Big Rocks

This is one of my favorite fables to discuss with those struggling to fit everything into their day.  Not only does it help displace the common “I’m too busy” thought process, but it’s a fun story and has a nice twist at the end that really drives home the point.

A professor walks into his class one day, pulls out a large glass jar and places it on the table.  He slowly looks up at the class and asks if the jar is full. After a couple of moments, the class agrees, “No, the jar is empty.”

He then reaches out from under the desk and pulls out 3 big rocks.  He places them in the jar so the top rock is right up against the edge of the top of the jar.  He then asks the class again, “Is the jar full?” The class looks at the jar and after some discussion agrees, the jar is full, as there is no way to fit in any big rocks.

He reaches under the desk again and pulls out a bunch of smaller rocks.  These he slides into the top of the jar filling in the empty space with the smaller rocks.  He once again asks the class, “Is the jar full?” After a couple snickers, they get what they think is the point and say once again, “Yes, the jar is full.”

The professor once again goes under the desk and pulls out a bag of pebbles.  He proceeds to fill in the empty space with a couple of shakes of the jar to really fill up the rest of the space.  While the class is slowly starting to catch onto the point, they still answer, “Yes, the jar is full” to his question.

Next, he pulls out a bag of sand and fills in what appears to be the rest of the space.  Giving it a couple of shakes and even patting it down at the top, he asks the question again, “Is this jar now full?”  Satisfied that nothing else can be put into the jar, the class is now in full agreement that it is in fact full.

With a little bit of a smirk, he pulls out a glass of water.  Carefully pouring the water into the jar, the class sees there is actually room for the water as the professor continues to add water until not only is the jar full, but there is actually the little bubble of water above the top rim of the jar.

He asks for a final time, “Is the jar finally full?”  With some reluctance, the class agrees the jar is now actually full.

Here is where it gets interesting.  Whenever I tell this story, I’m usually in an agency talking about how to implement a new process with a very high priority to improve the client experience, reduce effort, and save the insurance agency and the employees time.  When I ask, “What is the moral of the story?” I get the same response as the professor does in his class:

“There is always room for more.”

However, there is a much more valuable lesson to be taken from this demonstration.


“It all only fits if you put the big rocks in first.”

While this is true for many things in life, as it relates to work, you must identify and then take care of the big rock before moving onto other tasks.  If we can identify what are big rocks, smaller rocks, pebbles, sand, and water, we can better prioritize our tasks (and time) to start our day taking care of the big rocks and then move onto the other tasks.

If you are in sales, this may mean making sure you take care of answering inbound calls first, hitting expected deadlines on sales, and then doing follow ups and prospecting calls.  In no way does this mean that all aren’t important, but if we are going to do it all, we have to do our highest priority items first.

The same applies to a more service focused role.  Make your proactive renewal calls to your clients a big rock, then take care of your reactive service.

As I stated, this philosophy can be applied to any aspect of life, but is particularly true at work.  Take a minute to identify your big rocks and then ask if you are putting the highest priority on them.

About David Siekman

Dave's career in the insurance field began in 1999 as a customer service representative for Plymouth Rock Assurance in Boston. Siekman has held his Massachusetts Property & Casualty Producers license since 2005. In 2013, he was a finalist for the NetVu Automation Excellence award. He's now a Performance Specialist at Agency Performance Partners.

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