Scheduling the Big Rocks


I was way behind on my project. And it bugged me! As a productivity strategist, I pride myself in always staying on track with any and all projects, but when I did my monthly review the other day, I realised I had fallen behind on one of my projects. And again I was reminded how quickly things can slip if we don’t track our progress.


During my monthly review, I check my progress on all projects I currently have on the go (among other check points). When I realised that I was three sub-sections behind schedule on my book-writing project, I did what I always do: I analysed. Why was I behind schedule on my self-imposed time scale? What got in the way? How can I solve the problem and get back on track? And that is when I remembered an old story – told so many times, by so many different people, that I don’t even know it’s origin.


The story goes that a teacher brought a big glass jar into class one day. From a bag, he packed several big rocks into the jar and closed it. He asked his students: “Do you think the jar is full?” They all nodded and agreed that the jar was full. Without saying a word, the teacher opened the glass jar and added small pebbles in between the big rocks. He packed as many pebbles into the jar as he could and then asked the students again: “Do you think the jar is full?” Now weary after the first question, some students were unsure. Others thought it was now definitely full. Again, the teacher said nothing. Instead he took a bag of sand and started filling up the jar. The sand flowed easily in between the big rocks and the pebbles, filling the jar. Again, he asked: “Do you think the glass jar is now full?” None of the students wanted to risk an answer. They waited to see what would happen next. This time, the teacher took a glass of water and started pouring it into the jar. The water sunk through the sand, pebbles and big rocks – and the teacher managed to get quite a bit of water into the jar, before it reached the brim. The teacher closed the jar and stated: “Only now is the jar truly full. From our experiment, it is clear that it was not full after the big rocks, neither was it full after the pebbles. It was also not full after the sand. Only now, is it really full. If we had put the sand in first, there would not have been space for the big rocks. Equally, if we had added the water or even the pebbles first, we would have been unable to add any big rocks.”


Forgetting to add the big rocks first! That is why I was behind on my book-writing project. Sometimes even those who are usually on track, forget the basics. And in this instance, I had forgotten this basic rule. At least my monthly review reminded me and I could make new plans – schedule the big rocks first.


My solution? I scheduled 27 days between now and the end of July – blocked out in my diary – to work on my next book. The big rocks are packed in. Now I can fill the gaps in my diary with pebbles, sand and water.



Tiana Wilson-Buys is a Business Coach and Productivity Strategist. She offers a free 30-minute virtual meeting to help you get organised. Book your slot here.