Big Rocks First: Double Your Productivity This Week

Every Monday is Productivity & Organization Day at Zen Habits.

If your week is seven buckets, and you go into each bucket without planning ahead, and you fill it up with little pebbles and grains of sand and whatever other debris comes your way … soon there will be no room for the Big Rocks. Your buckets fill up faster than you know it, and once your buckets are full, you’re done. You can’t get bigger buckets.

What you can do is put the Big Rocks in first, and fill in the pebbles and sand around them.

The Big Rocks are the major things you want to get done this week. A report, launching a new website, going to the gym, spending time with your spouse and kids, achieving your dreams. These Big Rocks get pushed back from week to week because we never have time to do them — our days fill up too quickly, and before we know it, weeks have passed and the Big Rocks are still sitting on the side, untouched.

Plan your week ahead of time, placing your Big Rocks first.

This is a similar concept to MITs, except on a weekly scale instead of a daily scale. Big Rocks are your MITs for the week.

Here’s how you do it (with the unavoidable list, of course!):

  1. Make a list. At the beginning of the week — Sunday evening or Monday morning — write out the Big Rocks that you want to accomplish this week. These should be the important things — if you looked back on the week and said you did them, you would be proud of having done them. Be sure to include not only work stuff, but some of the tasks that will further along your life’s goals and dreams.
  2. Keep it short. In the beginning, just have 4-6 … you don’t need to try to do 10 or more Big Rocks, especially not at first. Later, you may get better at judging how many Big Rocks you can do in a week, but for now, shoot for about one per day.
  3. Place the Rocks. Look at your weekly schedule. If you don’t have one, write out the days of the week with one-hour blocks (or print out a schedule from an online calendar). Write out pre-existing appointments. Now take your Big Rocks, and put them in the schedule. Try to put them in a spot where you know you’ll get them done. Not a spot that’s traditionally too busy to concentrate, and not in a little half-hour window between meetings. Give yourself time to do it.
  4. Leave space for the incoming pebbles. Don’t fill in the rest of the schedule if possible. Every morning, look at your schedule and commit yourself to doing the Big Rock(s) for that day. That’s your MIT for the day. If there are less important MITs, you can put them in the schedule, but don’t put too much. A tight schedule tends to bump into itself, pushing things back when other things inevitably take too long.
  5. Do it early. If you can, place your Big Rocks first thing in the morning. Don’t schedule them for later in the day if possible, because by that time, a few fires have come up, and the Big Rock will get pushed back as always. Do it first, and then you’ve got the rest of the day for the busy-work.
  6. Be Proud. When your week’s done, look back on it — if you got any (or all!) of the Big Rocks done, be proud of yourself and happy. It feels good!

How does this simple method make you more productive? Well, productivity isn’t about doing a lot of stuff. It’s about getting the important stuff done. But if you’re running around doing all the little stuff … sure, you did a lot and you were very busy, but how much did you really accomplish? Oftentimes we can look back on our week and say, “I didn’t get a lot done, but I sure was stressed doing it!”

This is a way of getting the important stuff done. Sure, you’ll still have to worry about the little stuff. But at the end of the week, you can look back and say that you’ve been productive. It makes a world of difference.

Note: You probably noticed that this post isn’t really about GTD. But I’ve found that it works incredibly well with GTD, and I’d recommend that you use the two systems together.

Update: As some have pointed out in the comments, this is not an original idea. Steven Covey (in his books 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First) and others have used this idea for a long time. I should also point out that the idea is not Covey’s originally (although I might have read it from him first) – he relates the Big Rocks story as one that his associate heard at a seminar. I just wanted to share it as something that works for me, and could be used in conjunction with GTD. I hope you’ve found it useful!

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