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Big Rocks: How to Manage Your Time More Effectively

July 8, 2014

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When I was a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, one of the best skills that I learned was time management. This probably isn’t what you were expecting! Finding the healthiest foods or learning how to cook new grains might sound more like the expected benefits from a nutrition school, and trust me, I learned that, too. But the skill that has helped me the most in all aspects of my life is time management! More specifically, IIN founder Joshua Rosenthal taught us about a simple concept called “Big Rocks” that has changed the way I manage my daily and weekly schedule.

The concept of “Big Rocks” is based on principles outlined by educator and author Stephen R. Covey, who wrote the popular book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea is that in your life, you have all kinds of responsibilities and tasks that need to get done each day. Some of them are critical and must get done in order for you to reach your goals. These are your Big Rocks and they are usually ongoing projects that cannot be rushed, like finding your ideal career path or nurturing a relationship.

Other things in your life may not be quite as important as your Big Rocks, but they are certainly time-consuming! These are the day-to-day tasks like walking the dog, filing an expense report, or cleaning your home, and they are your Small Rocks.

Now, imagine that you have a glass jar that you need to fill up with all of your rocks, big and small. Is there enough room for them all? If you fill the jar with pebbles first, you’ll never be able to find space for the bigger rocks. However, if you put the big rocks in first, then your small rocks will fill in the spaces between the larger rocks, and indeed you’ll find that everything successfully fits. It just depends on what you prioritize first.

In this metaphor, your life is the glass jar and all of your responsibilities are the rocks. I love this exercise because it can help you identify the key things that you want to prioritize in your life. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities that need to get done, while putting your over-arching goals on the back burner. For example, if you know you want to get married and have children some day, then making time to form a lasting relationship with your partner is a Big Rock. If you want to own your own company, then growing your business is another Big Rock. Remembering to put these Big Rocks before some of your smaller rocks, say constantly answering emails or running errands, is important and helps you find the time to balance and juggle everything.

For me, the Big Rocks exercise helps me to stay organized and successful week by week. At the beginning of each week, I sit down to write out my weekly Big Rocks. At the top of a piece of paper, I list all of my goals and below it I write the Big Rocks that will help me reach my goals that week, with actionable steps to complete them. I allot a time to each task when necessary so I know that I won’t get caught spending too much time on Small Rocks, and I’ll have plenty of time for the tasks that matter most. By the end of the week, everything on my list should be completed, my stress level will be low, and I will feel accomplished because I’m well on my way to achieve my goals!

Here is an example of what my weekly big rocks list might look like:

Goals

  • Write a cookbook
  • Start a health coaching career
  • Get married
  • Run a marathon

Big Rocks

  • Test and develop recipes
  • Test kale salad recipe (2 hours)
  • Write beet pasta recipe (1 hour)
  • Edit recipes written last week (4 hours) 

Plan a healthy living workshop

  • Pick a date
  • Confirm venue
  • Plan content (4 hours) 

Find 2 new clients by next month

  • Print business cards
  • Perfect elevator pitch (1 hour)
  • Attend healthy living networking event (2 hours)

Marathon Training

  • Run 2 short runs
  • Run 1 long run (1.5 hours)
  • Complete upper body strength workout (45 minutes)

Relationships

  • Pick up a birthday present for Mom (1 hour)
  • Plan a weekend beach trip with boyfriend
  • Girls night happy hour 

Miscellaneous (1 hour each)

  • Walk the dog (1 hour daily)
  • Clean the bathroom and kitchen
  • Pick up the dry cleaning
  • Answer emails (2 hours daily)

If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed or if you’re starting to lose sight of your goals, try taking some time this coming weekend to clearly define your life goals, and start your Big Rocks list for the week to come. If you stick with this practice, I’m sure you will start to regain control of your schedule and you’ll have more time to do the things that matter most to you! 

What about you, have you given this exercise a try? We would love to hear your experience in the comments section below! 

About the author

Lauren Caster is a contributing writer to Wellness Today. She resides in Portland, Oregon where she enjoys cooking for friends, doing Bikram yoga, and exploring new restaurants and food carts in town. She is one part of the blogging duo behind the blog Brooklyn-Portland, she received her diploma in Baking and Pastry Arts from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and is a 2013 graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition