How to better manage your time with the parable of the “big pebbles”
Rémi Zunino
Rémi Zunino

How to better manage your time with the parable of the “big pebbles”

The company and its employees live in a world where information and exchanges are happening more and more quickly. The company is becoming agile, employees can sometimes have trouble keeping up. Executive coaching also makes it possible to raise a more personal dimension. A recurring subject in supporting leaders and managers is their ability to manage professional life and personal life. 60% of those under 40 refuse to sacrifice everything for their career, work-life balance has paradoxically become essential in a hyper-connected world where some employees continue to work at home. Allowing them to better manage their time is also a way of retaining them by understanding their needs. Here is a parable that is often used to make them aware of the need to manage their priorities.

The Parable of the Big Pebbles

“One day, an old professor from the National School of Public Administration was hired to give training on effective time planning to a group of fifteen managers of large international companies. This course was one of the 5 workshops of their training day. The old teacher therefore only had one hour to “get his subject across”. Standing in front of this elite group, who was ready to write down everything the expert was going to teach him, the old teacher looked at them one by one, slowly, and then said, “We are going to perform an experiment.”

From under the table that separated him from his students, the old teacher pulled out a huge glass jar of more than 4 liters that he placed delicately in front of him. Then, he took out about a dozen pebbles that were about as big as tennis balls and placed them gently, one by one, into the big pot.

When the pot was filled to the brim and it was impossible to add one more pebble, he slowly looked up at his students and asked, “Is this pot full?” Everyone answered in chorus: “Yes.” He waited for a few seconds and added, “Really?”

So, he bent down again and pulled out a container full of gravel from under the table. Carefully, he poured this gravel over the large pebbles and then gently stirred the pot. The pieces of gravel seeped between the pebbles... all the way to the bottom of the pot. The old teacher looked up at his audience again and repeated his question: “Is this jar full?” This time, his brilliant students were beginning to understand his merry-go-round. One of them answered: “Probably not!” “Good!” The old teacher answered.

He leaned over again and this time pulled out a bag of sand from under the table. Carefully, he poured the sand into the pot. The sand filled the spaces between the large pebbles and the gravel. Again, he asked again, “Is this pot full?” This time, without hesitation and in chorus, the brilliant students answered: “No!” “Good!” , answered the old teacher.

And as his prestigious students expected, he picked up the pitcher of water that was on the table and filled the pot to the brim. The old teacher then looked up at his group and asked, “What great truth does this experience show us?”

Not crazy, the most daring student, thinking about this course, answered: “This shows that even when we think that our agenda is completely full, if we really want to, we can add more appointments, more things to do.

“No,” answered the old teacher. “It's not that. The great truth that this experience shows us is the following:”If you don't put the big pebbles in the pot first, you'll never be able to get them all in, then.” There was a profound silence, everyone aware of the evidence of these words.

The old teacher then said to them:”What are the big pebbles in your life ? Your health? Your family? Your friends? Achieve your dreams? Do what you love? Learning? Defending a cause? Take the time... Or... anything else? What you need to remember is the importance of putting your BIG PEBBLES first in your life, otherwise you may not succeed... your life. If you give priority to peccadilles, gravel, sand, you will fill your life with oddities and you will no longer have enough precious time to devote to the important elements of your life.

“So don't forget to ask yourself the question:”What are the BIG PEBBLES in my life?“Then put them first in your life.”

With a friendly wave of his hand, the old professor greeted his audience and slowly left the room.”

And you, what are your big pebbles?

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