audience he is about to quiz them. He reaches under the table and pulls out a wide-mouth gallon jar and puts it on the table. He quizzes the students and asks, “How many fist-sized rocks can fit in the jar?”
He proceeds to put one rock in the jar at a time until no more of the large rocks would fit, he then asks the students “Is the jar full?”
Since the students recognized that not one more rock would fit, they said, “Yes.”
Then the lecturer lifted a bucket of gravel from under the table and emptied the gravel into the jar. After shaking it he demonstrated that pieces of gravel filled in space between the big rocks. After he had filled up the jar with gravel, he then asked the students again, “Is the jar full?”
Anticipating the lecturers’ next move, the students responded, “Probably not.”
Then the lecturer lifted a bucket of sand and emptied the sand into the jar. After another shake of the jar, the sand filled in space between the gravel and the big rocks. He then asked the students yet again, “Is the jar full?”
All of the students shouted “No!”
Then the lecturer lifted a pitcher of water and emptied it into the jar. After he could no longer add any more water, he informed the students that “the jar is now full.” He then asked the students the lesson of this demonstration.
One of the students eagerly replied, “Well, there are gaps in your schedule. And if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”
“No,” the lecturer responded. “That’s not the point. The point is this: if I hadn’t put those big rocks in first, I would never have gotten them in.”
The lesson of the Big Rocks is to plan your week around the important things and then allocate time for the less important tasks, because if you don’t schedule your important tasks first then you won’t be able to fit them into your week.
Identify the Big Rocks
Figure out what your Big Rocks are, you need to discover what are your most important tasks and what are the things that matter most that you need to allocate time to. Reflect on what you need to do each week to maintain all areas of your life including your vocation or career, physical, social, spiritual and emotional health. Below is Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix. You want to spend 80% of your time in quadrant 2. Quadrant 2 activities include exercise, vocation, planning, relationships.
Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix
To help identify your Big Rocks, it will be helpful to Identify your roles. Roles include being a daughter, sister, friend, romantic or business partner.
Be really intentional about how you want to fulfil your roles. Reflect on what you want people to say at your funeral about how good of a sister you were, how good of a daughter, a romantic partner, a business partner or a friend. Then, make sure each day and each week you live up to your intentions.
Simply put, just ask yourself “what is one thing I can do this week that will have the biggest impact on this role?”
Weekly Planning 101
Figure out what is important to you and what out what you need to do to fulfil your roles and your Big Rocks. Then, plan out when you will devote time to fulfil your roles and your Big Rocks.
Your Big Rocks can be simply defined as your priorities. They are the goals, tasks and key relationships and responsibilities that time must be allocated towards. They are mission-critical, not a to-do list. It’s about focusing on the most important things and figuring out what tasks will move the needle in the right direction.
– What actions will bring you closer to your dream career?
– Are you surrounding yourself with people who inspire you, who push you towards achieving your goals?
– If it is important to you to fulfil your role as a daughter, sister, friend then schedule time to give your loved ones a call.
– What actions will bring you closer to your dream romantic relationship?
– Do you set aside time each week to have one-on-one time with your partner, do you do new things, do you surprise them?
– What actions will help you achieve your health goals?
– Are you spending time and putting in the effort to eat more nutritious food or exercising more often? Are you learning about proper exercise to progress and making sure you aren’t just spinning your wheels?
– If it’s important for your health to go to the gym 3-5 times a week, schedule it first. If necessary, schedule it in the morning so that if things come up in the evening you ensure you will get that big rock done.
– What actions will bring you closer to achieving your financial goals?
– Are you reading books or learning from mentors to develop financial literacy?
– What actions each day or each week are building your skillset, how often do you read, are you reading the best books in the category you want to develop knowledge in?
– Are you journaling and developing self-awareness?
– What do you need to do to fill your spiritual cup?
– If it’s important to you to spend time in nature, going for a hike or skiing then make time for that.
The bottom line is to figure out what’s important to you, what you need to prioritize to live a fulfilled life and focus on your goals now. Don’t wait for your rocks to fall into place, life gets in the way, and your week will own you. You need to own your week, outline your big rocks and make them happen.
– What are your Big Rocks?
– What are you doing each week to complete them?
– If things are getting in the way, how can you adjust to make sure you complete your Big Rocks?
Gravel is things that are important and help to hold rocks together, which includes emails, calls, laundry, dishes, meal prep, etc. These things have to happen, but you can hack your way to be more effective in completing these tasks. For example, if you’re spending an hour each night making dinner, instead spend two hours on Sunday prepping your meals for the week to cut the time in half.
If you feel busier and busier but less productive, it could be because you’re allowing sand to fill up your jar. Sand is things like other people’s issues, or other people trying to grab your attention. If you give yourself away completely to other people, you won’t have any room for your own rocks. An open door policy is great for the morale of your team, but if your door is always open and your people are constantly coming to you as soon as a problem arises, then you will soon learn you don’t have time for the most important things you need to get done. This is why you need to block out non-interrupted time so you can focus on the first things first. Politely removing yourself from projects may free up your time to focus on mission-critical tasks.
Reflect & Adjust
As many people can relate, you often find that the sand and water end up taking up your time and when you look back on your week you may wonder where the time has even gone. Every once in a while, reflect on how you’re doing with the completion of your Big Rocks and how effective your weekly planning is. Are you sticking to it or are things getting in the way? If things are eating up your time figure out the best way to adjust so you are focusing on the most important priorities.