Business gurus always talk about how you have to plan everything out. I get as tired of hearing about it as the next guy running a small business. Do I really need to spend (waste?) time on writing and revising goals and priorities, keeping a business plan up to date, and putting my calendar in different electronic formats so that it will work on everybody’s smart phone?
Planning should not be busywork just to get the Harvard MBA seal of approval. But there is a kind of planning that wise people have done throughout history and that seems very worthwhile today.
The urgent and the important
Prioritizing is just a jargony word for making sure you do what’s important in life. It’s all to easy to get caught up in what’s urgent — returning calls, going through emails, paying bills. And after all that, where’s the time to do what really matters?
It’s also easy to get caught up in other people’s priorities. But your life shouldn’t be lived for them. It should be lived for you.
So, obviously you need to know what your priorities should be, whether in life or in your business.
For example, if you want to write a book, you need to give time to it on a regular basis. Otherwise, a thousand little tasks will crowd it out. And after years of that, will you be happy you answered all those emails instead of publishing a book? I don’t think so.
But after that, it helps to have a concept of how to fit them in. I’ve never heard a better one than this story from Steven Covey, reposted in an email from the Art of Manliness (don’t worry, it’s appropriate for women too):
I attended a seminar once where the instructor was lecturing on time. At one point, he said, “Okay, it’s time for a quiz.” He reached under the table and pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar. He set it on the table next to a platter with some fist-sized rocks on it. “How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.
After we made our guess, he said, “Okay. Let’s find out.” He set one rock in the jar…then another…then another. I don’t remember how many he got in, but he got the jar full. Then he asked, “Is the jar full?”
Everybody looked at the rocks and said, “Yes.”
Then he said, “Ahhh.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar and the gravel went in all the little spaces left by the big rocks. Then he grinned and said once more, “Is the jar full?”
By this time we were on to him. “Probably not,” we said.
“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 in all the little spaces left by the rocks and the gravel. Once more he looked at us and said, “Is the jar full?”
“No!” we all roared.
He said, “Good!” and he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in. He got something like a quart of water in that jar. Then he said, “Well, what’s the point?”
Somebody said, “Well, there are gaps and if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”
“No,” he said, “that’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?“