All of us are have the capacity to be extremely busy. There are so many things vying for our time that we can easily fill up days and our weeks with all the things that we need to do. And although it may seem like there’s an infinite number of things to do, the reality is that we only have a finite amount of time each day we can spend.

Several years ago Stephen Covey popularized an illustration that shows the importance of how we choose to fill up our day. It goes something like this:


A teacher stands in front of his class and puts a large, one-gallon, wide-mouth mason jar on the table before him. He proceeds to fill up the jar with a few large rocks until they reach the top.

He then asks the class, “Is the jar full?”  “Yes,” they respond. “Are you sure?” he says.

He proceeds to pull out a bag of gravel and begins to pour the smaller rocks into the jar, shaking the jar to allow them to fill in between the larger rocks.

He once agains asks the class, “Is the jar full?”  They hesitate, until  someone responds, “Probably not.”

He then pulls out a bag of sand and begins to pour it into the jar, once again shaking the jar to allow it to fill in any remaining spaces.

“Is the jar full?” he asks again. “No,” they shout.  “Good!”, he says.

Pulling out a pitcher he proceeds to pour water into the jar until it’s filled to the brim.

“OK,” the teacher says. “What’s the point of this illustration?” One eager student raises his hand and says, ‘No matter how full our schedule is, there’s always a way to fit more into it.”

“No,” the teacher responded. “The point is that if you don’t get the big rocks in first, you’ll not going to get them in at all.”


We all have plenty of things we can do to fill up our buckets (i.e. our days). The question is, what will we choose to fill them up with first? Because what gets done first, by definition, gets done. If there are important things that we want to get done, it’s vital that we create space for them first.

I’ve heard it put this way: “Instead of prioritizing our schedule, we need to schedule our priorities.”

By blocking out time in our day and week for the things that matter most, and then filling in everything else around them, we put ourselves in a position to make sure they get done. Otherwise, we run the risk of having everything else fill up our time first, and these most important things being left out.

Start by making space for the big rocks first—the most important things—and then fill in around them. No, you won’t be able to do everything that demands your time, but at least you’ll have time for the things that really matter.