Work-StressYou’ve probably heard this story before somewhere.  But it’s a good one.  And it’s worth hearing again:

One day a time-management consultant was speaking to a group of high-powered over-achievers at a seminar. Toward the end of his presentation he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. He then 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.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all 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!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water 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?”

A guy in the back (who was almost certainly a lawyer) raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full things seem to be, there’s always room for more.”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The point is this: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”                                                                                                                  

(Dr. Stephen Covey, First Things First)

Miles Coleman told that story at our Wellness Luncheon last week.  Miles is an attorney at Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough in Columbia, South Carolina.  Several years ago, when he was only a 2nd year associate, he suffered, what by all accounts should have been, a life ending traumatic brain injury.  Miles’ injury occurred when he was preparing some ropes for a 5 A.M. Cross Fit class.  His foot became entangled in the ropes and he fell 15 feet, striking his head on the concrete floor below.

Miles talked about his road to recovery and the profound lessons he learned from his experience.  One of the most important of which was to develop an appreciation for the Big Rocks—those things in his life (his family, his friends, his faith) that really gave his life meaning…and, having developed a renewed appreciation for those things, the importance of crafting a life where he puts those Big Rocks into the jar first.

Miles talked about what it was like when he finally begin to regain consciousness several days after his accident.   At first he was horrified that, as a young associate, he had just gone almost a week without billing any time.  And he began to think how humiliated he would be when everyone looked at his empty time sheet.  As he continued his recovery, however,  and began to appreciate the magnitude of his injury and how closely he came to dying, he began to understand how crazy it was to live as if entering and releasing time everyday is more important than anything else.

Today he’s fully recovered and has returned to a very successful and busy law practice (with plenty of billable hours).  But he also knows what the Big Rocks are in his life.  And the To-Do list on the corner of his desk includes—right next to an entry for filing responsive pleadings in a new case—action items for time with his wife and children and coffee with an old friend.  He understands, in a way few of us do, that life can alter course in an instant.  And when it does, there is no small amount of comfort in having lived a life where the Big Rocks were put in first.

What are the Big Rocks in your life? Time with those you love? A project that you want to finish? A class you want to take?  Your health? Teaching or mentoring young associates in your office?

Put those in first.  It matters.

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