Saturday 11 July, 2020

Big Rock Theory: Learning to prioritize can help with your resolutions

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

With Meisha-Gay Mattis

For some of us, a resolution is synonymous with the new year and, for others, it’s nothing special. Whether or not you’re particular about a new year’s resolution, it’s always good to make an evaluation of your past to chart a new way forward. And as you chart your way forward, I’m sure the aim is always to stick with your goals. It could be wanting to stick to your workout routine, seeking to bring more joy into your life or just to shake the fear that’s holding you back from making a bold decision. To help you stay on track this time around, I’m tossing the humdrum resolution ‘formula.’ I want to share with you a simple theory on how to prioritize and get the most out of, not just your day, but your year.

What does your typical day look like? Between staying on top of your job, managing your family and wanting to grab a few drinks with your friends, you’re probably tired and feel as if you've completed so many tasks but still freaking out because your to-do list is incomplete. But step back and ask yourself, are all those tasks really priorities on my list? What I want to share with you today is called the ‘Big Rock Theory’ or the ‘Top Priority Theory,’ which can help you prioritize and add purpose to your days.

Image courtesy of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

The metaphor

Think of your life as a jar. This jar represents the seven days you are given in a week. You can’t make it any bigger in the same sense that you cannot increase the days in the week. You have big rocks, small rocks and grains of sand which must all fit in the jar. These are all the things you have to accomplish over the period of time. The challenge you’re now faced with is how to get all the materials to fit into this confined space.


Big rocks or most important tasks - These are your must-dos, no matter what. They’re top of mind from the minute you open your eyes. These tasks vary with each individual, for example: eating healthy, exercising, earning a living or time with family. These are the tasks that add fulfillment to your life.


Small rock - Though not as critical as your big rocks, they’re necessary to add fun and satisfaction to your life. These may include your favourite hobbies, working on a special or passionate project not related to your job, improving your next marathon time, and so on.


Sand - These tasks are not very critical for living or things you can go without, but they’re enjoyable nonetheless. These may include watching television and checking emails or social media. 

Now that we’ve explained the metaphor, the question remains: how do we get all the rocks and sand to fit in our jars, bearing in mind the jar is a confined space? It’s within human nature to get carried away with small rocks and sand because they seem fun and require less effort and energy. But starting your day or week with less important tasks consumes most of your time and energy, leaving little or none to complete the most important tasks, which are your big rocks (see jars below). It’s complicated to get everything to fit.

Image courtesy of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

For instance, have you ever picked up the phone to browse social media for 10 minutes and before you know it, two hours have passed and the cell phone is still in your hand or you’re just still sitting at the computer? You get the idea.             

Now here’s what happens when you prioritize. Your big rocks take precedence, filling most of the space in your jar, leaving room for the small rocks and with what little space remains, the sand will somehow find wiggle room. Everything fits naturally.

Here’s how to take this metaphor from theory to practice:


Make a to-do list

According to research, people who write down their goals are 75 per cent more likely to achieve them than those who don’t. Your to-do list can be weekly or daily, it all depends on what works best for you. These should prioritize the activities in your life. They should always be realistic and specific.


Prioritize your big rocks

Your big rocks will require continuous effort, doing something each day that would get you closer to the end. One action each day leads to building on an action the previous day to get it done. That’s why it’s so important to set aside enough time to get it done.


Hold yourself accountable

Check in with your list/priorities at least twice weekly and see where you are. Be honest with yourself to see if your schedule is a reflection of priorities. Share with a friend or relative to help hold you accountable.


Don’t forget for the “other”

Leave space for your small rocks and sand; you don’t want to be overwhelmed. They keep things balanced and help to maintain your sanity.


Give yourself a pat on the back

Reward yourself with a glass of wine or a treat of your choice when you noticed you’ve completed your big rocks. You’ve earned it!

Contributed by Meisha-Gay Mattis, founder of Bodhi, a Kingston-based holistic wellness company. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Personal Fitness Trainer. Email for more information or visit any of the following 

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