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  • Gonzalo Cordova

The Tale of the Overflowing Jar

I vividly recall S. Covey explaining the metaphor of the rock, pebble, and sand. If one starts with the big rocks, follows with the pebbles, and ends with the sand, everything fits perfectly. This metaphor is a great lesson to prioritize the essential activities in our available time to maximize our impact and reach meaning in life.


Last year, however, I could not make this metaphor work. I could not devise a feasible plan to address all my personal, professional, and developmental priorities in 24 hours per day. My situation led me to ask what one should do with an overflowing jar after filling it in the correct order. After all, in the metaphor, one always finds a way to perfectly fit every big rock, pebble, and sand.


Given my dilemma, I embarked on a journey that led me to the following insights:


  • Fixed Time – The size of the jar is fixed because it represents the available time in a day, week, month, year, or life. Thus, asking for a larger jar is impossible. Also, there are limited possibilities of what one can do with the jar's contents. When everything does not fit in the jar, one can choose to reshuffle, shrink, or hold.

  • Reshuffle – Since my dilemma derived from having too many priorities, I assessed whether every big rock, pebble, and sand on my list was adequately categorized. For each item, I used my perceived value, readiness to take action, and ability to delegate as the filters for their proper categorization.

  • Shrink – I shrunk the size (i.e., execution time) of some of the contents of my jar by reducing their scope and finding ways to execute them more efficiently. These items did not change categories, but they changed size. However, I made a point not to sacrifice the time allocated to the most critical big rocks – sleep, physical activity, and family.

  • Hold – Lastly, even though the two steps above reduced the number of priorities, the jar was still not big enough. Thus, I left some contents out of the jar (e.g., blogging did not make it). I used my perceived value and readiness to take action to guide this step. I admit it was hard to put some ideas and projects on hold since some were in progress.


I now use the framework described above (think FReSH) to prioritize my personal, professional, and developmental goals. This simple framework reminds me that the jar is not always large enough to perfectly fit everything I would like to do at once and to ensure that what is in the jar is the best use of my limited time.


What is your approach to prioritizing your personal, professional, and developmental goals?

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