There’s a well known time management parable about fitting rocks and sand into a jar – sometimes with Beer added as third thing! You have probably seen it.
The theory goes that you have to put the rocks in first, and the sand can then flow down around them.
If you put the sand in first then you can’t fit all the rocks in.
The rocks are the big jobs (presumably important as well) while the sand is all the small stuff – presumably urgent as well as small.
Because most big things are not urgent (I call them box 3) and most small things are urgent (I call them box 2). There’s definitely more to Time Management than just size of jobs – although that IS a factor, along with urgency and importance.
Anyway, I think there is a snag with the plan of putting in the rocks first and then the sand afterwards. Which is: the sand can’t wait! Some of it has to be done straight away!
Of course, what many of us do is we think “I’ll clear all the small stuff and then sit down and do the big stuff”… but it’s worse than just the rocks not fitting in – the sand is a magic ever-replenishing pile which will fill the whole jar before you get to even one single rock. Have you ever had a whole day where you drive home thinking “Where did that day go? It has zoomed by! Yes I’ve been busy but I feel I’ve achieved nothing worthwhile. It’s just been a day of wall to wall hassle”. That’s a jar full of sand!
So my suggestion for fitting in both the urgent sand and the important rocks is as follows:
- Have a quick look the sand and clear the most urgent ones straight away.
- Put a rock in! The rest of the sand will just have to damn well wait! (Unless you work in a hospital, nobody will die). They can wait an hour.
- Clear some more sand – either the sand that has been waiting until now, or the sand that has just arrived and is very urgent.
- After lunch, put another rock in – the sand can wait. That’s TWO rocks you did today!
- Finish up with some more sand. Maybe you can clear all of it? Certainly clear your email inbox, putting anything you don’t have time for onto your jobs to do list for tomorrow, so your inbox is empty at the end of each day.
- So in box number terms it’s 2 -3 -2 -3 – 2 – and maybe 4 at the end if all the 2s are done. Only being interrupted by a box 1 if there is one.