Get Your Big Rocks In First

Have you heard of the big rocks story? It goes like this:

One day a teacher was speaking to a group of students. He pulled out a large jar and set it on a table.

Then he took out about a dozen big rocks and placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?”

“Yes,” the students answered.

“Really?” he said. “Let’s see.” The teacher took out some gravel and dumped them in. He shook the jar, causing the gravel to fall in-between the rocks. “Is the jar full?” he asks.

The students were catching on. “Probably not,” a student answered.

“Very good!” he said. He then took out a bucket of sand and dumped the sand in. This time, the sand fell into the tiny cracks between the rocks and gravel. “Is this jar full?” he asked.

“No!” the students shouted.

“Excellent!” the teacher said. Lastly, he grabbed a pitcher of water and poured it into the jar. This time, the jar was definitely full.

The teacher looked back at the students and asked, “What have you learned from this?”

“We can always fit more things into our life if we really work at it,” a student suggested.

The teacher said, “You’re right. But have you wondered how we were able to fit all the items into the jar?”

The class turned silent.

He continued, “Say we didn’t put the big rocks in first, instead putting the gravel, sand, and water first. Would we have gotten the big rocks in in the end?”

Big rocks — these are the most important things in your life. Big rocks are your 80/20 goals, the 20% key goals that give you 80% satisfaction when achieved. Your big rocks can be to pursue your passion, to find love, to start a non-profit, or any goal that will make a real difference to your life when achieved.

When you don’t make your big rocks a priority, they’ll never happen. You can be busy with the day-to-day stuff — the gravel, sand, and water — and your life will be filled with that at the end of the day. In turn, your big rocks will be left at the wayside, unable to enter your life.

What are your big rocks? What are the goals that you really want to achieve, that will make you the happiest when you achieve them?

  • Career: Are you pursuing your ideal career? Are you doing work that inspires you?
  • Love: Are you in a relationship with the love of your life?
  • Health: Are you at your ideal weight? Do you have a healthy diet?
  • Friends: Do you have like-minded friends who lift you up when you’re down?
  • Family: Do you have the best relationship with your family?
  • Others: Are there any goals that you wish to achieve, that mean a lot to you?

If not, are you working to get them in? Or have you neglected them?

Don’t wait until a “later” or “next time.” For your big rocks to happen, you need to make the space for them first. Say no to the unimportant. Remove the unnecessary. Set your big rocks as the priority. Even if you have multiple big rocks — many of us do — pick the one to two most important big rocks to work on first. You can work on the rest after you’re done with first two.

Start working on them, one at a time. Even if the progress is little, it is still progress. In time to come, as your big rocks start falling into place, you’ll experience the big payoffs and rewards that come from working on these highly impactful goals in your life.

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