The Wrong Time Management Analogy
I’m sure you’ve heard of that nice little time management analogy which represents a large pickle jar as the time you have available in a day and then asks how you’d get a bunch of rocks, pebbles, sand and some water into that one jar without it all overflowing.
The rocks representing big tasks, pebbles less important tasks and sand much less important tasks and the water, stuff that needs to be done one day.
Of course when this was first demonstrated people used to put the little pebbles or sand in first followed by the rocks. And the real way to get everything in is to put the big stuff in first (rocks), then the smaller (pebbles) then the smallest (sand). The sand grains trickle into the gaps between the rocks and pebbles. Finally water can be added as it gets into the minute gaps between the sand grains.
In standard time management practice this represents getting your big tasks (rocks) into your day first, then fill the day with smaller, less important tasks and finally use fillers that are trivial but need doing at some point.
What’s Wrong With The Time Management Analogy?
The problem is in the assumption that big tasks are important and therefore should be placed into your daily to-do list first.
For example setting up an event could have a bunch of rocks, such as:
- Find the venue
- Sort out the catering
- Organise guest speakers
- Send invitations
- Confirm attendees
And yet the smallest task would be to confirm the budget we have for the event. If that was left to the end of the day as a filler task you could waste the day on the big tasks like finding the venue. You could have made a list of venues, driven round to each, had the tour and ended up not returning to the office. That means if you selected a venue that isn’t within your budget you’re going to have to repeat the day of driving to venues. A waste of time?
Now that was an obvious thing. However, there are more important examples that happen and cost company’s thousands. As another example I know a company which manufacturers aircraft. The whole build is mapped out using planning tools and a process for every step in the manufacture. However, one step was to install all the aluminium floor panels and another was to inspect and certify a part that is below the flooring level. And the inspection step was scheduled after laying the flooring step. That wasted a lot of time as each aircraft in the manufacturing line had part of it’s floor taken up again so that an inspection could be made. Inspection – small task, a pebble. Laying the floor – a major rock.
The Right Way To Approach Time Management
Rocks should be considered as projects, or major phases of a project, or major tasks. When you smash a rock you get pebbles. So each rock breaks down into a set of pebbles. And the pebbles are the activities that you need to complete before you can say a rock is complete. To help with scheduling you need to get each pebble to be less than 4 hours to complete. There will still be smaller activities (the sand and water), however these have much smaller timescales- 5 to 15 minutes.
All the rocks should be broken down into pebbles, at the very least. That way you’re in a position to decide which pebbles are important for that day.
So stop trying to fit rocks into your day and juggle them with a bunch of pebbles. Instead you can fit a bunch of roughly similar sized pebbles in instead. And apart from making it easier to schedule (and I’ll explain why another time) it also means you can shift pebbles around within a day as you progress.
Surely, that has to be better?