During our February webinar, Emmie Brown—President of Southwestern Speakers and Senior Partner at Southwestern Consulting—talked about planning your ideal work week. If you’re new to this practice or want to improve your time management skills, you might think that “ideal” and “real” will never match up perfectly. But this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, if you don’t know what an ideal week looks like, you’ll certainly never have one!
If you’re ready to transform “ideal” to “real”, you need to build out a schedule that addresses your most important goals. This will leave you plenty of space for the smaller things, and it will help you find a healthy work-life balance. In the world of executive coaching, you can think of this approach to time management as using rocks, pebbles, sand, and water to build out your schedule template. You’ll then use that outline as a reference to build an actual schedule that’s easy to stick to every day.
Rocks: Major Goals and Hard-Coded Tasks
Rocks are the most important part of your schedule and tend to be the least flexible. These are the major goals and activities of your day or week—things such as meetings, prospecting time, personal conferences, and building a business strategy.
Pebbles: Short-Term Goals and Smaller, Less Important Projects
Pebbles are the second most important items you’ll add to your schedule. These are things you need to do but have more flexibility in where you place them. They’re designed to fill the space between the rocks. Pebbles encompass personal and professional tasks and can include:
- Activities related to your faith/spirituality
- Checking emails
- Date night activities
- Flex time
- Getting your day started and winding down before bed
- Gratitude journaling (writing down what you’re grateful for)
- Meal planning
- Planning your schedule
- Things to do while commuting (e.g., listening to audiobooks or brainstorming)
Sand: “Filler” That You Should Still Account For
Failing to plan can leave you with too much sand and not enough rocks or pebbles. For example, emails are a huge time sink for many people who take a “filler” approach to checking their messages. Whenever they have the time, they’ll check email. But there are some problems with this approach. First, emails and other types of “sand” tasks tend to grow exponentially if you don’t slot some time specifically for them. Second, it’s easy for completing “sand” tasks to trick you into thinking you’re being productive when you’re actually procrastinating.
To fix this issue, take those “sand” tasks—which can range from work-related things (such as checking email) to personal responsibilities (such as exercising)—and upgrade them to rocks and pebbles on your calendar. You also need to be more specific about what counts as “sand” and slot some specific “flex time” into your calendar where you can commit to whatever filler or distractions you’d like.
Water: “Distractions” That Prevent You From Getting Work Done
The “water” in the schedule jar represents things that keep you from getting work done. In the wrong contexts, anything can be water. For example, you might be tempted to edit your business strategy or check emails when you should be prospecting.
Your strategy for managing water should be like how you manage sand. Be specific with how you plan your day. If the things you typically call “distractions” are important enough that you do them every day (or they’re taking time away from more important tasks), give them a specific home on your calendar.
Why Order Is Important in Your Schedule
If you’ve read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you may be familiar with the analogy of using rocks, pebbles, sand, and water to fill a cup. In terms of time management, this is a lesson in prioritization. If you build your schedule around water or sand, you won’t have space for rocks and pebbles. Start with rocks, let pebbles and sand fill the spaces around those main tasks, and add water last.
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