When I inquire about priorities, often a client will rattle off a list of things such as health, family, and career. When digging a little deeper, it soon becomes painfully apparent that my client is not prioritising any of these things. While a client may want to improve in these areas, there's often no significant growth because of the lack of structured planning. The single-most common excuse I hear from my clients is, “I don’t have enough time.” It’s not that they don’t have enough time, it’s that many clients don’t have a true understanding of what their current priorities are.
One day, a professor was speaking to a group of students. He pulled out a transparent jar and sat it on the table in front of him. He then added fist sized rocks, one by one, into the jar. Once it was filled to the top, he asked his students, “Is the jar now full? Many students had quizzical expressions, and most replied in
The professor then said, “Let’s test this theory.” Next, he adds handfuls of pebbles in and around the large rocks. Addressing his class again, he says, “Is the jar full now?” The students by this point had cottoned on to the concept that perhaps the jar was not in fact full, though it appeared so, and collectively shouted “No!?”
“Excellent!” said the professor as he pulled out from behind his desk a jar of sand which he then sprinkled between the remaining crevices of the pebbles and rocks, filling the jar up to the brim. He then poses the final question, “What’s the purpose of this demonstration?”
One student responds confidently, “No matter what you can always fit more in?!” Laughing, the professor said “No, not at all, the purpose of this illustration is that if you don’t place the big rocks first you will never fit them in at all!”
Big rocks are the priorities which you value above everything else such as health, relationships, finance, and personal development. The pebbles are the responsibilities or obligations that you feel you need to do, but which at the end of the day are negotiable depending on your priorities, such as getting groceries,
eating out, doing laundry, and cleaning up around the house. The sand in your life are the expendable fillers which waste your precious available minutes each day and which are of low value. These non-urgent tasks included scrolling on social media, Netflix binges, sleeping in, and low quality conversations.
Let’s address how you’re currently filling your jar before we start reprioritising. How do you currently spend most of your time each day? If being healthier and getting fit are highly valued by you, yet you are spending more of your time on Netflix and eating takeout, then perhaps the way you’re spending your time isn’t conducive to meeting the priority you claim is important.
Double-check with yourself; is being healthy and fit a real priority for you right now, or is it something else?
Work out your big rocks, identifying what your highest priorities are, and be honest with yourself. Then, list out your pebbles which are important but not essential daily tasks. Finally, list out the sand, which are the non-important, non-urgent tasks that are zapping your time each day.
What is self-evident? Are you, like most people, unknowingly allocating the majority of your time to low value activities? If so, don’t be discouraged. It is possible to time shift, rechanneling your precious time into supporting your priorities instead.
One great technique to account for how you’re spending your time would be to keep a record of all of your daily activities for a period of one week. This will help you to see how your activity rises or falls over the weekends as well. Record fifteen-minute timekeeping intervals for each activity you do.
Account for activities including sleep, grooming, cooking, work hours, exercise and self-care, necessities, fun and leisure, and non-necessities like television time and social media. Does your expenditure of time add up to more or less than twenty-four hours? Whilst we only have twenty-four hours in a day, it is always interesting to see clients' perceptions of how they are spending their time. Don’t fill in the list trying to anticipate what your day ahead will look like, rather it is best to fill out what you’re actually doing in real time as you complete it.
After you’ve completed this recordkeeping exercise for a full week, what do you notice about how you’re spending your time? What do you need to do now in order to implement any changes successfully? Are there interruptions in your day that you can clear up?
Chapter thirteen of my book - “The Busy Professional’s Toolkit for Self-Mastery & Courageous Living,” covers priorities in more detail. Buy the Book now!