A timeless story from Stephen Covey in First Things First. Even if you have heard or seen it before, it is a timely reminder:
A seminar presenter stood at the front of a room with a large glass jar on the table in front of him. He picked up several large rocks and placed them in the jar one by one. When the rocks reached the top of the jar, he asked his audience if the jar was full. They all agreed it was.
He then picked up a box of tiny pebbles, and poured the entire box into the glass jar. The pebbles fell into place around the larger rocks and filled the gaps. Once again he asked the audience if the jar was full. This time they were sure that is was.
Next, he picked up a bag of sand and poured it the glass jar. Like the pebbles before, the sand filtered down around the large rocks and the smaller pebbles and filled up the gaps. He asked yet again if the jar was full. The audience couldn’t imagine it any fuller.
Finally, he reached beneath the table and pulled out a jug of water. He slowly poured the water in, and there was plenty of room around the sand, the pebbles and the large rocks to accommodate the water.
He asked the audience what they could learn from this demonstration. One of the participants put up a hand and said, “If you work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”
“No,” said the presenter. “The point is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, how could you ever put any of them in?”
When we fill our lives with the inconsequential—the sand and water—it leaves no room for the really important stuff. If we lose ourselves in too much television, too much shopping, or too much booze, the really important things get left out. The big rocks are the important things—your family, your friends, and your health. If everything else was lost and only those big rocks remained, your life would still be full.
And, if you have those big rocks in place, there’s always room for a little sand and water.