In search of things new and useful.
The Most Important Lesson I’ve Learned
I’m in a zen mood today, and I’m thinking about the most important lessons that I’ve learned in my career so far. Most lessons that matter sound like common sense, but in practice are profoundly complicated. Although I have a ton more to learn, I bet this lesson will never fall out of my top 3.
The Most Important Lesson I’ve Learned Is: Big Rocks First.
I first heard this concept from my wife when she was in B-school at Stanford, but it turns out it’s one of those parables that’s widely repeated.
The gist is the following. Let’s say you have a bucket and a bunch of rocks. Some rocks are large, some are little pebbles, and a large number are tiny – like grains of sand.
The most efficient way to fill the bucket is to put in the big rocks first, which leaves room for the smaller rocks, which in turn leaves room for the sand. But if you go the other way around, you may run out of space before you ever get to the big rocks.
The life lesson is to focus on the things that matter first. Other things fall into place around those priorities. It sounds obvious, but it’s not in practice. We all get into a groove and sometimes do things out of habit without stopping to think why. Sometimes, we also just respond to things that happen to be pressing at the time, even if they aren’t the things that matter. Some people have called it the “tyranny of the urgent”.
The saddest example is when the small rocks displace things that really matter – like family, children, friendships, personal integrity, and faith. It’s amazing how easy it is for me to come home and be so distracted with what I’ve been working on all day that I’m not really present at home. My family gets my “B” game in those situations, but they deserve much more.
Big rocks first.