Deal with the big things first and the little things will fall into place. [Photo: Bigstock]

Change your life: Rocks, gravel and sand

5 May, 2014

In his book “First Things First” Stephen Covey describes a lecture he attended on the topic of ‘time’.

The lecturer took a large glass jar and set it down on a table with some small rocks beside it. He placed the rocks in the jar and asked the audience whether they thought the jar was full.

Everybody laughed and replied that yes, it was full. Then the lecturer reached under the table and pulled out a container of gravel. He poured in the gravel and shook the jar so that the gravel filled the spaces that had been left by the rocks.

Again he asked the audience if the jar was full. By this time they had cottoned on, and replied no.

The key is not to prioritise your schedule, but to schedule your priorities” — Stephen Covey

‘Good!’ he replied. And he reached under the table and repeated the process, only this time with sand, which went into the spaces left by the rocks and the gravel. Then he asked what had been the point of the demonstration.

Somebody said, ‘Well, there are gaps, and if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life.’

‘No,’ he said, ‘that’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?’

If we relate this illustration to our lives, the ‘rocks’ are rep­resentative of the things that are really important to us. The gravel represents the other things in life that matter, but on a smaller scale. The sand is everything else. The small stuff. If we put the sand and gravel into the jar first, there’s no room for the rocks.

As Covey says, take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just gravel and sand.


  • Annabel Sutton is a Professional Certified Coach and Author.  She has lived in Los Angeles and Indonesia; survived earthquakes and riots, lived with head-hunters and enjoyed a portfolio career.  She now enjoys a somewhat quieter life in Somerset!  Her latest book, 52 Ways to Transform Your Life (Weekly Wisdom for Busy People), contains 52 inspiring, quick-to-read life tips and is available from . Find more information at