By Peter L DeHaan
you've heard this story. Imagine you’re sitting in a college class.
It’s one of those big classrooms, with tiered seating, able
to accommodate hundreds of students. The class is
assembled in eager expectation; what will the professor do today?
exactly 8 o’clock, he strides in and without acknowledging the
classes’ presence, reaches under the lectern and produces a gallon
glass jar. He sits it on a nearby table.
Then he pulls out a box of rocks and sets it next to the jar.
Finally, he fixes his gaze on his charges and with their
attention sufficiently garnered, he clears his throat, gestures to the
rocks, and asks, “Who would like to show us how much you can fit in
to contain himself, an eager-to-impress freshman shoots up his hand.
With no other volunteers, he is summoned forward. Desiring
to make a profound and positive impression on his instructor, Mr.
Eager-to-Impress works quickly but carefully, astutely positioning
rocks in the jar until it is satiated.
the jar full?” The professor inquires.
the students reply in strong unison.
you fit any more in the jar?” He deadpans.
is the enthusiastic chorus.
the instructor produces a bag of pebbles. “How
about now?” The students emit a collective gasp;
a hush falls over the room. Mr. Eager-to-Impress is
in a quandary. Should he cut his losses and remain
silent or attempt to salvage his bravado. Somewhat
hesitantly he raises his hand and is again beckoned forward.
With greater care and less haste, he places a handful of
pebbles at the top and by tapping, shaking, and rotating the jar, they
make their way to fill the gaps below. Satisfied he
has done his best, with hopeful confidence he returns to his chair.
the jar full?” The educator again inquires.
yes,” is the students’ cautious reply.
you fit any more in the jar?” He questions.
they guardedly answer.
the instructor brings out a pail of sand. Many
students begin to smile. “How about now?”
Eager-to-Impress is not so eager any more, but feels his fate
has been decided. Without being asked, he slinks
back to the table and using the same technique, filters the fine sand
through the courser maze of rocks and pebbles. Red-faced,
he sits down, anxious for class to end.
teacher gleefully asks, “Is the jar full now?”
one will venture a response. Whatever they might
say, they fear would be wrong; plus, no one wants to stand out like
professor ignores their silence, “Can you fit any more in the
jar?” He questions. More
practiced timing, the learners are left to squirm in the hush of the
moment. Without a word the teacher reaches under
the podium and brings forth a picture of water. Some
students groan; others smile. Unable to contain
himself, the skillful educator grins. “How about
now?” He asks? He doesn’t
ask for volunteers and none would be forthcoming anyway. Slowly
he begins pouring the water into the jar. Gradually,
it permeates every crack and crevice. He fills it
to the top and then adds a bit more to overflow the jar. There
is no doubt as to whether or not the jar is full.
can we learn from this?” is his final query.
wanting to salvage something from this debacle, summons his courage
and hesitantly proclaims, “It means that no matter how busy you are,
you can always fit more in!”
the professor bellows, pounding his fist on the table for emphasis.
“It means that unless you take care of the big things first,
they will never get done!”
have heard several variations of this narrative. Since
I have not been unable to track down the source of this tale, or its
author, I share my version of it, with a tip of my hat to
“Anonymous,” grateful for the lesson shared.
can confidently state that I am quite adept at handling the pebbles
and sand in my life, topping it off with an abundant supply of water
to make things seem complete. However, I’ve
discovered that it requires forethought and intentionality for me to
handle the rocks, those big and important things. I
find that without careful planning and deliberate action, the big
stuff gets put off until tomorrow. It becomes all
too easy to go from day to day, week to week, month to month, and even
year to year, attending only to life’s minutia, without ever
tackling its priorities.
seems to be an epidemic; everyone is busy. We are
busy at work and leave to be busy at home; we are busy in rest and
recreation and busier still on vacation, needing to go back to work to
rest up. All too often, our busyness distracts us
from what is important, from what really matters, from those things
that could truly make a difference. I’ve pondered
my own busyness and am working towards my cure.
Management: The traditional
thrust of time management is controlling how we spend our time so as
to allow time to do more. This doesn’t bring
relief or reduce stress, it just means that we are squeezing more into
an already full day. Turn time management on its
head, using it control how we spend out time, so that we do less.
This is my first prescription against busyness.
When I multitask, I am not really doing two things at once, but merely
quickly switching back and forth. I fear that my
pursuit of multitasking has only served to make me ADD! Not only is multitasking inefficient and counter-productive,
there is also evidence that it messes up our brain. This certainly gives
a Time Log: Before I went
solo and when I had employees, I used to unintentionally irritate my
managers by periodically asking them to keep a time log for a week; I
would do it too. They hated it and so did I, but
the results were instructive. You may elect to keep
a time log, too, or merely consider how you spend your time.
Let’s look at some easy categories. How
much TV do you watch a day? The average is four
hours! How much time do you spend on the Internet?
Again the average hovers around four hours! It
makes me wonder, are people multitasking, watching TV and surfing the
web at the same time? All this amounts to a lot of
time that could likely be put to better use, attending to the big
things, not squandered in passive activities of no real consequence.
One may argue that this down time is “needed” to relax, but
I submit that if we weren’t so perpetually busy, we wouldn’t need
so much time to escape.
Say No: We tell our kids to
say “no” to certain behaviors and could do well to heed that
advice. Negative behaviors range in severity from,
say, occasional overeating to addictive substance abuse. These
should be easy to spot and stop, but it’s not always done.
Other behaviors are neutral or even positive, but still may be
inadvisable. Sometimes its prudent to say “no”
to some good things in order to protect ourselves from over-committing
and ending up too busy to do anything well.
Limits: I’ve learned that
my tolerance for work is about 50 to 55 hours a week. If
things balloon beyond that, I find that out of self-preservation I cut
back until I again have a tolerable schedule. If I
was self-policing to a 55 hour work week, I theorized I could learn to
limit myself to 45 hours. It took some time, but I
was able to do it. In looking back at my output and
quality during those 45 hour work weeks, I can see nothing that
suffered or was left undone. I was also more
relaxed, less stressed, and had more free time. Unfortunately,
maintaining that schedule took effort and I soon fell back into the 55
hour work week habit. Once again I am working to
reclaim those lost 10 hours a week.
Yourself: My tendency is to
handle the pebbles and sand at the beginning of my day and then attend
to the rocks in the afternoon – if there is time. This
is not wise for me, as my time of greatest focus and peak energy is in
the morning. Ironically, I was handling trivial
stuff at my peak while reserving the important tasks for my low point.
I’ve noted a similar cycle throughout the week and another
that is seasonally affected. It takes a concerted,
ongoing effort, but I strive to prioritize key tasks for peak times,
while delegating lesser activities to my off moments.
We Can Do the Big Things First:
Once you’ve taken steps to resume control over life’s activities,
there is then time to attend to the big things. Without
the cumulative pressures of countless trivial concerns pushing in,
there is the freedom to focus on the important, the life-altering, and
the significant, removing us from the rut that all too easily goes
from day to day, week to week, month to month, and even year to year
– all without notable advancement.
all, it is imperative to guard against getting so busy dealing with
life that we forget to live it.
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