How to Prioritize: The Pickle Jar Theory

- Make time for the things that matter

Pickle Jar Theory

This time management theory is based on the idea that time, like a pickle jar, is limited.

What you fill it with, however, is up to you.

Imagine you have a big empty pickle jar. Fill it with golf balls. When you can squeeze no more in, it’s full, right?

Not quite. The golf balls leave gaps. Drop in some marbles, give the jar a shake, and let the marbles drop into those gaps.

Next, take some sand. Pour it into the even smaller spaces that are left, until the jar appears to be completely full.

Finally, finish it off with water. Pour in water until the jar can take nothing else…

…then screw the lid on!

The Pickle Jar Theory explained

The pickle jar itself represents your time. Whether it’s an hour, a day or a lifetime, the idea is that time is finite.

The golf balls are the roles, goals and commitments that are important to you. Whether it’s people, projects or problems, these things matter most.

The marbles matter, too, but not as much. Still, they’re easy to pour into the jar. The marbles mean the things you want to do, but don’t have to.

The sand stands for all the small, time taking tasks that, again are easy to do. The time management matrix theory would class 'sandy tasks' as busy work that is irrelevant, unimportant or inappropriate.

The water is for whatever takes time, but doesn’t really add anything: Hours spent wasting time online, excessive water-cooler chats or anything else that you define as a poor use of your time.

Generally, the smaller and easier it is to pour in to the pickle jar, the less it matters.

If the water, sand and marbles fill too much of the jar, there is less room for the golf balls. In other words, it's easy to fill time with the things that don't really matter.

What will you fill your jar with for the rest of today?

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