Batching, Big Rocks and Bellyflops

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Everyone seems to be curious how well known people spend their days…

So, when, Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, B5 Media and Digital Photography School fame recently shared how he organized his day. it was pretty eye-opening.

Darren uses a popular time management technique called batching.

Instead of reacting to things as they come up, he segments his weeks and days into specific times to handle different types of tasks and subject areas. By allowing tasks of a similar nature to accumulate, he can then power through them all in discrete blocks of time, making him far more efficient.

Batch processing lets Darren get so much more done. His breakdown of how he batches the litany of business tasks was very enlightening, even if you’re not a blogger.

Looking at Darren’s batching schedule, though, there seemed to be something missing…

He had a lot of hours tied up in his professional life, but I also know Darren is a very committed family man. And, I wondered how he fit in the other side of his life. So, I jumped on twitter and asked:

“I’m curious how personal, health, professional and spiritual development get batched?”

And he tweeted back:

“haven’t quite extended batching to some of those areas :-)”

His answer really resonated with me, because I’ve found myself in a similar situation so many times.

It’s especially alluring as an entrepreneur who loves what she/he does. Because the line between work and play is so easily burred. But, still, the deeper I’ve gotten into life, the more apparent something’s become. When you discover tools, techniques and technologies that make your business life better, more organized, and easier, it’s a really good idea to step back and apply those same tools to your bigger picture life.

Which is where batching meets big rocks.

You’ve probably heard the story by now, but if not, I’ll share it. Imagine you’ve got a one-gallon glass jar that represents all the time you have to do everything every day.  Then you’ve got a combination of rocks, stones, pebbles and sand, each one representing something in your life.

The more important the item, the bigger the rock.

So, the sand is the millions of little things, the minutiae. And, the biggest rocks are the most important things to you, often playing with kids, spending time with family, taking care of your health and developing your sense of spirituality (okay, so I just shared a bit of personal bias there).

Most people live by pouring all the sand and little pebbles into the jar first.

Because, this is just how most of us operate. It happens without deliberation. Rather than choosing how to allocate our energy, we just hit autopilot and respond to the millions little tasks that seem to fill up each day.  Then, if there’s any room left in our life-jars, we try to jam the big rocks in after.

But, when we do, we find we’ve got a problem.

The big rocks don’t fit. It’s not that there’s not enough room in the jar, there’s plenty of room for all. If you put the big rocks in first, then pour the sand and pebbles in, they’d easily fill in all the nooks and crannies around the big rocks, “conforming and fitting” in a way that accommodates the more important items. But, when the jar is already half filled with sand and pebbles, they take priority and can no longer easily conform and fit around the big rocks, allowing all to have their place in the jar.

The lesson is, batch the big rocks first.

Rather than just batching your working life, take a step back and look at your bigger life picture.

Ask, what the big rocks in your life are? Then batch them accordingly.

Here’s an example. For me, the big rocks are:

  • Spending “present” time alone with my daughter
  • Spending “present” time alone with my wife
  • Spending “present” time with both together
  • Connecting with my broader family
  • Connecting with close friends
  • Exercising and health related pursuits
  • Developing my spiritual practice/service to the community
  • Spending time in my various professional ventures

So, I’d want to estimate how much time I want to spend on each, then make sure that I schedule each into my life in the order of what most important.

Then, within each category, if necessary, I would drill down and batch the major tasks, again, in order of importance, to allow me to get the most done in the time allocated to that category.

Is this an easy thing to do?

Of course not. The busier you are, the harder it to take the time to do it right. But, there’s another entrepreneur’s credo that applies here. If you truly want to succeed, you’ve got to spend time not only working in your business, but working on it. Same thing in life. That’s where the biggest, baddest, juiciest, fastest opportunity for growth lies.

It’s a big part of living not reactively, but proactively.

Because, when you blow off the big rocks and bail on the batching…

You end up with one big bellyflop of a life.

So, here’s a challenge.

Let’s all start working on this today. I’ve listed my Big Rocks list above, now it’s your turn.  Share your Big Rocks list in the comments below. Announce them to the world (or at least our great community). That’s the first step to making them matter.

Then, spend some time today emptying your jar and batching the big rocks. Keep drilling down until you’ve actually got a weekly and daily time allocation plan. You can revisit Darren’s plan to see a great example of how he does it with his working life.

You may find that, within a fairly short time…

You really do have time to do everything…or a least a whole lot more of what matters most.

Does all this make sense? Do you already do this?

What am I missing?

How can we make this work even better?

