Monday, September 15, 2008

Big Rocks First

I could swear I saw this done in the 80's, but my Google-search seems to attribute this anecdote (mostly) to Stephen Covey. Either way, it's a good lesson.

In First Things First, Stephen Covey tells a story that one of his associates heard at a seminar. The seminar presenter pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar and placed it next to a pile of fist-sized rocks. After filling the jar to the top with rocks, he asked, "Is the jar full?"

The group replied, "Yes."

He then got some gravel from under the table and added it to the jar. The speaker jiggled the jar until the gravel filled the spaces between the rocks. Again, he asked, "Is the jar full?"

This time, the group replied, "Probably not."

The speaker then added some sand and asked, "Is the jar full?"

"No!" shouted the group.

Finally, the speaker filled the jar to the brim with water and asked the group the point of this illustration.

Someone replied that you could always fit more things into your life if "you really work at it."

"No," countered the speaker. The point is, if you don't put the big rocks in first, " . . . would you ever have gotten any of them in?"

As you start the new year, think of the "big rocks" in your life as the things you can do to make this a healthier and happier year for yourself and others. When making decisions during the moments, days and months of the year ahead, ask: "Is this a big rock?"

Say "yes" to your "big rocks" first. Don't feel you need to explain each "no" when the smaller gravel and sand try to fill your time. "No" can be a complete sentence!

I get a fair amount done every week. And that includes a fair amount of that slack, do-nothing, hang-out-together time that the Dynamo and I enjoy together. I don't tightly schedule *anything*, but I do keep my Big Rocks few, and make them my priority.

1000 words a day on the novel.

Say something sweet to, do something sweet for and generally enjoy the Tiny Dynamo.

Read an hour or two a night.

Work enough to keep the doors open.

That's it, really. Just those few things. The smaller stuff, the gravel, fits in easy enough: surfing the net, painting for fun, writing the odd blog post, drinks with friends, etc. Like sand and water, the *really* small stuff has to fit in where it can. I don't sweat it.

I know some of you are thinking about your bigger job commitements, the time that children eat up, that sort of thing. Cool. Those are your Big Rocks, and they do deserve your time. And if your job is a Bigger Rock for you than your writing, expect the appropriate results.
You'll need to go slower, or to push some sand out of the way.

Right now, CS Harris is writing despite some serious, and unavoidable, upheavals. I have faith in her. After all, this is the same woman who wrote Why Mermaids Sing in the middle of Katrina. Now me, I tend to think, "Oh no, XYZ popped up and I won't get what I need to done." Then I think of Candy and feel inspired. I drop some other, smaller rock and get back to work.

I'll offer three important tips:

1. Get the must-do stuff done first. Little fires ignite all day long. If nothing else, they're going to take some energy to put out. It's easy to end up too tired at day's end to do your best. Some folks are exceptions to this, your mileage may vary.

2. Clarity. Be clear and honest with yourself about the size of those Big Rocks. Sometimes, the answers may be a little painful, but in my book a little pain's better than decades of lingering hollow misery and nagging doubt caused by living an untrue life.

3. Focus. The fewer Big Rocks you have, the easier it is to focus on them. A person with only ONE priority in life is (yes, likely to appear slightly deranged, but also) virtually unstoppable. A person with five #1 issues is a fool.

As always, take what you like and leave the rest.

And let's see, on Day... hm, Day 38 (had to take off my shoes to count that one), the Full Throttle Daily Wordcount-O-Meter stands at 40,900 words. And I'm one scene away from my Great Big Tentpole Plot Development. Fun!


Lisa said...

Ah. Words of wisdom and not a minute too soon. I think tomorrow is going to have to be an internet/election news free day for me. I'm at 50,716 words and I should be at more like 52K. Thanks for the push.

Charles Gramlich said...

When I'm working on a project, I get told all the time that, oh, well, this errand won't take that long, or you have to get that little thing done, or so on and so on. And I just say "no." I never put it in the terms of big rocks and gravel and sand, but this is a great analogy. There are "always" brush fires, always "emergencies." Unless you can shove those in around the edges you'll never get the big things done.

Sidney said...

