I have horrible time management skills.
Part of the reason is that I take on a lot of projects.
Part of the reason is that I’m easily distra…ooh, shiny!
And part of the reason is that I’m a terrible procrastinator. On second thought, that’s not quite true. I’m actually a very good procrastinator. It’s a skill I’ve built up quite well.
Stephen Covey tells a story–one I’ve always heard applied to personal finance–called The Big Rocks of Life.
One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.
As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully 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?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.
Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”
“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”
One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”
“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”
The original point to the story is just as relevant as the personal finance lessons associated with it. If you let your life fill up with the little crap that doesn’t matter, you won’t have time for the important things.
At work, I have 4-5 major projects I’m working on. Some of these are behind schedule. I get interrupted sometimes twenty times per day. Each one of those interruptions kills my concentration; it wrecks my groove. By the time I’m back on track, 20 minutes have passed and I’m getting interrupted again.
No wonder I don’t seem to get anything done.
If I close my door and ignore my email, the little rocks usually don’t fill up my day, allowing me to concentrate on the high-value projects. That’s not always possible, and my coworkers get upset when I throw rocks at them for interrupting me, but it does help me get things done.
Now, I just need to focus on the big things and let the little rocks slide. No twitter, no internet forums, no coworker interruptions. Then we’ll see how productive I can be.
What are your “little rocks”? How do you avoid getting bogged down?