The Challenge of Prioritization

Personally, I am no good at storytelling. However, I am able to recognize a good one, when I come across it. This story was shared with me by my good “work friend”. From what I understand based on my attempts to research it, it is somewhat of a virtual urban legend. With no definitive author, it usually goes by the name of “Jar of Life”. Here is the version that I shared with my team.  

* * *

The Head of Project Management Office (PMO) stood before her team with several random items on the desk in front of her. When the meeting began, wordlessly, she picked up a large empty glass jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. She then asked the team if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was full.

Then the manager picked up a box of small pebbles and poured them into the jar. She shook the jar lightly and watched as the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the large rocks. The manager then asked her team again if the jar was full.

They chuckled and agreed that it was indeed full this time.

The manager picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled the remaining open areas of the jar. The manager then asked again if the jar was full.

Again, the response was a unanimous yes.

The manager then pick up her coffee cup and proceeded to pour the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the grains of sand.

“Now,” said the Head of PMO, “I want you to recognize that this jar signifies your life. The rocks are the truly important things, such as family, health, and relationships. If all else was lost and only the rocks remained, your life would still be meaningful. The pebbles are the other things that matter in your life, such as your work or professional development. The sand signifies the remaining “small stuff” and material possessions.

If you put sand into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.”

One of the PMO team members, known for asking too many questions, raised his hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The director smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a cup of coffee with a colleague.”

Bottom Line:

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Steven R. Covey

Take care of the rocks first – things that really matter to your career, such as the relationships with your colleagues, your target competencies for continual improvement, your work-life happiness, etc. Make sure your priorities are scheduled accordingly. The rest is just pebbles and sand.

Now, send someone an invite to grab a cup of coffee – your network is a rock.



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