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Big rocks first

The concept is simple: You have a jar, and you need to fill it with rocks of different sizes. The most logical way to make sure they all fit is to first place the big rocks in the jar, and gradually follow with smaller rocks, until you top off the jar with the pebbles and gravel.

Big rocks first.

This well-known illustration describes how we should prioritize our life’s obligations — take the time to make sure the “big rocks” are where they need to be, and everything else that needs to fit will fall into place.

Habit #3 of our current Book Club selection, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, deals a bit with the concept of “big rocks first.” Like in our recent discussion of understanding the difference of the urgent and the important, focusing on the big rocks forces us to allot the right amount of time to the things that really matter, and to let those lesser matters wait their turn.

There was some great discussion on the Book Club forums last week. Here are some of your thoughts on what it looks like to put the big rocks first:

“…I think if we have too many big rocks, we limit the little things which can be just as important sometimes. I also think sometimes my big rocks are not on the same page as my husband’s. …I am going to start a family night once a month and make it fun and make it a no-techno night. …I don’t remember anytime with my parents growing up; just my grandparents because they watched me all the time. It’s all about the choices you make.Organized Mama

“Our big rocks are daily family time — that means that even if I’m not in the mood, I change my mood because that time is my kids’ time with me, and we are going to have fun. It is also very clearly not TV or computer time. We also eat together. Everyday. We set the table and sit together and eat and talk. For me, that is my biggest rock right now. The second biggest rock is spending 20 to 30 minutes talking with my husband. Doesn’t that sound ludicrous? How could we possibly go through a day and not talk 20 minutes??? Well, I don’t mean, “Did you remember to pick up milk on your way home?” We try (if we aren’t falling asleep) to spend the last half hour before sleeping talking with each other about our dreams, worries, plans, jokes we heard, whatever — but not the mundane details of daily life…” – JenT

“Both my husband and I recognize that the biggest rock for each of us is our relationship with God. We make it a priority to spend time with the Lord each day. That keeps each of us focused on the important things in life, and our relationship with each other is significantly better because of it. I can always tell if we’re not spending time with the Lord.

“Since our kids are still young, the other big rocks are in our marriage. My husband and I put our marriage first. That includes regular date nights as well as turning off the TV in the evenings so that we can talk. We know that we need to stay closely connected to each other. Another big rock is to make sure that both of us have personal tank-fillers in our schedule, whether that’s time with friends, reading a book, or playing golf.” – csott

I’d love to open this discussion to the rest of Simple Mom readers. What does it look like in your family life to put the big rocks first? What does it look like when you unintentionally fill your jar with all the pebbles, and then you don’t have any room for the rocks that truly matter?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section today (and feel free to pop over to the Book Club, if you’re in the mood!). I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Rose G.

    This works for me when I am picking up my kids toys. If I put the big toys in first I am able to fit all of the rest of the toys. But if I put the small toys in first I am never able to fit all of the toys. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Maryann @ Raise Healthy Eaters

    My husband and I have 2 small children (11 months and 3 years) so we are so busy with the day to day stuff (pebbles) that we sometimes forget the big stuff like spending time together as a couple and really enjoying our children. My goal is to stress less and enjoy the two little cuties in our house. And we just planned a weekend away for next month! This topic is a great reminder to me.

    .-= Maryann @ Raise Healthy Eaters´s last blog ..Ready for Another Baby? Your Pre-Conception To-Do List =-.

  3. Maya

    This is so great Tsh – and such a valuable lesson!

    We are trying to do our best with that – especially quality time with kids. They grow up so fast. Family time and taking time off. We are trying to do that. And then, the date nights that we are so weak on.

    We are saving lesser money these days with a single paying job, but we ARE banking precious family time and rich experiences ๐Ÿ™‚
    .-= Maya´s last blog ..Thursday Truism โ€“ Sorry publishing industry. In the end, it is the stories that matter. =-.

  4. Mrs. Money

    I’m trying to figure out my “big rocks” currently. I’m working a job that is DRAINING me and I don’t want to quit because that’s irresponsible. I need to find a happy balance, and I hope I can do that soon!
    .-= Mrs. Money´s last blog ..How Much Money are we Spending? =-.

