A Parable About Time Management

by Nancy Zwiers | 24 May 2022

The Bloom Report

A Parable About Time Management

By Nancy Zwiers


The teacher stood in front of her students who had signed up for a course on time management.  They were committed to using their precious time in the most optimal way. 


Because this teacher was wise, she created a lesson that was interactive, driven forward by a series of questions that provoked responses from the class.


First, the teacher put a 10-gallon bucket on the table that represents the time we each have in our lives…

  • She then took some rather large rocks and filled the bucket to the top. She asked the class, “Is the bucket full?” and they responded in a chorus, “Yes.”
  • The teacher said, “But wait.” She then added some smaller rocks, and as these rocks filled in some of the nooks and crannies left by the large rocks, she once again filled it to the top. “Now is the bucket full?” The class responded, “Yes!”
  • Then she added little pebbles, which further filled in the little remaining space, and repeated her question. This time the class was a little more tentative as they started catching on that all was not what it seemed.  Still, their eyes told them that the bucket was full and they responded, “Yes.”
  • Oh, this teacher was crafty…she next added some sand which easily fit in between the rocks and pebbles. This time the bucket really did seem full—how could anyone add anything else?  The students repeated “Yes?” with a measure of uncertainty.
  • But alas, the teacher had one more trick up her sleeve. She took a pitcher of water and poured it right in over the rocks and sand.  No problem—there was indeed room for the water!  “Is it full now?”  Not surprisingly, the students were kind of afraid to answer at this point, but they all believed the bucket was finally as full as it could be.


The teacher knew it was finally time to bring the lesson home.  She asked her students what lesson they derived.  (And here, before you read on, I ask you to stop for a moment and ponder:  What lesson did you derive?)


Their collective conclusion felt a bit daunting, as they each reflected on their respective busy lives.  “There’s always room to fit more in.” (sigh…)


But, once again, the teacher surprised them.


“Actually no.  The lesson is that you have to put the big stuff in place first.  If you fill your life, your time with little stuff first, there will never be room for the big, important stuff.”


Wow! This lesson was shared with me 20 years ago and I never forgot it.


What are your large rocks? Does your calendar include all that is most important to you?  Periodically, stop and think about what’s most important to you at this time, and plan your calendar accordingly. 


This lesson can be applied in the context of our whole lives, as well as more specifically in the context of our jobs: Put the big rocks in first!



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