Rocks, pebbles, and sand test
There’s an exercise called the rocks, pebbles, and sand test. Where the rocks represent the most important thing, the pebbles are less important, and the sand for everything else in your life. The goal is to unravel what you have in your “jar”, or everyday life, and then take it all out and see what things do you want in your jar.
If you fit it with too many rocks, there won’t be any space for other pebbles or sand. likewise, If you have too many pebbles, you can’t have any rocks (the more important stuff). You only have so much time, and it’s best to use that time for things that are important.
Up until 2016, my jar had social media, and going out were rocks, working out and sports as pebbles, and sand was family time. I remembered being on my phone for many hours on end — coming home and switching between apps until it was time to sleep, which was typically 2 am. Whatever energy that was left was for sports and working out, and family time was mostly for special occasions. I’ve always felt tired throughout the day and felt like I had no purpose. I was stuck in limbo and just “floated” from day to day, hoping I would win the lottery so my luck would change. If I had more money, if I had more connections, If I had a better job, all of this would change I thought. It was all wishful thinking because everything that I was doing each day was not improving any skillset that would lead me to have a better chance of any of the mentioned.
I started to start walking as a way to avoid going on social media. Then instead of listening to music, I started to listen to Ted-Talks to learn something each day. Then it was long-form podcasts. My desire to learn let me read and use internet time to research interesting facts or information that could improve the way I think. Now in 2022, It led to me starting a blog so I could put everything together.
Where do we start?
Let’s fill it with all rocks because important things are, well… important right? For some, that’ll work, but I find that it often leads to burnout because important things require lots of effort and energy. If one of your rocks is fitness and all you do is run and work out, you won’t make progress. When you recover and take a day off, that’s when your muscles grow. That’s where the pebbles and sand come in.
Pebbles and sand aren’t necessarily bad, they’re useful and needed when you’ve finished an important activity. Your pebbles and sand should give you leisure and enjoyment. Like learning how to cook or listening to music. It shouldn’t be a chore to do it, but it shouldn’t also put you in a state of a daze as social media does.
If you fill it with pebbles and rocks, then nothing truly important gets done. There should be a balance and then you can recalculate every so often to get the desired result you want. It also starts with asking yourself important questions about what’s important and what’s not. If you put a label or standards for what’s important or not, it becomes easier to know what should go in the jar or not. Be honest and be completely brutal with your standards. Some follow-up questions can help you define what’s currently important to you. Will this important thing help me in the long term? Short term? If this is in my jar, how will it affect me? What of the opposite if I remove it? Whatever is in your jar should be aligned with your goals and aspirations. Time and choosing an option is an opportunity cost. Once you’ve chosen your route, you’ve given up other potential options. Whether it’s good or bad, whatever you put in the jar will determine that.
One of the beauties about this exercise is that you’re the one selecting what to put in your jar so anything that goes right or wrong means you’re the only one responsible for it. It puts you in a position of ownership so you can’t blame anyone else. No one told you to put certain actions or activities as rocks, pebbles, or sand. But you can also make adjustments as needed. When you find something that’s consistently in your jar, perhaps it’s worthwhile to take a look at it to see why. It’s a continuous process of refining and defining what’s worth keeping and removing.
What’s in my jar now? The rocks are learning, reading, family time, cultivating and building relationships, and fitness. The pebbles are gardening, jujitsu, and learning how to cook. Ideally, I try to not have any sand because the rocks and pebbles take up mostly all of my time. But with any extra time, It’ll be used watching movies or Youtube.
I want to say that in a perfect world, I just get to focus on my rocks and pebbles, but I’ll slip up and have the day wasted on the sand. Please keep in mind that you can always empty your jar and rebalance on what’s important or not. If I ever have kids, the important stuff will change. This is an exercise to remind yourself to focus on what’s important and what makes life fulfilling for you. If going to the beach and relaxing makes your whole day better, go for it. Live a life worth living, and I like to spend my time improving, and with the people, I love most.
What’s in your jar?