Steven Covey studied the habits of high performers and published his results in the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.” In this video, he shows how important it is to choose to do the big, important things first.
To do this, he uses an analogy to make his point about avoiding “getting bogged down in the thick of thin things.”
In the analogy, he uses a jar to represent our available time. Our activity is represented by pebbles and most important projects are represented by rocks.
He then has an audience member come up to run an experiment. There are two examples here of how to get everything in the jar.
In the first example, we start with pebbles and get them all in first. The pebbles are the small, easy, less important activities. The jar (time) is then filled up so that the pebbles get in the way of fitting on all of the rocks - the important things.
In the second example, if we take the opposite approach, starting with the big rocks first (the important things) and then trying to fit in all of the pebbles, everything fits.
The point this makes is that starting with small activities that are not important will prevent you fitting in all the big things that are important. On the other hand if you start with the big things that are important, you can fit even small, less important things in as well as all of your big important projects.
The metaphor has been used as one of the foundations of the popular Entrepreneurial Operating System and many personal productivity systems.