I was sitting in Temple last week for Yom Kippur services and the Rabbi had a great sermon which really put things in perspective for me. Now, I must admit that I don’t go to the adult service and spend all day on the High Holy Days in Temple. In fact, my wife and I keep pumping out kids as an excuse to be able to go to the Children’s service, which I refer to as either Diet Temple or Temple Lite. It makes it much easier for me. Now that my youngest is 5, it’s getting tougher to justify, but that’s a problem for another year. 

The Rabbi started off by putting a large glass vase on his lectern, and beside it 6 large rocks, a large bag of gravel, and a pitcher full of water. He squeezed 5 large rocks into the vase and couldn’t get the sixth one in as it was full. He asked the crowd, “Is there any more room for anything else?” “No” was the response. He then picked up the large bag of gravel and poured half of it into the vase. The gravel filled up all of the empty spaces surrounding the large rocks. “Is there any room for anything else,” he asked. “Of course not” was the response. He then poured half of the pitcher of water into the vase and it filled to the brim. “Can anything else possibly fit at this point?” The answer was definitely “no.” I think most of us have heard this exercise before.

His sermon continued in a unique direction, “If you attempted to fill the vase with water first, you wouldn’t have been able to add any rocks or gravel. If you filled the vase with gravel before anything else, none of the large rocks would have fit inside.” He then asked the congregation, “What are the large rocks in your life?”

Wow, that hit me like a ton of bricks.

I spend a lot of my time paying attention to the water and the gravel, but don’t leave a lot of time for the large rocks – my wife, my kids, and my closest friends and colleagues. I am definitely guilty of misguided priorities. For some reason, I’ve allowed myself to become consumed with the tiny and often least important things in life – hundreds of emails and tons of voicemails on a weekly basis, leaving little time for the big rocks. I have found myself over the last few months not having time to enjoy reading a good book because I get up in the morning at 4:00am just to get through an inbox of over 150 emails from the prior day. Stop the insanity!

There are three steps I’m choosing to follow (I really hope I do) to have more time to focus on the big rocks:

  1. Make a list of priorities – the big rocks – and what I hope to accomplish with them. For my family time, it might be – I mean it WILL be – as simple as calendaring dinner with the entire family 2 times per week (it sounds crazy, but that only happens on one weekend day now).
  2. Clean my slate. If my calendar was clean with no emails or voicemails, what would I choose to do to make progress on my objectives?
  3. Set daily and weekly commitments and hold myself accountable. Don’t make any progress on the little rocks until these are met.

Each night recently, after a day full of work, maybe some Pilates to rehabilitate my back, breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings, back to back meetings at different locations, and phone calls during drive time, I walk in the door and my daughter, Maddie, runs up to me with script in hand to her school’s most recent play, “Dudes,” instructing me to fill in Alan’s lines as appropriate to ensure she’s got the part of Sue down without looking at her lines. This is definitely a big rock for me!

Where do we find time to do it all as well as respond to all of the business calls, emails, texts, as well as read the “important” tweets, blogs, etc? The answer is we don’t. We just make sure the big rocks make it into our bucket. The little rocks will find a place – or not.

A few questions for our readers:

  1. What are the rules you follow to ensure you’re addressing your real priorities on a daily or weekly basis?
  2. What advice can you offer someone who sees every task as a priority?


Please send us your comments and let’s get the best ideas out to our readers.