Managing the Big Rocks

If you’ve been a fan of Steven Covey’s writing (as I’ve been for several decades now) you’re familiar with the useful constructs he leans on to explain certain life-management choices that simply help us navigate the world. In his 1991 book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he offered us the wisdom of the Big Rocks in a story that’s been replicated several times on YouTube (should you care to see it reenacted). It goes something like this. . .

When confronted with several kinds of materials including sand, gravel, rocks of three sizes and water, participants are instructed to fill a large jar (envision a pickle jar) packing as much material in as possible with the intention of using all the materials provided. After several failed attempts, the narrator makes it clear that there is an ORDER for filling the jar which, if followed, allows for all the materials to fit into the container.

This ORDER begins with the BIG ROCKS. Putting them into the container first allows for all the other materials in descending order of size, with the water being the final material added to the container, to fit nicely into the jar. Steven would remind us that the BIG ROCKS are our core values – they are what matters most to us in our everyday lives. When we tend to them FIRST, we can then make room for everything else.

If we fail to tend to the BIG ROCKS first, everything else will surely crowd them out and there will be no opportunity to fit them into our jar (our lives) once we’ve cluttered it up with things of lesser importance.

Two jars filled with rocks.
So, this year, I’m (slowly) working on some of my biggest rocks, in an effort to get my life in good order, especially as another birthday rolls around – one more trip around the sun, successfully completed!  My big rocks for 2024 include:
  • Solidifying end-of-life decisions, for both my husband and me alike:

    • Pre-paying our cremation costs and putting in place the necessary details for that service.

    • Documenting the funeral liturgy for my husband’s final services – something he can no longer do for himself.

    • Writing (well, drafting) obituaries so that no one will have to start with a blank sheet of paper and do that for us.

    • Understanding how to work with burial services in distant locations (we own family plots in Wisconsin, so I’ll need to learn how things work there).

    • Reviewing my will, so that it genuinely reflects my values as I age.

    • Sitting down with my executor so that there’s no mystery for him to untangle when it comes to settling my estate and appropriately closing my business.

  • Reducing personal & household debris:

    • Cleaning closets to reduce the accumulation of clothes from decades of buying but not purging (a common mistake!).

    • Making decisions about whole rooms of furnishings and belongings we no longer need or use – they’re just collecting dust!

    • Even going through my books (beloved possessions!) so that whoever has to clean up after me isn’t faced with a library full of outdated reading materials that have to be hauled off to Goodwill (like my 1991 copy of Steven Covey!).

  • Imagining how to live in a smaller space (yes, downsizing again) as I aim to age in place…

    • Deciding what’s really crucial to keep vs. give away or acknowledge as trash.

    • Finding the objects and select pieces that I genuinely cherish (BIG ROCKS?) and getting ready to dispose of the rest.

    • Looking for ways to repurpose or preserve the memory of a thing (take a photo!) without giving space to the object itself (that no longer serves a useful purpose).

Self-care is every conscious action you take that feeds your soul, nourishes your body, nurtures your spirit, or replenishes your relationship with yourself!

These are my BIG ROCKS that I know I need to tackle rather than leave for someone else to manage after my demise.  It’s a lot, and mine is a relatively “small” life – how do people do it who have many more assets to manage and far more entanglements than I?? It will be a big, year-long endeavor, but I’m hopeful that I can make good progress, a little each quarter.

How are you doing with your BIG ROCKS?  Are they solidly settled in the jar of your life, or are you still trying to cram them into a container stuffed with less important debris?  Whether you’re trying to align you home-life or work-life around your core values or manage your lifestyle in a way that’s consistent with your core beliefs, the work is hard.  It’s easy to get side-tracked by the siren calls of other chores and other people’s agendas.

Building a life, one that is satisfying, fulfilling and purpose-filled takes considerable attention to naming your BIG ROCKS and making sure they have the preeminent space in your container – big or small.  Once your most important things, your most important work, your most important relationships & responsibilities are “in the jar” the rest will fall into place, if only because pebbles, gravel, sand and water will easily fill all the remaining space available.

Coaching is all about helping people identify their BIG ROCKS – in a time of stress or even in a period of calm – let me know if I can be of any help as you make your way through the hard work of building the life you love!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Paula

I help other caregivers – both professionals and family caregivers – acknowledge their pain and learn to practice the many small skills of self-care that can sustain them through the challenges of wholeheartedly caring for others.

Recent Posts

The phrase "love your life" sits in neon lights over the top of a multi-colored, striped background

What if you could LOVE your life?

There’s a lot of noise out there on how to love your life. I call it noise because the advice I’ve discovered isn’t based on ...
Read More →
Light skinned woman sitting down, with a white, fuzzy blanket and a laptop on her lap leaning her head to one side, with her two hands massaging her neck on the other side. There is a side table next to her with three beautiful roses in a white vase, and a white coffee mug.

Translating Body Language

Ordinarily this phrase, translating body language, would mean having the ability to understand what’s going on inside of others when they interact with the world and ...
Read More →
Two younger, light skinned hands coming from the top of the frame holding two elderly, light skinned hands coming from the bottom of the frame

Gratitude, Grit & Grace

It’s been a while since I wrote about the 3-Gs that consistently get me through life, Gratitude, Grit & Grace. They’re always present in my life and ...
Read More →
How Can I Help You?

Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.

How Can I Help You?

Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.