We can't manufacture time but here's the next best thing

In his book, First Things First, Stephen Covey tells a story of a seminar he once attended where the instructor brought out a wide mouth gallon jar. He set it on the table in front of him next to a pile of rocks.

“How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.

The students made various guesses. The instructor then proceeded to fill the jar with the rocks. It looked like it was full. He asked the class, “Is this jar full?” Everyone looked at the jar and agreed that it was indeed full.

He then reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He then dumped the gravel into the jar. The gravel went in between all the little places left by the big rocks.

Then he grinned and once more asked, “Is the jar full?” By this time, the class was on to him. “Probably not,” several of the students said.

“Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He poured it into the jar. It went into all the spaces left by the big rocks and the gravel. Again, he asked the class, “Is this jar full?”

“No,” the class shouted.

He said, “Good!” He then grabbed a pitcher of water and poured almost a quart of water into the jar. Then he said, “What’s the point?”

Someone said, “If you really work at it, you can always squeeze more stuff into your life.”

“No,” the instructor responded. “That’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?”

Life, like this jar, is finite. It only holds so much. What we choose to fill it with is our decision, but if we choose to fill it with water first, the minute we drop even a pebble in, it overwhelms the jar's capacity. I believe in this example, we can compare the large stones to the important matters of life with each subsequent filler comparable to less important matters.

It's easy to get life's contents out of order and end up with a jar full of water and a table full of rocks. If, however, we are intentional about filling our jar up with the most important matters first, we know we can fill in the cracks with the less important, resting assured that we've taken care of that which is first on our priority list. Out of order, our lives are quick to be filled with the minutia of life — the unimportant, the valueless and the seemingly urgent.

Budgeting our time, is just as important as budgeting our money — perhaps more so. Yet we constantly overwhelm our schedules with water, leaving no room for the stones when opportunity shines on us. Spending our time on paper (or screen) before the month, week or day arrives is a great way to make sure the stones are given their space.

For some, this takes the form of a calendar (I recommend Sunrise Calendar, by the way). For others who require more structure, it might mean using a  weekly time budgeting sheet. For still others, maybe you just need a personal assistant to filter your engagements through. Whatever fits your needs, I encourage you to not waste any more of your precious time. It is, after all, impossible to manufacture more of.