RSS Placing Priorities in Order

Author Stephen Covey has a gifted ability to share stories that inspire us to think about our work in unique ways. One such account can be found in his book First Things First. This story demonstrates the importance of prioritizing the “big rocks” from the gravel and sand of your responsibilities.

In the middle of a lecture, the presenter pulls out a wide-mouth jar and places it on the table, beside some fist-sized rocks. After filling the jar to the top with rocks he asked, “Is the jar full?” People could see that no more rocks would fit, so they replied, “Yes!” “Not so fast,” he cautioned.

He then got some gravel from under the table and added it to the jar, filling the spaces between the rocks. Again, he asked, “Is the jar full?” This time the students replied “Probably not.” The presenter then reached a bucket of sand below the table, and dumped it on the jar, filling the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. Once again, he asked, “Is the jar full?” “No!” the students shouted.

Finally, he grabbed a pitcher of water and filled the jar completely, asking the group what they could learn from that illustration. One of the participants answered, “If you work at it, you can always fit more into your life.” “No,” said the presenter. “The point is, if you didn’t put the big rocks in first, would you have gotten the rest of them to fit?”

I find this story relevant because we're all weighing priorities every day that will ultimately define our success – and by success, I’m referring both the personal and professional growth.

Take a few minutes and try this exercise yourself. Identify at least one big project or goal that you have yet to fulfill in the next few months, and make this your “big rock”. It may simply be to spend more time with loved ones, or it might be a more targeted outcome such as increasing your skills in a particular area or giving more time to a community group. Whatever you identify as your “big rocks,” be sure to give them priority over the gravel and sand.

I’m curious to hear from readers! What do you count as big rocks in your life, and what do you see as gravel and sand?

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2 Responses to “Placing Priorities in Order”

  1. Beth says:

    Great example. My “big rocks” would be my relationship with Jesus, my relationship with my family, my relationship with my friends, and my relationship with the various communities/circles I’m engaged in. I’ve never been one of those people whose life centered around relationships, but what I’ve learned about life and leadership is that its about people. It’s important to build and nurture quality connections. It’s important that I not only interact; but engage. My other “big rock” besides people is my work. The hard part is deciding what aspects of my work are rocks, gravel, and sand. Like you said, that’s a matter of weighing
    our priorities everyday…….daily choices…….

  2. Mitch says:

    Thank you very much for your comment, Beth. I think you have articulated well what many readers are learning, that there is a difference between interaction and engagement. I wish you the very best to appropriately balance the rocks, gravel and sand in pursuit of your personal and professional dreams. It’s a journey that we all share with you! -M

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Home About Archive Mitch HagstromMitch Hagstrom
Executive Vice President
Chief Banking Officer
Pacific Continental Bank

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