I recently heard a story told that recounted the experience of a teacher who was demonstrating the concept of volume. The teacher filled a glass jar with rocks and asked her class if it was full. The class responded enthusiastically and with certainty—yes! She then took sand and poured it into the jar and it filled the space between the rocks. She then asked, “How about now, is the container full?” Once again, with a little less certainty this time, the class responded, yes! She then poured water into the jar which filled the space between the sand, thereby occupying all of the jar’s volume.
This story triggered some thought and introspection. Metaphorically, the jar is much like life—our own personal container. Our entire life—projects, careers, and even relationships can be thought of as being in the jar, or even separate jars in and of themselves. Had the teacher in the story chosen to fill the jar first with water there would have been no volume left for the sand and rocks. We should be careful that what we’re filling our jars with what matters most and has the largest impact on us, our projects, and those around us. Items of little significance can easily occupy precious space in the jar if we allow them to do so. How can we fit everything into our lives that demand our attention? The obvious answer is time management. Danger! Danger! You’ve fallen into the trap. Many of us have allowed ourselves to succumb to the concept of multitasking. We incorrectly believe we can take on many things at once, managing our time to get all of it accomplished. Before reading further, watch this video.
Attempting to manage time leads to multitasking—the leading cause of having too much Work In Progress (WIP). If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of excessive WIP, please refer to an earlier post I did on the topic. A search for books on Amazon.com with the search terms “time management” yields over 2,500 titles. That’s a testament to the size and profitability of the time management industry and to the level of desperation and anxiety we’re feeling over the pressure (much of it self-induced) to “do more with less.” I hate that saying. It should be “get more done by doing less at one time.” That would be more effective. So, what’s to be done?
To be perfectly clear, I’m not saying that you can’t have a flurry of activities and projects in your life. That’s not pragmatic. What I am advocating is focusing on only one item at a time, right now—your most important thing, whatever that may be. Right now, I have a lot of activity in my personal and professional life. I blog for ProjectConections.com, I’m writing my second book, have a full-time job as a project manager and agile coach (dissonance anyone?), and teach a PMI-ACP certification course. I’m getting this blog entry done by focusing on it alone and completing it. After it’s done, I will be addressing the next most important item and working that until it’s done. What I will not do is write this blog while also trying to work on another two or three item on my list. The time to complete each of these would significantly increase as a result, and the quality would probably decrease as well. Take some time today to understand and identify the rocks that you want to put in your own jar; those large valuable items that will make an impact. Stop trying to manage your time as it’s a finite resource. Instead, choose to manage your priorities.