Identifying the Rocks: Organizing Your Priorities

In one of my favorite books, First Things First, written by Stephen Covey with Roger and Rebecca Merrill, is a story of the man in front of his class with a pile of rocks and a jar. He puts the rocks in the jar, and then asks the class "Is it full?" "Yes," they answer in unison. "Oh?" he replies, and gets out some pebbles, which he adds to the jar. "Is it full?" he asks. Catching on, they reply, "Probably not." And then he added sand. And, finally, some water. "What does that tell you?" he asked. Answers included comments like "You can always squeeze something else in" or "Just get started." "Oh, not at all!" he said. "If you don't put the rocks in first, there won't be any room for the them.

I used to feel that if I just got organized enough or managed my time well enough, or even prayed enough, I would be able to get everything done that I wanted or needed to. But I'm convinced it's a myth. A creative mind always has more ideas than the physical body can carry out. Our only hope of inner peace is identifying the rocks in our lives, and making sure we get those things on our calendar. And the rest will fall into place. But if we don't know what the rocks are, or we don't put them in our lives first, we will never find the peace we seek.

Recently I was asked by a magazine to write an article. I had the deadline on my calendar. As I was checking messages on my car phone between appointments I heard a message from the magazine editor saying, "I'm going into a meeting this afternoon at 3:00, and I need your outline." Oops! Somehow I had forgotten to get the outline in my calendar. I glanced at my clock. Thirty minutes before I needed to leave for the next appointment. I raced home, turned on the computer, and cranked out an outline.

I know that if I had blocked out two hours to write the outline, it would have taken two hours -- but what I did in thirty minutes was perfectly acceptable to the editor. Much of our life is like that. If we make up our minds as to what is really important, and put it in our calendar, we will get it done. The real challenge is identifying what is really important -- what are the rocks? Glenna Salsbury, a professional speaker from Paradise Valley, Arizona, whose company is called "An Enduring Influence," says that it is important to identify five key values in your life. All of us can come up with four very quickly, but it is the fifth one, which is often our "unique factor." The immediate values, which came to my mind, were "a peaceful home," "good health" "meaningful work" and "healthy relationships." But what about that fifth one?

I've given it hours of thought as I wait in airports and creep through traffic jams. I just couldn't put my feelings in words until I read the letter from my pastor in the Sunday bulletin last week, and he said it beautifully -- God's love through me. What a rock! The father of a friend of mine put it another way: "I always want people to feel glad they saw me." Certainly I'm not always successful, but it's a wonderful goal and I will put a reminder on my calendar every week.

What are your rocks?

© Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com

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