  5. Lori at Couponomic Stimulus Package

    Oooo… I just did a post that had this concept. I found a great video on youtube here’s my post so you can see the video –

    I’m working on figuring out my priorities in life. I’m realizing that being organized is a big one for me, it helps me be more relaxed. So I’m working on that right now. I also am working on reading more to my children and we really fleshed out what was most important in school and our finances. But those pebbles can add up quickly!
    .-= Lori at Couponomic Stimulus Package´s last blog ..7 Steps to Controlling Your Finances =-.

  6. Elizabeth

    For our family, the big rocks are eating supper together every night (our kids understand that it is a special treat to eat anywhere but the table), going to church each Sunday, and spending time playing and reading each night before bedtime. My husband and I are working on making our own relationship more consistently one of the big rocks.

    I think we both feel it keenly when we do not prioritize in favor of the big rocks. Our kids don’t get as much of our attention, which impacts their behavior and attitudes, and we don’t get as much attention from one another, which can cause frustration and apathy to build. These are all destruction things and need to be avoided!!

  7. Shauntelle

    Tough times over the last couple of years has taught me that behind God, the biggest rock I need to put in the jar is the one that represents ME. I used to fill the jar up with the big rocks that represented the needs of my husband, my kids, my extended family, work… and then add in all the smaller stones and pebbles, thinking somehow, sometime, I’d find a way to work in what I needed for myself… Actually, I guess I felt what I needed for myself was actually a small pebble… and I’ve finally realized that my needs ARE a big rock. When I’m taking care of myself, it so much easier to take care of everyone else and to be able to prioritize the other areas of my life in the right way.
    .-= Shauntelle´s last blog ..Just feelโ€ฆ =-.

  8. Sarah (@

    Tsh, thank you, thank you, thank you, for bringing the highlights and meat of the book club discussion to those of us who aren’t able to join the club right now!

    With three little ones (ages 5 and under), I definitely struggle with focusing too much on whether I’ve “accomplished” anything, like keeping up with the laundry, dishes, and piles of papers… to the detriment of the “big rocks” like being present for my husband and daughters. I think it’s particularly hard, because those little rocks drive me to distraction if they’re not somewhat taken care of. Hence the need for good systems…

    But when I’m focusing only on those little rocks, I see certain types of bad fruit — for instance, my girls’ behavior spirals downward, as they vie for the attention they’re not getting.

    Thanks for the reminder to put the big rocks in first. Focusing on those things makes it possible to have harmony and love in our home.

  9. Sarah (@

    Tsh, thank you, thank you, thank you, for bringing the highlights of the book club discussion to those of us who aren’t able to join the club right now!

  10. Vina

    What a great metaphor, Tsh. Big rocks. Hmmm. I feel like everyday, we are tempted to focus on the pebbles and the gravel because it’s what our culture deems most significant. And those feel more measurable. But I think the pebbles and the gravels are important too. In their own small way. In fact, I think the pebbles and the rocks are pretty telling of what are real big rocks are, the concrete versions of the abstract we say we value so much. Big rocks I feel like they are harder to define. For me, I only have a few big rocks in my life and they aren’t easy to quantify: wholeness, simplicity, generosity, authenticity, truth. They look different in different seasons in my life.
    .-= Vina´s last blog ..Nourishing Finds: Friday Link Love, Welcome Spring (Almost!) =-.

  11. Claire Hilliard

    The “Big Rocks”. Why the greatest commandment of course, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength & love your neighbor as yourself.” These are the most important. Am I loving God through my actions? Am I finding joy and satisfaction in HIM more than anything else? (I honestly struggle with loving organization, cleaning, couponing, and all these other wifely things more than Him. I don’t ever say that with my mouth, but my actions & my heart sure shows a great love for those things.) The biggest rock? Oh loving the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in HIM that we find JOY in all the tasks of being a wife. The next biggest rock? Loving my “neighbor” as myself. Loving my husband…really loving my husband, seeking to respect him, intentionally finding ways to show him that I unselfishly love him (& that’s something I have to INTENTIONALLY do because it doesn’t “just happen”). We don’t have any kiddos yet, but when we do, we should be loving them as we love ourselves & finding ways to live that out. Loving our literal “neighbors”. Loving people across town…the world.
    Goodness gracious, these are the BIG rocks that need to come first. Thanks for the reminder to seek to put them first;-) I enjoy your blog a ton:)

    • Laura

      Great comment! I’m loving the bookclub, and loving meeting folks who take parenting seriously, deliberately, ‘intentionally’.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, join in anytime! to the BookClub Discussion!
      It’s super, great gals reading a book together and learning a bunch!
      I’m so challenged and so excited to be reading this book now, it’s helping so much.
      .-= Laura ´s last blog ..Trials & the Testing of our Faith =-.

