Benchmark Business Group

Is Your Time Container Big Enough?

May 14, 2024

There’s a popular story about time management. Chances are you’ve heard it. The short version is… a professor shows his class a glass container, he adds big rocks to the container until they reach the top. He asks the class if it’s full. Some say yes, some say no. He then adds smaller rocks, then sand and eventually water, all which settle into the open spaces.

The moral of the story is that how you organize tasks has a vast impact on how much you can fit into your schedule. If you add the water, or less important tasks first, you won’t have room to add the big rocks, or important tasks. You need to start with your big rocks and work your way up to the smaller and less important tasks.

The missing part of the story starts with a simple question: How big is your time container? It does no good to determine what your big rocks are, unless you know how many you can fit into your schedule. Often, in businesses everything seems to be a big rock. There’s a lot to do and it often feels there aren't enough people to get the work done. It's up to you to prioritize.

The problem is, the size of your time container can change. You might work nine hours today but tomorrow you might only have six work hours available. As a result, the amount of time you can dedicate to big rocks changes. You need to be able to proactively move and adapt the time you spend on your big rocks in your time container.

Not identifying the size of your time container makes it easy to assume you can get more done than is feasible. This is how many business owners end up with 10 hours worth of work that they expect to get done in three hours of time. It’s not realistic.

A task may be a big rock, but does that mean it’s a big rock for today? The answer is simply no. You have to prioritize your big rocks and proactively re-prioritize as needed.

We recommend the following three simple techniques to help you: 

  • Use your calendar to block out your time container each day. Identify your working hours. If you have personal time scheduled before, during or after work make sure you mark this on the business calendar. This helps you visually see how big your time container is for each day.
  • When you write the task on your calendar, add the due date. If something unexpected comes up such as having to deal with a business emergency or having to head home with the flu, seeing the due date helps you proactively reschedule and adjust. The big rock that you had scheduled for today might be able to be done tomorrow. Example: Joe Smith Quote 5/7
  • Estimate the time a task will take you to complete. It’s easy to overestimate how much you can fit into your time container. It’s not unusual to have 10 hours worth of work scheduled for an eight hour day. When you schedule your tasks with an estimated time you’ll be able to easily see if you have too much to fit into your schedule. This will help you clearly identify today’s big rocks. This can be done by setting the time of the task or writing the task as: Joe Smith Quote 5/7 30 min.

When you change your habits to keep the size of the time container in mind, you’ll notice that prioritizing becomes easier. Yes, something may be a big rock for your business, but it’s not necessarily a big rock for today. And something that is a pebble might become a big rock the longer it remains on your to-do list. Following these tips will help you better prioritize your big rocks and maximize your time.

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