Rocks, Pebbles and Sand in My Jar

Aug 23rd, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

If there were 36 hours in a day, and we still only had to sleep eight good hours to function optimally, could we get everything done that we want to get done, or would we still have a task list that carries over every day? If we just dropped 95 percent of our task list and forgot about those tasks, would anyone notice? These are questions that plague me as I try to figure out the size of all of the rocks, pebbles and sand that need to go in my jar.

Maybe I don’t need anything in my jar. It’s a lot clearer that way. Maybe I don’t need a jar at all.

I’ve road-tested a lot of time management strategies. I’ve read a lot of books on goal setting, activity execution and personal effectiveness, and yet I don’t feel like I’m getting significantly better results than I ever have. I like to think up ideas for books, and one I thought up was a “self-help” book that incorporates all of the ideas from as many major self-help books as I can read and remember. Many of them champion conflicting ideas, and I find it amusing that the authors all claim to be “experts.” My wife read one book and wrote down all of the things that the author recommended that the reader do, and there was no way to fit them all into one’s schedule. It’s as if the author hadn’t tried it himself. I’ll tell you what self-help “experts” are expert at — selling books — or giving lectures, or appearing on talk shows. It’s an industry, just like all consulting.

I doesn’t mean that all consulting is bogus. But let’s say you develop a technique that helps individuals or groups or companies do something better, and you charge money to teach it to people, and then maybe you write a book about it. Even if you can justify selling this advice with the success you’ve helped others achieve, aren’t you at least a little bit shaping your content based on what you think will sell?

I think it would be fun to write a book that is just ridiculous with regard to how much stuff it tells you to do and then market it as a serious self-help book, just to see what kind of reaction you get. I guarantee that you could include many “clues” that you are only kidding and most people would not pick up on them.

Or here’s another idea: a book on how to write “self-help” books. Now we’re talking. You could have a lot of fun with that.

I’m not going to share with you what I do to organize my day, because frankly, it’s not working out so well for me. Sometimes I hear about new ways to manage my time, and they sound great, but either I can’t follow the instructions to the letter, or circumstances unique to my life alter the outcome, or it just plain don’t work. I love Dr. Phil’s “put the big rocks in first” theory, but damn it, all the pebbles and sand lying around irritates me to no end. I have a little OCD, so here’s an example of what I end of doing:

• A major task for the day is to write this blog, so when I open up my daily calendar, there it is: a big rock that has to be put in the jar today.

• One pebble is working on a catalog mailing list – currently low priority because the list doesn’t need to be ready for five weeks – but it’s a big task because I’m going through the master list and noting who received catalogs at different times of the year. It’s in a spreadsheet, so I’ll find time to do 2 percent of the task today, in between other tasks.

• A grain of sand on the list is to do some cleanup on another spreadsheet I have with detailed data on products, costs, retail prices, etc. This task has been going on for six months and I can’t help but stop for 15 minutes to work on it because it bugs me if I can’t make at least a tiny bit of headway on it each day.

Now, there might be research that shows that if I try to finish tasks before starting others, or instead of jumping back and forth every day, all day, between multiple long-terms tasks, I might be more efficient and effective in the long run. But if I have 17 back-burner items and I never heat them up even for a second while I work on priority items, it feels like I’m just spinning my wheels. Is that just my dysfunctional way of looking at it, or am I on the right track?

I’m going on vacation and for the only time in recent memory (other than deer hunting trips) I’m not taking my laptop. I’ll have my blackberry, and I’ll answer emails and texts, and I’ll call customers, but I won’t steal two hours after everyone’s asleep to work on tasks that require a computer. I’ll bring a book, and paper to write on, and I’ll work on writing projects, but no spreadsheets, no website updates, no inventory cleanup, no recording and transmitting tracking numbers, no babysitting purchase orders and no TechBlog posts.

I have a feeling it will be a relaxing week.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper