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How Priorities Are Like Rocks

Priorities are supposed to indicate what’s most important to us. However, sometimes our actions reveal otherwise. We allow the pressing, less important things in life to consume our time while procrastinating priorities. For example, you may say your children are your priority, as they should be, but work, laundry, and even grocery shopping can swallow the time you could be spending with your children if you let them.

This illustration has helped to remind me to keep first things first.

Imagine a large, clear container. Beside the container are a pile of big rocks, a pile of smaller rocks, a pile of sand, and a bucket of water. Your mission is to put all of these items into the container without it overflowing. Not wanting to make a splash, you start by pouring the sand into the container. When that’s done you begin adding the big rocks. You’re only able to add a few of the big rocks before they reach the brim of the container.

At this point you wonder if you’ve been set up. Is this even possible? The sand filled up so much of the container that there’s very little space for the rocks, much less the water.

So goes your life. The rocks represent your priorities. Some are bigger than others, but they’re priorities nonetheless. When you put your priorities off until later, there’s not room for them. You begin to wonder if it’s even possible to maintain them.

The trick to the container and to life is to put the big rocks in first. Fill the container with big rocks and you’ll find the smaller rocks find their home in the gaps between. Next add the sand. It fills the smaller crevices. Finally, the water seeps into those remaining pockets. Everything fits, but you have to put things in the proper order for them to do so.

Take chores, for example. You could begin your day tackling housework and yard work and it will fill your time. Or you could do the chores as you go throughout your day. Throw in a load of laundry and let it wash while you play a game with your kids. Empty the dishwasher while you’re waiting for something to warm up in the microwave. Pick up clutter as you walk from room to room. You get the idea.

You can also combine priorities to multitask. Instead of going to the gym to workout, go on a bike ride with your spouse. Stop by the grocery store while your kids are at soccer practice. It’s all about knowing your priorities and living accordingly.

Below are some examples of things that might qualify as big rocks in your life, as well as smaller rocks, sand, and water.

Big Rocks

  • Quality time with your children
  • Date night with your spouse
  • Faith

Small Rocks

  • Time at the gym
  • Hanging out with friends
  • Career


  • Dishes
  • Laundry
  • Errands


  • Meals
  • Hygiene
  • Phone calls

These are just an idea. Your priorities may look different. The point is to be able to identify the big rocks in your life and put them in first. Then everything else tends to fall into place.

If you’re a visual person who needs to see the analogy that was just described, check out this video by Stephen Covey.

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