Big Rocks

Imagine an empty mason jar.  Now, visualize taking rocks about the size of golfballs and placing them into the jar until the rocks reach the lip of the jar opening.  Is the mason jar full?

Now, imagine taking sand and pouring it into the jar.  As the sand finds its way through the wide gaps left by the bigger rocks, you soon realize that the mason jar was not yet full.  Sand is carefully placed all the way to the top of the jar.  Is the jar full now?

Now, imagine a pitcher of water being slowly poured into the mason jar. The water will, of course, find its way through the sand and the big rocks. With the water now up to the rim, the jar is now full.

Finally, imagine what would have happened if you had filled the jar with water first and then tried to fill in the sand and the big rocks.  It would have been impossible.

Here’s the lesson:  In life and work, identify and focus on your Big Rocks.  What are the things which will most radically impact your life and work?  On a particular project who are the people and what are the tasks that, without them, the project fails completely? In your annual planning at your work, what are the 5-6 outcomes you are aiming to achieve? These are your Big Rocks.

Paretto’s principle (or the Law of the Vital Few) suggests that 80% of your success will come from 20% of your effort (or 80% of your dollars will come from 20% of your donors). The 20% are your Big Rocks.

I once used the mason jar visual (complete with rocks, sand, and water) at a annual planning retreat. It was messy and fun to see how much stuff we could jam into that jar. But the visual drove home the point.

Never start with the little things.  If you do, you’ll run out of time, energy, and resources to tackle the Big Rocks.  I believe this is why so many people feel as if they are busy as heck but not accomplishing much.  They are doing many little things and either don’t know what their Big Rocks are or they are not spending time with the Big Rocks.

Spending the bulk of your time working on and with the Big Rocks leads you to success. All of your other efforts, tasks, and administrivia are like the sand and the water:  you fill those things in later.



  1. I needed to hear that…thanks, J!

  2. Jason, thanks for sharing this wisdom. This blog entry is tremendous and has been helpful to me.

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