What are your 5 BIG rocks?

Many of us have heard the rocks, pebbles and sand story which goes a bit like this:

A philosophy professor once stood up before her class with a large empty jar. She filled the jar to the top with large rocks and asked her students if the jar was full.

The students said that yes, the jar was indeed full.

She then added small pebbles to the jar, and gave the jar a bit of a shake so the pebbles could disperse themselves among the larger rocks. Then she asked again, “Is the jar full now?”

The students agreed that the jar was still full.

The professor then poured sand into the jar to fill up any remaining empty space. The students then agreed that the jar was completely full.

The professor goes on to explain that the rocks represent the most important things in life. The pebbles are things that matter but you could live without, and the sand is irrelevant stuff that we waste time on but are of little real value.

In a TEC workshop last week, Trudy McDonald of TalentCode put a different spin on the same story:

So imagine that you take the empty jar and pour the sand in first, then the pebbles, then finally the rocks.

The result is shown in the photo below, you can’t get as much into the jar if you start with the sand first.

Trudy explained that the sand is what most of us focus on (too much) in the morning.  We get into the office, grab a coffee, bit of a chin wag about ‘The Bachelor’ episode from the night before and then check our emails.

We then get distracted by emails and start replying to a few of those, maybe a meeting and before you know it, it’s 10am.

At 10am (after another coffee), we reach for the to-do list (pebbles) and start on the easy ones to build momentum before we attack the burning tasks which just have to get done today.

Your big rocks are left to the side which you’ll get to later in the day.  4pm rolls around and you’re ready to move a big rock, but with little energy left for the day it all feels too hard.  Sound familiar?

You cannot get as much into your day (the jar), or be as effective as you need to be to achieve your goals if you start with sand.  It takes discipline and grit to focus on the rocks, on what matters most.

So, if you’re reading this thinking I have to change my habits here are three things to do today:

  1. Write down your five big rocks. What are the most important things that need to get done in your role for the business to be successful?Trudy share five common examples that most CEO’s have as their big rocks, they are: (1) Strategy and strategic thinking about the business (2) People & Culture (3) Financial Performance (4) Risk & Compliance (5) Strategic Relationships
  2. Once you have your big rocks, block out time in your diary (ideally first thing in the morning when you have the most energy) for these rocks.Five days of the week, five rocks.  Very neat to attack one each morning.
  3. Don’t look at your emails until 10am in the morning. They are full of sand.  Divide your email inbox into sand and pebbles.  That has helped me a lot.


One final quote that Trudy shared which will stay with me forever is this:

Successful people are disciplined at keeping the main thing, the main thing.

Define your rocks today and lift those first thing in the morning.


Matthew Ross

Director and Independent Financial Adviser