Where to start when everything seems important?

[3-minute read]

How do you decide what to do first when you feel you have too much to do in the available time?


Last week I spent three intense days participating in leadership and team development training. The core of the training consisted of tasks we had to accomplish as a team, always under intense time pressure. In the beginning, we did not perform well as a team, but we gradually improved. In the end, we had made good progress towards becoming a high-performance team and even enjoyed the challenges given to us – and that in just three days!


In addition to a ton of insights on how to better work together, I was reminded of the powerful concept of Rocks, Pebbles and Sand.

This concept builds on the metaphor of filling a glass with Rocks, Pebbles and Sand. Only if you start with the Rocks will you be able to fit all three in the glass. If you start with the Sand or the Pebbles, no place will be left for the Rocks.

So what does this mean in practice?

Most of us are regularly confronted with situations where we feel that there is too much to do for the time available. The temptation is to jump into action and start with the first thing that comes to mind. This feels more productive than first taking a few minutes and reflecting on priorities.

The problem with the “jump into action” approach is that by the time we completed all the things that came to mind, we have neither time nor energy left for the things that would have made a real difference.

Invitation for action

If what I wrote above resonates with you, I invite you to try the following.

At the beginning of a day, week or month, ask yourself:
“What is the ONE THING that, if completed today / this week / this month, will make many other things easier or even unnecessary?”

At the beginning of a complicated task that you need to accomplish as a team, ask:
“What is the most important problem we need to solve first because if we don’t, all the other efforts will be irrelevant?”

At the organisational level, you may want to ask from time to time
“What are our most important problems (ROCKS), and what are just the symptoms of the underlying problems (PEBBLES and SAND)

Sometimes it is difficult to answer these questions alone. This is where a sparring partner can help.

What next?

If what I wrote above resonates with you, let’s have a 15-minute chat

Wondering how to get your team members to focus on the right priorities?

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