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I thought this parable was something every personal development fiend or ambitious person had heard of.

But today, I talked to two people who had never even heard of it. So, clearly, not everyone has been exposed to it.

As I begin to rethink my schedule again, this is the parable that has been running through my mind.

So, what is it? And what can it teach us about prioritization and productivity? Read on.

Rocks, Pebble, Sand, and Water

A University professor wanted to illustrate how each of us can better prioritize and manage our time.

He brought several items with him to class – a jar, rocks, pebbles, sand, and a glass of water.

The professor filled the jar with the rocks and asked the students whether the jar was full? They answered “yes, it’s full.”

But he then proceeded to fill the jar with the pebbles. He shook the jar until the pebbles neatly arranged themselves in between the crevices left by the larger rocks.

“Is it full now?”

This time, his students were sure the jar was full.

The professor then filled the jar with sand, which filled the remaining space left by the rocks and the pebbles.

Without skipping a beat, he also poured the glass of water into the jar as everything neatly settled inside.

The class was astonished.

“Try to fill the jar with the sand first,” said the professor, “and there would be no room left for everything else.”

The Moral of the Story

There are different variations on this parable. But the message is the same:

The rocks represent your greatest priorities.

The pebbles represent important priorities.

The sand represents minor priorities.

And the water represents everything else.

When prioritizing what matters to you, you must put the rocks in the jar first. They will not fit later. And so it is with the pebbles, sand, and water. They only work in that specific order.

For an entrepreneur, that means putting revenue generating activity first thing in your day. If you put it off until later, you will not get around to it. But if you start with it, you’ll either have plenty of time left over for everything else you need to do, or the act of completing a “rock” project will make all other activity irrelevant.

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