Recently, the staff where my wife works attended two days of training on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the exercises she was given used an analogy of rocks and sand to represent time management.
Ah hah! I gave a presentation to that effect at a KM Summit back in 2006. I can fill in with some visuals, but instead of rocks and sand, I’ll use jawbreakers and M&Ms.
Time is Democratic
Rich or poor, young or old, we all have precisely 24 hours in a day, and seven days in our week. It’s what we do with those hours that distinguishes us.
To illustrate, consider the jawbreaker as that big, important task that Must Be Done. It’s probably not easy. You may not even particularly relish the idea of hunkering down and getting it done. But it’s there, along with a number of other Big Important Tasks.
The M&Ms are the small, urgent tasks. Sometimes they’re the little fires that break out during the day as you rush from stomping out the last one. They can be provide quick gratification as you tick off items in your to-do list, but they ultimately they are not as important as the jawbreakers.
Urgent? Perhaps. Do they help move you closer to your big goals? Not so much.
The mistake many of us make is that we start our day by succumbing to the tyranny of the urgent. The M&Ms. Why is that a problem? Try this exercise. It begins with a bowl-full of jawbreakers and a couple pounds of M&Ms.
If we take the M&Ms and pour it into our empty vase, and add the jawbreakers afterwards, you’ll find they won’t all fit. Our day planner runneth over.
Putting the Big Important Tasks First
Next, try putting all the jawbreakers–the Big Important Tasks–first. They all fit in the vase.
Finally, pour in the M&Ms and magically–they also fit–easily filling the empty spaces between the jawbreakers.
What are those urgent little tasks that are filling up your day? What are the Big Important Tasks that you never seem to have enough time to finish?
Brainstorm a few and inverting the priorities and you’ll make great strides toward reaching those big goals.
dennis jonker says
I never looked at that from this perspective. What you are saying is start with your big tasks, end with the smaller ones. Thanks Jeff
Jeff Hester says
That’s the general idea, Dennis… the little stuff can fill our days otherwise.