Here’s the truth, and I mean the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you are going to manage your time effectively and accomplish the important (to you) stuff, then you must know what is important to you. Sounds simple, I know, but oftentimes it is those simple things that are the most difficult. “Simple” does not necessarily mean easy.
Let’s call these important things “Big Rocks.” (I didn’t coin the term, and I thank the always-brilliant Leo Babauta for his enlightening blog, Zen Habits. I urge you to check it out.) What are your Big Rocks? If you can’t rattle them off, it would be a very worthwhile use of your time to clarify your priorities. Where do you want to be (or where would you rather be) spending chunks of your time? Doing more meaningful hobbies and activities? Exercising more? Working more? Reading more? Of course, there are no right and wrong answers here; only the honest answers matter.
Once you have listed your Big Rocks, it becomes much easier to say “yes” or “no” when asked to take things on, join something, or be responsible for anything else outside of your Big Rock areas. Think of your week as seven buckets. And in a typical fashion, you approach each bucket, i.e., day, without any preplanning. Slowly and surely, or perhaps not so slowly but ever so surely, your bucket fills with pebbles, sand, and whatever other debris comes your way, which leaves no room for your Big Rocks. And seeing as we all have the same 24 hours, there is no bigger bucket to be had.
There’s a better way. Put your Big Rocks in the bucket first, and fill in the pebbles and sand around them. A report, launching a new website, going to the gym, spending time with your family, achieving dreams — these Big Rocks get pushed back from week to week because there is never time to do them because we are too busy filling our buckets with only pebbles and sand.
Yes, the Big Rocks concept is simple. That’s one aspect of its beauty. So how can such a simple method make such an increase in productivity? Remember, productivity isn’t about ticking off tons and tons of items on a to-do list. If you are very busy doing all the little stuff, how much did you really accomplish? Oftentimes we look back on our week and think, “I didn’t get a lot done, but I sure was stressed doing it!”
Now, here’s what you do: Plan your week ahead of time and place your Big Rocks first! You may find the following instructions helpful.
(1) Make a list. On Sunday evening or Monday morning, write out your Big Rocks. When you look back on the week and say you did them, you will be proud of having done them. Be sure to include nonwork stuff.
(2) Keep it short. Start with maybe four to six Big Rocks. As time goes on, you will get better at judging how many Big Rocks you can handle. No sense setting yourself up for failure right off the bat. Shoot for about one a day.
(3) Place the Big Rocks. Write out preexisting appointments on your calendar. Arrange your Big Rocks around your schedule. Don’t shoehorn in the Big Rocks. Allow adequate time.
(4) Accommodate for unforeseen pebbles. Overbooking and tight schedules are a guaranteed way to get the Big Rocks bumped. Be realistic. Give yourself more space than you think necessary.
(5) Do them early. Place your Big Rocks first thing in the morning. Scheduling them for later in the day rarely works out. Do them first, and then you’ve got the rest of the day for pebbles and sand.
(6) Be proud. Review your work and be pleased with what you accomplished.
John Wooden, the late, great UCLA basketball coach, really knew what he was talking about when he said, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” Running around doing who knows what and being very busy doesn’t add up to accomplishment.
You are the only one who can name your Big Rocks. You will still have to take care of life’s detritus, but at the end of the week, you’ll look back and know you’ve been productive. And that’s a great feeling — I guarantee it!