Good pointers. It's always good to get a reminder of that story.

Lana Gramlich said...

With my preference of free time over money, the "big rocks" lesson (while a really good one for some,) wasn't something I really needed to "learn," y'know? Unfortunately Charles' jar is typically buried under rocks, gravel, sand & water, but he's trying. <:\

Unknown said...

A great reminder.....1000/day during the week and family on the weekend. It can be done :-)

Riss said...

I have a lot of big rocks. And that's just the way I operate I think. Luckily I get good mileage hehe. But, it's a good way of thinking about things. I just read and decided to do the 100 item challenge when I get back to the states. It's similar, learn to prioritize, do it, and then stick to it until things are finished, whatever that translates to for you.

Shauna Roberts said...

A good reminder. I have a LOT of big rocks in my life (unavoidably, unless I give up writing and working), and sometimes it's hard to remember to treat all the daily disasters as sand and pebbles when they feel like more rocks.

Steve Malley said...

Lisa, you can do it!

Charles, anyone with as much on the go as you have *has* to be good at time-management. I don't know how you do it all!

Sidney, one does what one can. :)

Lana, it doesn't always have to be money. This book's going heaps faster than the last one because I unplug the internet until I'm done writing.

Liz, 5k a week is still 260,000 words a year. Even James Michener could turn in a book a year on that schedule...

Riss, sometimes I think you should be the one with 'full throttle' in the title. You do know how to ZOOM! :)

Shauna, for a lady with such large rocks, you juggle them well!

ANNA-LYS said...

This makes great sense, Steve!
I've never heard it in English before, Thank You, dear.

And I love Your tips, and will try to adopt them

Glamourpuss said...

Yes, I've heard various versions of that, too - although the last one was at a speech given by some bishop who finished the anecdote off with the professor/speaker pouring a can of beer into the jar. The moral was 'no matter how busy life gets, there's always room for a beer.'

You have your head screwed on straight. I admire that.


Bernita said...


cs harris said...

I'm humbled that I inspire you, but the truth is, at the moment I feel like a pile of boulders just smashed my little jar to smithereens!

Seriously, I've been thinking the last few days that with the recent changes in my life, I need to reorder some things. This is a great analogy to ponder--when the wip is in the post.

Steve Malley said...

Anna-lys, as long as it doesn't interfere with your blogging! ;-)

Puss, I happily acquiesce to a higher truth: there is, in fact, always room for beer!

Bernita, thanks.

CS, life sure is slippery, always changing up the play. Good luck getting that wip in the mail!

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I think that is really excellent! I love the analogy. I definitely have a few rocks to work around - but they are worthy ones!

Miladysa said...

I've never heard this one before and I like it!

You doing great with the words - keep it up :-D

AvDB said...

Thank you, Steve. Right on time, right when I needed it.

Riss said...

Hehe. You beat me to it. I tend to wander a lot too though so it fits. (c: I'm glad to hear you're kickin' butt on the story-I should open my word document again sometime in the near future. I've been workin' like a dawg since I got over this silly chicken pox/measles junk with the family so I haven't had a whole lot of time...I know, excuses excuses. Happy writing. And yes, beer is always good. :D

Steve Malley said...

Ello, glad you liked it. And congrats on the new agent!

Miladysa, thanks. I may forget to wear pants out of the house, but I still get those 1000 a day done and dusted.

Avery, that's why I wrote it. Your psychic messages continue to come through loud and clear!

Riss, beer, yes. Better still:
Beer *and* talking like a pirate.

Yaaarrrrr (hic!)

High Power Rocketry said...

: )

Riss said...

Argh matey. I'm going to go finish off my real Karlskrone now and paint...I'm an artsy-fartsy pirate!

Barbara Martin said...

This post is brilliant. I have written while the sky was falling in around me during a bout of DVT. The best thing about it is, you have a momentary breath of fresh air of distraction. It seems I wrote my best under pressure, my creativity taking over and the words flowed. Also, my storyline changed from what I thought I would write about; it turned into a kind of domino effect.

The distraction gives you a feeling that you actually managed to do something constructive.

Thank you for reminding me, and I need to apply this push in my current problem.

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