Let’s discuss…

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9 responses

9 responses to “Batching, Big Rocks and Bellyflops”

  1. Hey Jonathan,

    I must admit to struggling in this area. You’re so right about those big rocks. It seems so easy to get sidetracked on the little things like emails, commenting at other blogs, twitter etc. and leave very little time for the biggies.

    One thing that was not addressed is interruptions! Every time I’m really into something important the phone rings or something pops up that absolutely needs attention right now. How do you factor in those unforeseen yet inevitable interruptions?

    Personally, I am months behind on the final edit of my new book. It almost seems like life has conspired to fill my days with detours.

    I can create the schedule and organize it according to priorities, but has anyone found a way to allow for the things you can’t plan for and still stay on schedule?

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  3. Dean says:

    Your comments make sense. Where I differ is that I don’t think that there is necessarily time to do everything. I just have not found that possible. So there has to be some choices … sometimes ruthless pruning on what all goes intot he limited sized jar … to make all the rocks, pebbles, and sand fit. You are right that if you don’t put the big rocks first they will get crowded out by the sand and pebbles, everytime in my experience. Someone else who I cannot recall said it best … you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. And in my experience, autopilot is not a workable strategy when the choices come into play.

  4. Jason says:

    This is a huge thing for me thank you for posting it, I have such a hard time setting the priorities that with the exception of menial chores and such i find my self looking at everything in my day as rocks and never stones or pebbles, the sad thing is i actually have seen that demonstration done in person and i still failed to apply it in my life, I will begin working on this immediately and from there post the results in my blog if anyone is interested.

  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Jonathan – You’re not alone, it’s a constant pursuit. Rebalancing, emptying out, refilling and making sure where we spend our energy reflects what matters most to us. Haven’t yet met the person who’s mastered it. But, it’s so worth the effort

    @ Dean – it’s an interesting question. Is there really never enough time? For some people, yes, even after batching the big rocks and incorporating a series of productivity enhancements, my guess is you’re right, some people still won’t have enough time in the day.

    But, you can never answer the question for yourself until you’ve actually taken the steps to restructure your time to better reflect your priorities.

    Which is why is said in the post… “You really do have time to do everything…or a least a whole lot more of what matters most.”

    @ Jason – glad I could help spur a little action on a Monday! Good luck!

  6. I’m embarrassed to confess that working on my Internet empire and upcoming book are filling up the bulk of my thoughts and time, sometimes squeezing out the big rocks–connecting with my adult kids, grandkids, friends, family, exercising, reflection, spiritual and play time.

    That’s why I made time to attend my first-ever family reunion this summer. I consciously tried to be present at every activity and in every conversation. Since returning home I’ve created a contact list with all my “new” relatives, followed up with email and photo exchanges.

    The best way for me to get these big rocks in is to schedule them in my calendar first.

    @Jonathan–Advanced Life Skills

    Since the invention of caller ID and voice mail handling phone calls has become a snap for me. Very few of the calls I receive are really emergencies. Most of them can be handled later. The really important contacts have my cell phone, and even then I sometimes am busy and have to let those go to voice mail too.

    As for email–that’s my challenge. As Seth mentioned in his recent blog there seems to be this never-ending series of messages, dings, etc. that we feel compelled to respond to.

    To help cut down on this I’ve made it a daily task to unsubscribe from 10 newsletters, autoresponders a day. I’m working on restricting email reading to twice a day as Tim suggested(I haven’t made it yet or I would have missed seeing that Jonathan had published this post.)


    You’re right that for this to work requires ruthless pruning and making choices. Let’s face it! There are some things that don’t need to be in that jar at all.


    Menial tasks are not all bad. I find washing dishes by hand (I can’t believe I’m saying this), for example, to be relaxing when I want a break from the computer. If instead of leaving them on the counter I go to the next step of actually drying and putting them away I get a feeling of accomplishment and a change of pace that enables me to return to more important tasks with renewed energy.

  7. Justin says:

    Time management can be a problem for a lot of people. I’ve never heard of batching before, but it sounds like a lot of other techniques I’ve come across before. Being proactive is much better than being reactive, and that seems to be the jist of this technique.

  8. riva says:

    I’ve got big resistance issues to time management techniques. It’s my creative soul rebellion. But I love how you (Jonathan) translate them into more soulful, human ideas that make sense to us right brained beings. I wrote a little about it on my blog and linked to you this morning. So if you have a moment for a little extra sand today, take a look. And may your day be filled with the Magic Medicine of time for the things you most love.

  9. […] phases and to be honest I find it extremely boring yet phenomenally effective. I particularly like Jonathan Field’s post on batching, read it and say hello to […]