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Rock, Pebbles, and Sand

What Does Dirt Have to Do with Time Management?

Most of us start out the day with a full list of to-do’s. Some of us write out a literal list of items to tackle, others keep mental notes, and some simply respond the second a task comes across our desk or in a notification. But ask yourself a question. How’s that working for you?

It’s tempting to begin our day crossing off the most menial of tasks…responding to emails or making phone calls. We often think that if we first cross off all the small tasks, it will allow us to make room for the larger, more time-consuming tasks. Unfortunately, we all too often find ourselves at the end of the day with important, major items still unaccomplished.

There is a better way to prioritize tasks!

Think of your daily tasks as either rocks, pebbles, or sand. A rock might be a goal that is important to you, such as completing a report by the end of the week. A pebble is something you want to do but that doesn’t need to be completed ASAP. It might be a conversation you need to have about a potential upcoming project. Sand represents the small items in your day that when combined still take a chunk of time. Think email or returning routine phone calls.

Tackle rocks first, then pebbles, then sand. Divide your day by putting one or two of those most important rock tasks first, ensuring they are completed. Use pebble and sand tasks to fill bits of time between the rocks. Stay focused on the time you have blocked out for your critical rock task. Schedule time at the beginning of your day to work on your upcoming report. Also schedule time for a few pebbles you need to deal with now. Above all, watch out for those electronic distractions that plague our days. As notifications pop up on your phone or email, ignore them. Better yet—place your phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode! Then set aside one or two blocks of time during the day to deal with these items.

I recently conducted a time-management training and got some telling feedback. Joseph immediately applied this to his work and personal life told me, “I’ve definitely been much more productive at work and at home. I think the biggest takeaway for me was how important sequence is.” Rocks, pebbles, sand. It works.