I was reminded of the analogy of the rocks, pebbles, and sand recently. Full disclosure: I didn’t come up with the analogy. I learned about it from Gino Wickman in Traction, who borrowed it from Steven Covey in First Things First, who borrowed it from Verne Harnish in The Rockefeller Habits.

I’ve only read Traction, so I’ll share how it’s described there:

Picture a glass cylinder set on a table. Next to the cylinder are rocks, pebbles, and sand. Imagine the cylinder as all of the time you have in a day. The rocks are your main priorities, the pebbles represent your day-to-day responsibilities, the sand represents the interruptions and everything else that you get hit with during your workday.

If you, like most people, pour the sand in first, the pebbles second, and the rocks last, what happens? The big priorities won’t fit into your day. That’s your typical day.

What happens if you do the reverse? Work on the big stuff first: Put the rocks in. Next, come the day-to-day responsibilities: add the pebbles. Finally, pour in the sand. Everything fits in the glass cylinder perfectly. The bottom line is you need to work on the biggest priorities first – your Rocks. Then, everything else will fall into place.

This 2-minute video illustrates the rocks, pebbles, and sand analogy. Rocks are not limited to work. We all have Life Rocks. That’s something else to keep in mind as you’re crossing work priorities off your list.

Rocks are just priorities. A Company Rock is owned by a member of our leadership team. It is one of the 3-7 most important things for the company to accomplish over the next 90 days.

Rocks are not limited to the company. There are also Departmental or Team Rocks (priorities for each department or team) and Individual Rocks (priorities for individuals).

Your Rock for today might be to finish up a customer proposal. It could be to prep for the dinner rush, finish a manuscript, or prepare a P & L. Maybe you have to finish ordering lunch for the team or finalize payroll. Those are all examples of your most important things and should be done before you get buried by an avalanche of sand.

Don’t forget about your Individual Rocks and Life Rocks, either. Remember, take care of the important stuff first. Those are your Rocks. The rest is just pebbles and sand.

By Jason Piasecki, Partner + Aspiring Rockstar

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