  12. Fabiola

    Thank you Tsh, for creating a picture in my head about my priorities.
    We’ve been struggling identifying the pebbles from the rocks. But yesterday my day was filled with rocks. I took my daughter to our stroller strides class, actually sat down and listened to my son tell me about the new book he’s reading and instead of watching the new episode of the Office I balanced our budget (I’ll probably watch it anyway at my in-Laws this weekend). My husband and I also sat down to talk about our future plans and the decision to whether I should go back to work or continue staying with my little ones. (We’re still figuring this one out).
    But most of my days are usually filled with pebbles and don’t have space to fit the rocks.
    .-= Fabiola´s last blog ..We won’t be on Face on March =-.

  13. Jackie Lee

    What an interesting way to look at things. Big rocks. hmm… as I think about it I don’t know that I even KNOW what my big rocks are. It seems every day is filled with the little pebbles. I’m working on creating a more balanced life and I think this is a good place to look to find even more balance and make sure the really important things are at the top of the “list”. Thanks for getting me thinking!
    .-= Jackie Lee´s last blog ..Planning a 4 Year Old Party =-.

  14. Susan

    When my life is full of the pebbles, I find that I have no time for the big OR little things! When I feel the days slipping by, it’s usually because I’ve been on the computer or watched TV too much. When I do the “big rock” things when they should be done, then I have plenty of time to fit all the little pebbles down into those spaces between the big rocks.

  15. Hannah

    This principle tends to haunt me whenever I think “I don’t have time for …” or “I didn’t do X because I didn’t have time.” The reality is, we make time for the things most important to us — yet often, in practice we make time for things that we would not SAY are the most important to us, squandering the time we could spend on the things that ARE the most important. Or at least, I do.

    Yes, I’m very eloquent like that. ๐Ÿ™‚
    .-= Hannah´s last blog ..The 3 Little Pigs Go to War (Keeping Kids Safe) =-.

  16. Karen (Scotland)

    I hope you don’t regard this comment as flippant but when our lecturer first demonstrated this story, he was serious throughout until he was sure we had the point, then he finished by pouring wine into the rest of the jar.

    The moral of the story? “There is ALWAYS room in life for some good red wine…”
    I don’t even drink but this memory always makes me laugh!
    Karen (Scotland)

    • Tsh

      I think that’s hilarious!

  17. Nadene

    I want my children to know that they are loved and special – so I read to them and cuddle and whisper in their ear that they are so loved and precious every night before they go to sleep. I sometimes must force myself to keep this appointment because I’m tired and just want to “switch off” from mom-mode, but I always leave their rooms with a warmth in my heart and the sensation of their cheeks on mine … and that is the big rock I love putting into our family,
    .-= Nadene´s last blog ..Minibook Master Template Download =-.

  18. Coppertop

    I’m writing now while holding my three year old’s hand. The big rocks for me are:

    1) Emotional nurturing and support for my child and husband.
    2) Time to spend daydreaming and writing on my own.
    3) Time for the husband to spend by himself.
    4) Real, hard work on my marriage.

    A clean house used to a big rock, and I struggle every day to view it as it should be, a small rock that balances on top of the emotional health of my family.
    .-= Coppertop´s last blog ..Game Warden Mama =-.

  19. Hilary

    We try to remember how “big rock” our kids’ requests for time are; we won’t hear “Mommy, please be with me!” forever. It can be difficult to prioritize at our house, as my husband and I both work at home. Do we use a chunk of time to get work done or to do a project with our son or to spend time together as a couple or to get the dishes washed? Time probably causes more fights at our house than anything else. It’s my (and my son’s) primary Love Language, too.
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Forget "Black Friday" ~ Try "Pink Thursday"! =-.

  20. brandy

    im only now realizing how detrimental living with all these little rocks can be. I know I have to do something quick but I am now so far gone I’m not even sure where to start. In my head I dream of those tv declutter teams coming in and taking the lead in telling me where to begin. I have a vision in my head but what is out there right now is on the complete other side of the road. I feel like I am drowning in pebbles and I am not sure which big rock to climb onto to begin the clean up. That’s what life feels like when you don’t prioritize…. like mine.
    I better figure this out fast.

  21. charlieck

    Very good idea and discussion. Thank you. Main challenge for me is to identify what are my big rocks and what are small pebbles.

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