You may have seen a demonstration involving the following items:

  • A large glass jar
  • Some stones
  • Some pebbles
  • Some sand

The demonstration goes like this; the person starts by putting the sand into the jar first, followed by the pebbles, then the stones – but they find that the stones won’t fit.

So they empty the jar and start again, putting the stones in first, then the pebbles, then the sand. Amazingly, this time, everything fits.

How can this happen?

Well the first time, all the sand went to the bottom of the jar, the pebbles sat on top of the sand with gaps in between them and this meant there wasn’t enough room left to get all the stones in. The second time, the stones went in first leaving gaps large enough for the pebbles to fill; and the grains of sand were small enough to slip down into any gaps that were left.

Now imagine the empty jar represents all the time you have available in a day; and the stones, pebbles and sand represents your tasks and projects.

The idea of the demonstration is that the stones represent activities people often say they would love to do but just don’t have the time for – things like exercising, or learning to play an instrument, or writing a book.

In part one of the demonstration, all the gaps left in the jar represent small blocks of time, that maybe get wasted doing things that don’t mean so much to you; whereas part 2 of the demonstration shows that, if you allocate time for the important things in your life first, there can still be enough time in the day for you to do all the other bits and pieces that need doing or crop up.

So how do you fill your jar? Do you get your stones in there first – or do you make excuses for why they won’t fit? If you’re an excuse maker, I challenge you to take one of those ‘stone’ activities and make time for it every day for a month; I think you’ll be surprised what you can fit in, when you give things the right priority for you.

Oh and by the way – even after you add the sand, the glass is not completely full. I once saw someone cleverly pour a jug’s worth of milk into the jar to represent the ‘milk of human kindness’, showing that, no matter how full your day appears, there is always room in your day to show care and compassion to others.


Note: A lot of people get all worked up about whether or not there is really such a thing as ‘time management’, saying you can’t manage time itself, only your use of it. Maybe they’re technically right, but who cares really. If people want to learn about how to make the best use of their time, chances are they’re going to look for a course on ‘time management’. The phrase is ingrained in our culture and really not worth arguing over.

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