Do you have the feeling you don’t have enough hours in your day? Do you keep procrastinating and forgetting stuff? Having trouble completing tasks? Take control and start using time management! But is it really that simple? Does time management even exist?

If you are interested in time management you have probably heard of the famous ‘Rock, Pebbles and Sand’ analogy. The story comes in many forms and shapes and I personally was first introduced to it by Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.

Rock, Pebbles and Sand’ analogy

This is the analogy in short: when you fill an empty glass jar with large rocks, it will look full. But if you add a handful of pebbles and shake the jar, the pebbles will also find a place between the rocks. The jar will look full but you can still add quite some sand to the rocks and pebbles before it is completely filled.

The glass jar stands for all the time you have available. The rocks are the most important things in your life, like spending time with your family and maintaining your health. The pebbles are things that matter but that you can really live without and the sand is all the unimportant stuff that you can easily do without.

For proper time management you should start filling the jar with the really important things, the big rocks. Then you should add the pebbles and last the sand. The other way round is not possible. When you start with the sand and you want to add the pebbles and the big rocks later, it will not fit.

I used to believe in this theory and live by it. But now I have several problems with it.

Time is not a jar

First of all, the time we have available can never be represented by a jar. Time is not rigid, it is flexible. That also means it can never be fully managed. I guess most of us have read the Einstein quote: “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.” Time is relative. We can do more with 30 minutes of focused work than you can do in 8 hours when you are not focused and distracted. A boring, but really important job we have to do will last ages where a really fun job seems to be done in minutes.

What is important?

Second, how do we distinguish between the: large rocks, small pebbles and the sand? Who decides what is really important or not? How can we even know? Don’t all important things in our lives start small, like sand? And where do we fit in the really important, unimportant things like: relaxing and laziness? I guess it is considered sand but being lazy from time to time is actually quite important.

The best things come unexpected

Third, trying to manage time like this totally kills creativity and the element of surprise. The best things come unexpected, when you are open, ready and available (lazy, relaxing?). When you are messing around with a jar with rocks, pebbles and sand all the time you are not open to new, unexpected elements and you will totally miss them even when they are right in front of you.

Use your head

So, what should we do? Just use your head, it will know what to do. If not, ask people close to you for advice. Last but not least: meditate, practice mindfulness and learn to focus. That will direct you to the important things in life and give you the focus, energy and creativity to be successful in them.

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