Why “rock, pebbles, sand” doesn't work as a productivity strategy

There’s a well-known video (opens new window) about a professor who teaches his class a life lesson by dropping rocks, pebbles and sand into a jar in that order.

The idea is that by considering aspects of your life of particular importance and priority, you’ll fit it all in, in a way that will bring you fulfilment and happiness.

It’s a lovely analogy, but unfortunately doesn’t map so well to the average working day.

However, if you turn the theory on its head, you can get some value out of it.

How the story explains it

The rocks are meaningful things in life, like health, family and relationships, and should be put in first (we’re told if you put them in last, there’ll be no room for them at the end).

The pebbles are the other things that matter such as work, or school, and these should fill the gaps between the meaningful things.

The sand is everything else, the so-called small stuff, and should only be added at the end once you’ve taken care of the important things.

What happens in real life

For most hardworking folks (or maybe just me!) the rocks end up being work and on an average day, they’re gonna go in first.

The problem is that work can be all-consuming, and because humans are poor at multi-tasking you end up working every hour of the day (and possibly evening) and everything else slips.

At the end of the week or month, you look back and realise you never got to the pebbles (getting some exercise) or sand (fixing that shelf) and it’s costing you in satisfaction, health and happiness.

Turning the idea on its head

Rather than letting work swallow-up your days, each morning, commit to time-boxing only a few small and medium non-work tasks first!

Begin with 10 - 20 minutes of trivial to-dos; the kind which take only a few minutes.

Spend the next hour on medium tasks you can complete in one go, or over a few days.

Once these are done, not only will you get a huge boost of satisfaction, but you are free to disappear down the rabbit hole of chunky work tasks for the rest of the day!

When you look back at your week you’ll have accomplished tasks in all areas of your life, and be happier and more organised for it 😃

Afterword

Do you like to be productive?

You may be interested in my new project, Control Space!

It’s a feature-packed tab manager for Chrome, built for speed and organisation, that ends the stress of too many tabs plus the fear of losing them. It’s full of exciting, productivity-boosting features, which I will be revealing very soon.

I can let you know when it’s ready if you’d like to click here (opens new window).