Big Rocks and Time Management

Identify your big rocks

In a recent post How to Build Your Time Management House I wrote that when building your time management house, it needs to be built on two solid foundations: the first of which is the need to fully understand your goals and objectives as this will make sure that you’re able to prioritise your actions, so that we you’re always taking action for the right reason. Your time management system needs to be built around your big rocks.

I’m sure you have all heard the big rocks story in one variation or another, it has some important concepts that are vital to understanding where we should be spending our time which are not always fully explained. So when working with clients, I use the analogy and get clients to work through the following exercise to get them to start tinking about what is really important to them. You may also find it useful.

The Big Rocks Story

A teacher is addressing their class, they fill a jug with big rocks and asks the class if it’s full. The class responds with a “Yes”. So, the teacher adds pebbles to the jug, and once again asks if the jug is full, and again the class responds, “Yes”. The teacher says “No” and now adds sand to the jug. In some versions of this story, it is taken a stage further by adding water to the jug.

My Explanation

The big rocks are the things in our life that are really important to us. The sand and the pebbles represent the small daily tasks we fill our lives with. If we don’t fit our big rocks in first, our lives will fill with only sand and pebbles, and there will be no room for the big rocks, BUT if we start with our big rocks, we create room for what’s important in life – and the sand and pebbles can only fill the spaces in between.


This exercise will help you to align how you spend your time with your “real” priorities, your “Big Rocks”.  The first step is to answer the questions below:

  1. What currently takes up most of your time? (Make a list of whatever jumps into your mind)
  2. What is the SINGLE biggest thing that STEALS your time at present? (I’m looking for an unwanted time-stealer here – not things that are a wanted or necessary part of your life)
  3. What do you feel NEEDS to change?
  4. What are TRULY the 3 most important priorities in your life? Take a few moments to really think about what’s important to you in your life.  (Make a list of whatever pops into your mind)
  5. What one thing is MOST IMPORTANT to you right now?

Identify & Prioritise Your Rocks!

I then give clients an A4 copy of picture below and ask them to do the following

  1. Using the story, we started with as your guide, write your KEY priorities/activities on the biggest rocks in the picture. (Think carefully. What are your real “Big Rocks” in life right now? What’s most important to you in life?)
  2. Now fill in the smaller rocks – your pebbles – with your next (lower) level priorities/activities.
  3. Then, in the tiny gaps between the rocks, write your lowest priorities/activities.
  4. Finally, add a priority to your “Big Rocks” from 1 to 5.

Use this tool regularly to prioritise your week or month – and to make sure you schedule your BIG ROCK items first!

Review your Learnings!

What changes will you make following what you have learned about yourself?

  1. How does where you currently spend your time’ compare to your “Big Rocks” – your REAL priorities?
  2. What does this tell you?

What Needs to Change?

  1. What COULD you be doing differently?
  2. What is the EASIEST change/s you could make to prioritise your time better?
  3. What are you WILLING to change to prioritise your time better
  4. Smash those Obstacles:What could get in the way? If you were going to sabotage yourself how would you do it?

What will you Commit to?

  1. What WILL you change or do differently? Take a look at the entire worksheet and identify 3 actions
    you will take to focus on your BIG ROCKS in life.

If you would like to Download the Exercise which gives you a large picture of the Jug to use and also room to write in your answers to the questions you can do so by clicking here, no email required – Exercise

By completing the above exercise you will be on the way to building a strong foundation for your time management house to stand on, In tomorrows post I will share with you a tool to help you really bottom out your time management goals.

Let me know your thoughts?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Till Next Time

Mike Gardner is The Time Doctor



Mike Gardner aka ‘The Time Doctor’ and is highly regarded as one of the UK’s leading Time Management and productivity specialists. As well as being regularly featured in both online and off-line media outlets around the world, he is the author of the best selling time management book, Business Owners: Your Family Misses You. He regularly speaks on topics that are congruent with his mission of helping small business owners, entrepreneurs and independent professionals to be incredibly productive, whilst still balancing their business and family commitments in a way that enables them to feel fulfilled and guilt-free. He is an avid Aston Villa fan, a Dad to Neil & Emma, a hubby to Wendy and in his role as an Officer with the reserve forces, he has completed operational tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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8 thoughts on “Big Rocks and Time Management

  1. I have heard the story about the jug, but not in the way you have used it. Your illustration and available exercise is awesome! I’m a very visual learner and this will be very effective for me. Thank you!

  2. I love the big rocks story. I have used it in demonstrations a few times and have been known to add wine as the liquid. There’s always time for wine!. Love the image and need to revisit my rocks and pebbles. Thanks

  3. I’ve never heard the rock story before now can you believe it? Will sit down this evening and give it some thought with my own diagram. I find these visual aids really help me.