Putting your Priorities First: A big rocks lesson

 When I was an undergrad at EMU, I heard a time management expert speak to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, she used an illustration we students would never forget. As she stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers, she said, "Okay, time for a quiz."

Focus on the Big Rocks First

She pulled out a ½ gallon, wide-mouthed Mason jar and set it on the table for the class to see. Then she produced about 5 fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, she asked, "Is this jar full?"

Everyone in the class said, "Yes."

Then she said, "Really?" She reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then she dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks. Then she asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?"

By this time the class was on to her. "Probably not," one of them answered.

"Good!" she replied. She reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand.  She started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all of the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more she asked the question, "Is this jar full?"

"No!" the class shouted.

Once again she said, "Good." Then she grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim.  Then she looked at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!"

"No," the speaker explained, that wasn’t the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is:

If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."

What are the “big rocks” in your life? Your children? Your loved ones? Your education? Your dreams? A worthy cause? Teaching or mentoring others? Doing things that you love? Time for yourself? Your health? Your significant other? Remember to put these “big rocks” in first or you'll never get them in at all.

If you sweat the little stuff (the gravel, the sand) then you'll fill your life with little things you worry about that don't really matter, and you'll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff (the big rocks). So, ask yourself this question, “What are the 'big rocks' in my life?” Then, consider whether you’re putting them in your jar first. Because, like that time management expert showed me, if you don’t put them first, you’ll never find room.

Matthew E. Chope, CFP ® is a Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Matt has been quoted in various investment professional newspapers and magazines. He is active in the community and his profession and helps local corporations and nonprofits in the areas of strategic planning and money and business management decisions. In 2012 and 2013, Matt was named to the Five Star Wealth Managers list in Detroit Hour magazine.

Five Star Award is based on advisor being credentialed as an investment advisory representative (IAR), a FINRA registered representative, a CPA or a licensed attorney, including education and professional designations, actively employed in the industry for five years, favorable regulatory and complaint history review, fulfillment of firm review based on internal firm standards, accepting new clients, one- and five-year client retention rates, non-institutional discretionary and/or non-discretionary client assets administered, number of client households served.