Key Learning Outcomes

  • Outline the key aspects of Dr Stephen Covey’s time management tool.
  • Categorise your tasks, activities and responsibilities as “big rocks”, “pebbles” or “water”.
  • Understand the importance of focusing on the “big rocks” when planning your day, week or even your year.
  • Identify the need for long-term planning to avoid an imbalance in your work and personal lives.


The big rock theory is a quick and easy time management tool developed by American author and educator, Dr Steven Covey. For anyone who has got to the end of a day, week, month or even longer and thought “wow I have been so busy, but did not get a chance to do x, y or z, and they were all important”, this tool will be invaluable.

How does it work? Imagine you have a big bucket along with a pile of big rocks, some pebbles and some water. The only way you can fill the bucket is to put the big rocks in first. You might look at it and think it is full but you can put the pebbles in and with some shaking you are sure to be able to fit in more than you think. Then pour the water in and it will flow through all the small cracks and holes till the bucket is really full. If you tried to do this in the opposite order, you would end up with a number of big rocks that cannot fit into the bucket.

[wlm_ismember]The theory suggests that you divide all of the tasks, activities and demands on your time into categories. The important things are the big rocks, so things such as time with your family and loved ones, exercise, training yourself or your team, working on an important project or even a holiday. Then there are the pebbles; these are the tasks and activities on your list that need to be done. Finally there is the water, the things we find ourselves doing that take up time but at the end of the day do not offer a reward that is consummate with the time we have spent on them.

If you design your ideal week or plan your day giving some thought to the big rocks in your life, you will find that the pebbles and water will still fit around them. So for example, if you need to do some training with your team, don’t leave it as an item to do when you have some time or are not busy. Block it out in everyone’s diary as a meeting, ensuring this important rock gets the focus it deserves. The training will be more effective and will not get put off because someone is busy dealing with a water or pebble issue.

This theory can be used effectively on a daily basis when you are prioritising your to- do list, or when you are doing some long-term planning. Look at your year and make sure that you have booked in holiday time and planned in advance for important events with family and friends. Spend some time now identifying the big rocks in your work and personal life and make sure that you place these in your bucket first![/wlm_ismember]

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