How to Get the BIG Things Done… First

This past weekend I found myself very near Palo Alto, CA, where I grew up.  My aunt died suddenly and my family flew out for the memorial.

On the way from the Bay Area to my aunt’s, I could not help but remember this story that happened to me in 1975.  To this day I use its lesson, daily.

Your Biggest Rock

One of my great aha! moments came from my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Kelby, who inspired me with a science experiment that became the foundation for my approach to everything that’s important in life.  While many teachers have conducted this experiment, and business leaders have seized upon it in their writings, its simple brilliance bears repeating.

One day Mrs. Kelby showed us a big, empty, clear jar and proceeded to fill it with large rocks.  She then looked at all of us ten-year-olds and asked, “Is the jar full?”  We all answered enthusiastically, “Yes!”

Next, to our surprise, she took a bunch of small pebbles and dropped them into the jar.  As they slid around the larger rocks already in place, they eventually filled the big, clear glass jar.  “Now is the jar filled?” she asked.  Again we answered enthusiastically, “Yes!”

Next she took several handfuls of sand and dropped them into to the big, clear glass jar.  Eventually the whole jar was filled with sand.  She again asked, “Now is the jar filled?”  We all were convinced it was.

We stared in amazement when she then took a pitcher of water and poured it into the jar.  It was awesome, and when she asked the class to say what they thought the purpose of the exercise was, I excitedly raised my hand and blurted:   “The purpose is that you can always fit more in your jar!”

She quickly corrected me: “The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate the importance of putting your largest rock into the jar first.”

It may have taken some time for the power of that lesson to fully sink in, yet it is quite clear today. If you do the little things in your life first, you’ll have a mess on your hands when you try to get to the big things.  However, by doing your biggest thing first, you’ll be amazed at how much capacity you’ll have left for the little things later.

Action Steps for the Week

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you live your life and business doing the smaller, less important things first, and trying to fit in the more important things afterward?
  • How often does this approach force you to manage a lot of cleanup in life?  
  • Do you find yourself stressed and overwhelmed, exhausted and bogged down in little details and responsibilities, always struggling to fit in the big stuff?

From your answers, take a look what are the most important things in your business… and life.  Figure out what needs to happen around each of them this week and schedule them into your calendar first.