Thursday, July 9, 2009

One Big Rock

A speaker at a time-management seminar poured stones into a large glass jar. He asked the audience to tell him when the jar was full. When the stones reached the lip of the jar, the audience spoke up.

Next, he poured pebbles in; they fell between the stones. Again the audience told him when they thought the jar was full. Then he filled the gaps with sand and finally water, demonstrating that we can keep fitting smaller and smaller tasks into what seems to be a limited amount of time.

Have you heard this before? Just a sec. After the jar really was full—of stones, pebbles, sand, and water—the speaker showed the audience one big rock. He asked, What if this is the most important thing you have to do with your time? How can you fit it in?

Obviously, you have to put it in first.

You have to put it in first. I’ve been carrying that jar around in my head lately, trying to imagine which tasks in my work life are stones (income-producing work: teaching, school visits, freelance assignments), pebbles (projects I hope will pay off in the long run: manuscript submissions, marketing, networking opportunities), sand (necessary but unpaid work: housework, financial matters, miscellaneous family obligations), and water (everything else: e-mail, web surfing, reading). I know what my one big rock is: writing. Yet too often I fritter a whole day away without writing a single creative word.

I need to act as though my writing comes first and everything else fills in the gaps.

My teaching schedule changes every semester; this summer, I’m teaching two six-week college courses, and they require a certain amount of preparation time. I try to take a decent walk every day, usually with the dog and preferably to the lake. Everything else is up in the air. My husband and our sons are all pretty independent; their needs for my time vary. I can’t count on a regular daily wake-up time, especially during the summer. But almost every morning when I get up, I grab a cup of coffee and spend some time working in my pajamas.

My challenge is to make that time—whether it’s fifteen minutes or two hours—as productive as possible. I have to put my writing first. Before e-mail, which can sidetrack me worse than any other distraction. Before Facebook, enjoyable as it is to see what everyone else is up to. Before I even push the button to turn the monitor on. I can fly off in a dozen different directions before I put one word on the page if I look at the computer first—even worse, I might avoid my own writing for the entire day. I have to head straight for the notebook or the novel. This month, I’ve promised myself I’ll spend one hour a day working on the YA novel I started last November for NaNoWriMo. I've missed a couple days, but I'm still trying.

What is your one big rock? How can you fit it into your jar?


Carmela Martino said...

The rock is such a great image, JoAnn. Thanks for sharing this.

Mary Jo said...

Exactly what I needed to hear today. Was just telling my husband how frustrated I am that I've been "frittering" away my time and not actually WRITING.
Thank you!

Unknown said...

My rock is writing and photography. But sometimes the sand, pebbles,water, and stones take up too much space and there isn't any room for my rock. I need more than 24 hours in a day. After this weekend, when the company leaves, I'm going to add the rock to my jar, before putting in everything else. Pam M

Nina Johnson said...

I think we may have already heard this story before but your comparison to how we run each day really helps me. Thanks so much for a great tip.