Minimalism - The Big Things

You've all heard the saying "Take care of the little things and the big things will fall into place."  Bullshit.  Doesn't work that way.  Spend all of your time worrying about little things and life becomes hectic and random.  This very principle lead me to minimalism.  I found that saying yes to everything, without placing priority on the important things in life,  was leading to stress and dissatisfaction.

One of my favorite time management teachings comes from Steven Covey's iconic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.   It's habit number three - Put first things first!

"To live a more balanced existence, you have to recognize that not doing everything that comes along is okay. There's no need to overextend yourself. All it takes is realizing that it's all right to say no when necessary and then focus on your highest priorities." ~ Stephen Covey

Covey illustrates the issue with the famous "rocks in a jar" analogy below.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?"

Everyone in the class said, "Yes."

Then he said, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?" 

By this time the class was onto him. "Probably not," one of them answered.

"Good!" he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?"

"No!" the class shouted.

Once again he said, "Good!" Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!"

"No," the speaker replied, "that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all."

Only by identifying our values, the things that we cherish most in life, and putting them first can we really call it "our" life.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

We are raising funds to open Zen Presence Meditation Center in Frisco, Colorado.  If you would like to help you may donate through Paypal below.


  1. That's a fantastic analogy (from a great book!). I couldn't agree more!

  2. Awesome Article and Analogy. Great Read!