The Big Rocks

One day, an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget. As he stood in front of the group of high powered overachievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.”

He pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed jar and set it on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone in the class said, “Yes.”

“Really?”, he replied. He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks.

He asked the group once more, “Is the jar full now?”

By this time, the class was on to him. “Probably not”, one of them answered.

“Good!”, he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all of the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!”, the class shouted.

Once again he said, “Good.” He grabbed a pitcher of water and poured it into the jar until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is: no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things into it!”

“No”, the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.” What are the ‘big rocks’ in your life? Your children; your loved ones; your education; your dreams; a worthy cause; teaching or mentoring others; doing things that you love; time for yourself; your health; your significant other.

Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all. If you sweat the little stuff (the gravel, the sand), then you’ll fill your life with little things you worry about that don’t really matter, and you’ll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff (the big rocks). So, tonight, or in the morning, when you are reflecting on this short story, ask yourself this question: What are the ‘big rocks’ in my life? Then, put those in your jar first.

Alternative ending

…. Then he grabbed a pitcher of beer and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration ?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, there is always room for beer!”

19 thoughts on “The Big Rocks”

  1. I like the alternate ending best!

    1. Haha, me too – I lol’d.

  2. krissy knox says:


    Great post! I am already considering the big rocks (important things) in my life. Thanks for this lesson!

    krissy knox 🙂
    follow me on twitter:

  3. hospitalera says:

    I loved the alternative ending 😉 But seriously, in my previous life, as a nurse, I saw so many people regret that they had neglected their family and friends and concentrated on the small things like promotion at work, money etc. I guess the real important point is to figure out what the rocks should really be… SY

  4. Very cute story, and very motivational. Thanks for sharing it John! 🙂

  5. Ed Lovett says:

    Thanks John, “Big Rocks” is a great teaching story. I believe we have all been guilty at one time or another of poor priority management practices. Keep up the good work, just subscribed to the newsletter….Ed

  6. Erika Marie says:

    It’s all about perspective. It makes sense and it seems to be something John has already mastered from what I can tell. Family is first!

  7. Mike B. says:

    Great post, defiantly makes you think about what the big rocks are in your life. I may have to link back to this one.

  8. If you pour enough water on the rocks they become sand! When I read the excerpt, I was expecting a puzzle with 3 different sized jars. I feel cheated! Seriously though, occasionally something that seems like a big rock is really gravel or worse, sand! Its definitely important to reevaluate what is really important regularly.

  9. MLDina says:

    LOL I love the moral of the story, and the alternate version.

  10. Gin says:

    The alternate ending is best since it’s the best way to enjoying the time with the big rocks, lol. Great info! 🙂

  11. EarningStep says:

    nice lesson . touching my heart and mind.

  12. Wizno says:

    Why waste the beer though? No one enjoys beer with sand in it!

  13. @EricJohnTan says:

    I didn’t expect the big rocks to mean anything… this gives me a clearer, more filtered perspective on how to deal with issues. The alternate ending is pretty cool too.

  14. I am familiar with this example. My army sergant used to do it with us. Cool post, John.


  15. Help me to concentrate more on my big rocks. Although I read this somewhere else as well … but reading again give you different way to think.

    Thanks John.

  16. Excellent post, makes one think … I will give my friends to read it. Thank you……!

  17. Hahahahah, yeh, there is always room for bear. Get a bear and start blogging 🙂

  18. Darren says:

    As many times as I’ve seen this analogy (and I’ve seen it actually done in chemistry class involving chemicals with molecules of differing size), I never tire of it. I’ll be linking it to my blog.

    Thanks for the reminder John.


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