An old story circulates sporadically. An expert in time management puts a one-gallon mason jar in front of a class. The expert fills it with fist size rocks. “Is the jar full? S/he asks.”

“Yes.” They reply in unison.

“No, it is not,” s/he declares and proves this by pouring in a bucket of gravel, then a pail of sand, then a pitcher of water. The chagrined students, caught out each time, finally get it right. The jar is now full.

“And what lesson did you learn?” The expert enquires of the class.

An overachiever shouts out, “No matter how full your schedule is you can always fit in more.”

“No.” The time expert replies. “The point is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in.”

As covid-19 turns our lives topsy turvy, our big rocks have been pushed or thrown aside. Home-schooling might take up the time we gave to a career we loved. Cooking might steal the hour we spent on self-care. Learning the technology needed to move forward may have stolen our down time. Careers have been put on hold, the dreamed of year of travel scrapped. WE can’t write our treatise if we hold down two part-time jobs to pay our rent. If we can even find our big rocks, we often can’t reach them, let alone put them back in the jar of our life.

As the over-achiever proved, we interpret the story from our own perspective. His answer is not wrong, simply different from the point the expert made. When I assess the story against the direction of my life, I see the other elements that went into the jar as important components of the lesson. The gravel sprayed between the rocks is the busywork we attack. Never has there been such a cleaning and sorting binge as went on across the country when the pandemic first kept us in our homes. By addressing a multitude of small tasks, we avoided the changes affecting our bigger goals. We were not ready to make those changes for many reasons such as apathy, lack of knowledge, emotional whiplash against change, or stubbornness. Immersing oneself in busywork is an age-old way to procrastinate.

I poured a lot of sand into my jar, hiding the rocks in a cloud of distraction. I frittered away precious time with television, and books, few of them edifying. Some may have chosen board games, social media, Netflix binges, or gaming as a veil for the big rocks. We don’t have to deal with them if we can’t see them. Or we could spend the day texting, phoning, Zooming with friends. Some of our choices may have been positive, helping others cope, but a majority were just sand, hiding the truth of the bigger questions: What rocks did we lose? Need to rearrange? Have to pick up again? Was this the time to find new rocks for our jar?

The water finally filled the jar. It served several purposes. It finished the job. With the task completed the lesson was taught. It provided clarity – settling the sand and gravel so we could once more see the big rocks.

My readers may think I make this point too often, but there is always good. When we look for it, instead of focusing on ‘the bad’ of a situation, we find many plusses. Covid – 19 may have forced us out of a job we disliked but given us the time to pursue the online course that heads us in an exciting new direction. It may have turned us from commuting to home-schooling, building stronger, memorable relations with children we usually wouldn’t see most of the day. Canadians have stock-piled money in greater amounts than in many years – money that will kick-start the economy and make our lives better in the years ahead. With travel scratched, we’ve spent huge amounts on recreational equipment and homes that give us a bigger fix of nature and better physical conditioning. And Covid-19 helped us look outward and act, helping our neighbour, our community, our country. Let’s find our big rocks, place them back in the jar and make this time in our life count more than ever.



  1. K.D. Thrasher
    Jan 25, 2021

    A thoughtful commentary and visual to start my week.
    Covid-19 has removed a lot of the ‘guess work’ out of life.
    I will be more thoughtful in how I use my time, today.
    As a reflect, I know it has not yet been directed to cleaning
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • Madelon
      Feb 3, 2021

      I appreciate your input, and point about Covid – 19 limiting our choices so no guessing is necessary.

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