A “Coffee with Colm” Blog – Ever find yourself saying, “I’ve no time!” for something you’d really love to do? (or what you can learn from Big Rocks)

Hi there, welcome to the second installment of four in our series showing how you can get more out of life.

The background, if you have just joined us, is that a number of weeks ago I published a blog introducing readers to PJ and his ‘Fur-lined Mousetrap’ which itself led me to share in the same article my Patchwork Quilts Theory of Life and Work’ (link provided at bottom) in which I reminded myself as well as the readers that time (for us) is not a renewable resource.

That blog led to an article which gave the reader food for thought around establishing a ‘2020 Vision’ for her/his life (again link provided at bottom).

The combination of the two pieces had several readers ask for more detail as to HOW they could apply the thinking into their lives. Fair question, so I decided to do a deep dive into some concepts that have helped me.

There is no quick fix here so rather than rush it I decided to take four weeks (this is week 2) and present some info that the reader may find useful.

The topics we are going to cover over the four weeks are:

  1. Quadrant 2 Living (last week – link provided below)
  2. The Big Rocks Theory (Today)
  3. The Roles We Play
  4. A Diary Plan that actually works.

Today’s topic – The Big Rocks Theory

I am a huge fan of the late, great Stephen R Covey (author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and his teachings. His work resonates through my own and despite his passing in 2012, three months shy of his 80th birthday (from injuries suffered in a bicycling accident – love that, living life right to the end) continues to influence millions around the world.

Stephen introduced me to Quadrant 2 Living (last week’s article – link below) and also to the Big Rocks Theory. I am full sure many of you will have come across it in the past but no harm in being reminded and I am also fully confident that for some this will be your first introduction. (If you haven’t already done so, may I recommend you acquaint yourself with the Priority Management Matrix – Quadrant 2 Living before continuing so as to more easily understand the references below – do so by clicking on the image:

Allow me explain The Big Rocks Theory.

Watch the short video (First 6:10 lesson, 7:35 total) or read on below to find out more…

Imagine a large glass bowl or vase. It’s empty. It represents your available time. Doesn’t matter if it’s an hour, day, week, month, year or your entire life – the important thing for this exercise is that you accept it as finite – you can fill it, use its entire volume but cannot go above the rim.

We are going to fill the bowl with three elements, sand, gravel and Big Rocks.

Let’s start with the sand.

Imagine filling the bottom half with sand right up to the half-way point.

On top of that add the gravel.

Finally, add the Big Rocks.

Invariably when doing this exercise, participants manage to use all the sand provided, as well as all the available gravel but fail to get all the Big Rocks in.

The analogy is this.

The sand is all the stuff below the line in Quadrants 3 (bottom left) and 4 (bottom right). It is the time that we lose on stuff that is not important (in the scheme of our lives) –

  • Some of it is urgent – has a time deadline (Q3); it is taking annoying phone calls, opening annoying emails, that meeting that you really shouldn’t be at, having to scrap and rework projects because someone else’s goalposts moved.
  • Lots is not – (Q4); trivia, busywork, playing on the internet, watching brain-dead tv to ‘kill some time’, indulging time-wasters who suck up your time with banality, drama kings and queens who feel important when they’ve sucked you into the reality ‘soap’ opera that is their existence.
  • NONE of it is important. All of it is sand. Yet notice how much of the bowl it consumes. Also be aware that you can’t have a life without sand. We live in an interconnected world; unless you are a hermit, you will have sand in your life.

Next we have the gravel.

The gravel is best imagined as representing Q1 (top left) activities, those that are both important and urgent.

They include:

  • Firefighting
  • Important issues that land unannounced at your feet that unless handles now will have major implications
  • Crises
  • Deadline-driven projects.
  • Other people’s agendas

Unlike the sand, the gravel at least has some semblance of importance in our lives and therefore requires its due respect and time allocation – without gravel in our lives, we wouldn’t have meaningful work to do, nor perhaps the few bob to enjoy any or many of life’s comforts.

You can’t have life without gravel.

Finally, there are the Big Rocks.

What are the Big Rocks? The Big Rocks are those things that actually matter; those elements of our existence that when we look back over our life from a perspective of our eightieth birthdays (not to be morbid here but the average life expectancy here in Ireland is 81 years – check out the 81 Patchwork Quilts Theory of Life and Work below), we may find ourselves smiling over fond memories or crying over lost opportunities.

The Big Rocks are Q2 (Top right) activities and include

  • Relationships
  • Planning
  • Recreation
  • Quiet time
  • Beautiful sunsets
  • Legacy building
  • Drinking good wine
  • Enjoying great coffee
  • Reading
  • Beautiful music
  • Art
  • Sport
  • Being present

Are you beginning to see the problem here? The sand and gravel has consumed most of the available time. We have done our best to get the Big Rocks in … but there just isn’t enough time … as we can’t go above the rim.


Thankfully there is a solution.

Let’s start again.

Empty Bowl. All the available time. YOU GET TO CHOOSE HOW TO FILL IT.



Get the important stuff in FIRST. Look. It all fits!

Then allow the gravel in.

It fits too.

Then, if you want to, allow some (or all) the sand to fill the spaces.

Ta da!

A life that works!

Come back next week and we’ll explore the roles you and I play and then the following week I’ll stitch all these concepts together and show you how to create a diary that delivers all of the above – how’s that?

‘That’ll do Ted.’

See you next week.


GO DEEPER? If you’d like to go deeper into this work I have provided a FREE link to the first lesson in my 12-Step Online Program to Create the Life You Really Want – no sign-up required. To check it out with my compliments, click here.

MORE? Some of the issues mentioned above have been discussed in earlier “Coffee with Colm” Blog posts:

  • Fur-lined Mousetrap / Patchwork Quilt Theory of Life and Work. Click here.
  • 2020 Vision for your Life. Click here.
  • Priority Management Matrix – Quadrant 2 Living. Click here.
  • How to Escape from the Gravity of Bad Habits. Click here.

STAY CONNECTED? If this is your thing, consider joining in the conversation here.

FREE BOOK? If would like a complimentary copy of my book, ‘Feeding Johnny – How to Build a Business Despite the Roadblocks’ in audio, narrated by yours truly so you get all the nuances, feel free to grab one here.

Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly,


“How can I help?”

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6 Responses to “A “Coffee with Colm” Blog – Ever find yourself saying, “I’ve no time!” for something you’d really love to do? (or what you can learn from Big Rocks)”
  1. Niall O'Neill

    Thanks Colm, always a little gem in there to help evaluate and re-focus! Have a lovely weekend.

    • Colm

      Hiya Colette
      I felt they needed to be there as to simply describe the concept verbally might be akin to describing the smell of the colour purple!

      Thanks for reading my work.

      Stay in touch.


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