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A philosophy professor walked to the front of his class with a glass jar. He filled it with rocks and asked his students if the jar was full. They said ‘yes’.  


He started scattering some pebbles over the rocks in the jar. The smaller pebbles moved around the rocks until no more would fit. Again, the students agreed that now the jar was full. He then gathered a handful of sand and poured it over the rocks and pebbles in the jar. The question was the same, and the answer was the same. Finally, he poured in water. Only then was the jar full. 


The moral of the story? Make room for what’s important first. 


If you fill your jar with rocks first, the pebbles and sand will fit around them. If you put the sand in first, there will be no room for the rocks. In other words, if you don’t make space for your priorities, the little things will get in the way. 


Prioritisation is about challenging the notion that everything is important because the reality is that some things are more important.

Identify your rocks. These are your non-negotiables – things that are absolutely required. Realistically, you will only have a few rocks at any given time, so stick to a maximum of 3. Prioritisation is discipline, and it’s important to distinguish between your must-haves and nice-to-haves.  

Make space for pebbles. Pebbles are incredibly important tasks but aren’t critical. You can live without them, but they’re usually important to you.

Timebox the sand. This is usually all the urgent stuff that isn’t that important. These tasks often distract you from your rocks: replying to emails, attending poorly planned meetings when you shouldn’t, and taking on administrative tasks you can delegate. 

Your time won’t magically expand, so your to-do list needs to shrink. Keep going back through your rocks, pebbles, and sand and don’t be afraid to be ruthless.

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