Life - rocks, gravel and sand

Sun 18 May 2014

Many years ago (about 13 if you must know) I was standing waiting in a colleague's office when I happened to notice a sheet of paper pinned to the wall. On it there was a picture of a pint glass filled with small rocks, gravel and sand. You might know the story that goes with it. If you put the rocks in first, then the gravel and then the sand, you can fill all visible space in the jar. But, if you start with the sand, then you cannot. A neat analogy is made if the rocks represent the important things in your life - family, friends, home and perhaps fulfilling work - and the sand represents the minutae of life that doesn't matter but fills up your time.

I was very struck by this analogy and have found that it fits well with my experiences in life: if you sort out the fundamental aspects of your life, the smaller bits will often just fall into place.

It applies more generally too, I think. In running a company, if you get the right structure, hire right people into key roles, then you don't have to worry about, say, the website being filled with nonsense and the accounts descending into a shoddy mess.

Of course, life is full of compromises and also there's an element of luck. Through no fault of your own, you may find that you started off with a dollop of wet sand at the bottom of your glass, or that without realising it you've allowed too much gravel to build up. I could give examples, but I suspect most people can identify the sand and gravel in their lives. In my life, a lot of it pours in through my smartphone.

If I said I spent the morning loading the washing machine, hanging up washing, taking the rubbish out and weeding the garden, what would you class that as? Gravel? Sand even? It was definitely rock. Why? Because I did it all with my two year old daughter, and we filled a glass with rocks, gravel and sand too.