3 Steps to Putting First Things First

(This article is part 2 of a series. To read part part 1, see Is Your Plate Too Full?)

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.”


GodI read that illustration many years ago by leadership expert Stephen Covey and I go back to it when my life seems too full of urgent things leaving no room for the important things.

It reminds me to do the big things first before my “jar” gets filled up by all the little things that won’t mean much in 20 years.

When I find myself frustrated by my lack of time for those most important things, here’s how I get back on track to Putting First Things First:

  1. Decide it! I determine my “big rocks”. We can’t prioritize our time if we aren’t clear on what is most important to us. For me, my list includes :
    • Pursuit of God
    • Good Health
    • Pursuit of a strong marriage
    • Pursuit of a healthy family
    • Personal growth
    • Projects
  2. Write it! I keep a journal of my “big rocks” and revisit and change them periodically. Within each category, I list specifics. Under a healthy family, I write, “have a weekly game night”. Under personal growth, I list books I want to read and classes I want to take. Once I know my priorities, my calendar comes out and I take off things that don’t line up with them to make room for things that do. Then I tackle my to-do list and make it more manageable.
  3. Guard it! I learn to let non-essential things go. The phone will always ring, the emails will always beckon. The closets will never quite be as organized as I may like. I carve out some time for these, but then don’t let them bleed over into more important areas.

 

So this is where I am, putting first things first. My next step is taming my to-do list to make room for my priorities on my daily schedule.

How about you? What are your “big rocks”? Do you need to make room for some of them today? I hope you’ll scroll down and leave me a comment.

 

 

 

Is Your Plate Too Full?

It was only Monday morning. I woke up an hour before the alarm, and my brain was already racing through my mental to-do list. Going back to sleep wasn’t going to happen, so I slipped out of bed and began to tackle the day.

hand-565588_1920By the time the kids got up, I was already in high gear and wondering how I’d ever get it all done. A quick assessment allowed me to cross a few things off and move a few others to another day. But those days were already crammed and I was afraid I’d end up not getting to it altogether, so worry began to press in. There are bills to pay, appointments to make, lessons to teach, calls to make, and…

The intrusive voice: “Mommy! Did you hear me?…”

Really? Can’t they see how busy I am? “WHAT?” I snap.

“I just didn’t know if you wanted me to make you eggs,” came the convicting sweetness of my 11-year-old.

UGH!!! Guilt is now heaped on top of busy-ness and worry, and I feel like poop. So I soften outwardly and crumble inwardly. “No thank you Honey.”

I grab the phone to make what should be a 3 minute call that turns into 30 and by the time I’m off my heart is racing, my brain is full, and my emotions are about to leap off the sanity edge.

And it’s only 8:30. I grab another cup of coffee and plunge further toward disaster.

Have you played out this same scenario with different characters? If so, then let me tell you, it doesn’t have to be this way. These moments are our little reminders to reassess our priorities, re-evaluate our schedules, and re-tweak (or as in my case—overhaul) our to-do list.1

I wish I could say I did all that on Monday, but Tuesday and Wednesday were near repeats before the ah-ha moment kicked in. By then, I was in panic-mode. I went to bed exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed, and irritated with everything and everyone.

So I had a desperate, late night cry session with the Lord over my too long to-do list. I was plagued by my inconsistent involvement in the girls’ schooling and by my not being “in the moment” with my family. I asked God how in the world to accomplish it all. After all, there is just one of me.

Can’t anyone understand that? I can’t do it all!

And there it was: Truth in five words.

I can’t do it all.

And thankfully I don’t have to.

And in that moment of clarity was the scripture, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:36) My children are intricately linked to my soul and I knew the Lord was telling me I was tending too heavily to the wrong areas while neglecting the one I know is to be my focus–my family.

What the Lord convicted me of is this: I can work tirelessly in many arenas and even achieve “success” through them, but unless it is what He has purposed, it will have little value and come at a cost.

You see, when you gorge yourself from a plate that is too full, you lose the ability to truly taste anything and you have two choices. You can stuff yourself until you’re too bloated to enjoy any of it (and likely end up vomiting a big mess). Or you can choose a few things to savor more fully.

So, if awareness is the first step, what’s next? For me, it’s getting a clearer picture of my priorities. I haven’t done that yet, but I hope you’ll check out 3 Steps To Putting First Things First and together we’ll learn how to take a few good items off our plates to fully enjoy the best.

I’d love to hear about how you manage all that’s on your plate. Please comment below some strategies you use or if, like me, you struggle to reign in your to-do list.

Hugs,

Rita