First things first

In the early 90’s, the company that I worked for sent my consulting team to a weeklong training on Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. (I assume in hopes that all of us would become highly effective). This was many years ago, so the details are a bit sketchy in my mind’s eye now, however, there was one example that has stuck with me over all these years.

The demonstration goes like this – you may have seen it. There is a large pickle jar, and to the side, there are a quantity of rocks, pebbles and sand. The sand is put into the jar first, then the pebbles, then the rocks. There is not enough room for the all of the rocks, and more than half are excluded. Then the demonstration is done again. This time, the rocks go in first, then the pebbles which fall in around the rocks, and then the sand, which fills the space between the pebbles. Now everything fits – all of the rocks, all of the pebbles and all of the sand. The jar represents our time, the rocks represent the really important things in life (family, health, spiritual life, meaningful), the pebbles represent the other things that matter (job/career, home), and the sand represents the small things that do not matter.

This powerful but simple demonstration is of Covey’s Habit #3 – Put first things first. This seems, of course, self-evident. And yet, I continue to struggle with actually putting this seemingly simple wisdom into practice.

The uncomfortable reality is that I continue to choose to put some of the pebbles and sand first, out of what? Laziness? Apathy? Self-sabotage? Fear? Perhaps. Or, perhaps, it is, as Covey suggests, habit. And a habit is nothing more than what I choose to do on a daily basis. I can choose another way of behavior, of thinking, of being. And so can you.

Path to Peguche Falls, Otovalo, Ecuador ©Gail Owensby

Path to Peguche Falls, Otovalo, Ecuador
©Gail Owensby



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6 thoughts on “First things first

  1. Spiritdancing

    Wow…I loved this…great reminder, I to have heard this before but needed the nudge again…thanks…great thought to take into this new week coming up…have an amazing rest of the weekend

  2. Audrey Cunningham (@AudreyDCunning)

    Hi Martha. I have exactly the same problem! I struggle with putting the first things first, mostly because life gets overwhelming. When things seem to be a whirlwind around me, it’s hard to reorient and know where to focus. Sometimes I just feel so dizzy… it’s nice at moments like that to have the reminder of what’s most important. Thank you for sharing, and God bless!

  3. Melinda

    You know, as I get older, I reminder is never a bad thing. Thanks for putting things so clearly. When I was an executive, time was always metered for specific tasks that rated high to low, but now that I’m retired, many of those habits have fallen by the wayside. I am under far less pressure, but I am also far less efficient.

    Thanks again,

  4. Pat

    Martha, I’ve been thinking about habit formation and focusing new activities on priority areas quite a bit lately. I have found that I had 4 different elements preventing me from doing the important things. 1) activation energy! I have very high inertia, so I now book things – classes, dates with friends to walk, computer time to explore new things, etc. If it’s booked in, I am more likely to do it. 2) Fear of failure! Quite a few of the high priority things are high risk – in my own mind. I have to continually remind myself to do it. My foray into blogging has shown me how many people are impressed that i just tried it. 3) Making a choice! So many things to do, so little time. And the little things sometimes are just fun. So I am trying to be conscious on making choices not just for fun, but also for engagement and fulfillment (link to me values). and 4) Guilt! For years, it was all about working hard and getting ahead. Fun was viewed as a waste of time. I just keep telling myself that I’m done with working and its time for the FUN! One of the retirement books I read talked about doing fun things as “working for yourself”. Not sure I’m in that mindset, but fun is being planned into my days. Thanks for stimulating my thinking to really summarize this!


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