Time Management: The Pickle Jar Theory

by Jeremy Wright

111 Reader Comments

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  1. This is a very good theory. Reading it, I was thinking “yeah, right”, but reflecting, I realized that most of the time I have my work done right in the opposite way: I get all the small junk done first, so that my mind is free to concentrate on the main job and I know I can spend as much time as I like for it. I wonder why, but it always worked… condition is, of course, that you can plan how many time you need for the small stuff to get done, and make sure it doesn’t fill the whole day…

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  2. This time-management theory is rather brilliant in its simplicity and quite applicable. Some have speculated that the only weakness in this theory is its inability to cover the lifestyles of every age and type of occupation. I say that the only thing limiting its relevance is your own imagination. It’s flakey, but stay with me. I have always had a theory that everything in the world was either a smaller or larger version of everything else, and often both at once, in once sense or another. (I’m probably not the only one to come up with this, but…) So if you interpret this theory very loosely it’s very useful.

    For instance, one of the first comments mentioned that: “assigned to a program per week (or something like that), then your day would be filled with only one project.” Aha! True, one project within that day, but what about within that project? I’ve done a fair amount of programming in my day (I’m 17) and it seems to me that within one project there are many rocks, many pebbles.

    No theory will be right for everyone or every situation, but if you need something like Time Management to get you through your day, this is perhaps one of the best options, especially if interpreted loosely.

    … Wow. Did that make any sense?

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  3. I saw this on tv! On some movie or something.. and I thought it was very clever. It’s really a great idea, although I don’t have lots to do usually so I don’t need time management atm, but if I did this one is seems the most realistic. Afterall, I would not go doing something like basing activities or things I want to do around a crazy time management schedual. That’s insane.. but this one is realistic. As I said. O_o

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  4. I think the system is extremely flexible. The only thing that people should realize is that they need to do some “customization”. In other words, what works well for one, will not necessarily work well for another, but after some customization the system should for well. So, don’t be afraid, test various systems but stick to one that works best.

    Happy time management.

    George.

    Founder and director,
    Bealte Web Studios
    http://www.bealte.com
    mailto: george@bealte.com

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  5. Nice one! pickle jar theory has just given my a great little piece for my presentation on time management. Now all I need is another jar on public speaking skills!!!!

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  6. Great Site…..You arn’t going to believe this. But I was actually looking for a Pickle site. I can’t believe it either I hate the little things! We have 9 kids and thought it would be a good idea to put in a garden, thinking it would save us alot of TIME…. Soooo instead of taking that time to go to the store…. we planted cucumbers.. LOTS of cucumbers..Now I have to find out just what you do with literally hundreds of them…. I’m thinking take the kids….take the veggies… put them near the street (not to near) and they can enter the business world. I like your theory…I would help the average person. Now back to finding the Real pickle story…..Judy

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  7. How is this a new concept just because it’s called a ‘Pickle Jar’? Rocks, water, and sand aside – this is nothing other than prioritizing.

    Beaurocrats piss me off. This article wasted 5 minutes of my pickle jar organized life – uhhh – this would be considered water I guess.

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  8. I think the article inadvertently somewhat changed the point. If you fill a jar with water, you’re not filling it with the same amount of water that would go in after putting in the rocks, gravel, etc. You’re putting MORE water in. Hey, maybe that’s a good thing, right? Who are we to say rocks are better than water? ;-)

    The point in the version I heard is about arranging things in a finite space (representing time). You put the rocks in first, then gravel, then sand. If you start with the same amount of each and put the sand in first, then the gravel, you will not have room for the big rocks. It’s about how you arrange things: Schedule the big-ticket items first and you can pick up the smaller items as time permits (ie, fitting the gravel and sand in the spaces left between the large rocks). It’s about getting more into the jar (or more things done in your life).

    I’m sure everyone got the main point though. And I guess it is generally true that once we can’t fit the big rocks in we tend to go get some extra water to fill the space. I’m doing it right now. ;-)

    Yes, Steven Covey had this in his book and used to preach it a lot. There used to be a “Seven Habits for Highly Effective People” add-in for Microsoft Outlook that had a neat graphical version of this. You had the empty jar, and you would pick which item to put in, and you’d graphically see it go into the jar. Then you could pick another item. So then you could play with it and learn the lesson yourself, and then the program would sum up the message for you. It sounds corny but was surprisingly effective and eye-opening. (Someone should make a version of it for the web.)

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  9. You only just figured this out??!! It’s kind of obvious isn’t it? Get the big important stuff done first and fill in the gaps with the small minor stuff.

    It’s just logic.

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  10. I can only view the top bit of the page, it won’t scroll down past the rock/pebble/sand/water intro – am I missing something??

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  11. That was very interesting..and very wise. Will follow it from now on.

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  12. You can fill up your day any way you wish, but in the long run, you’ll want to have spent your time on the important things in life (rocks), without ignoring the necessities that keep it ticking (small rocks, sand and water), rather than being caught up with the little things (small rocks, sand and water) and regretting that you didn’t do the things that you really wanted to (rocks).

    Rock ‘n’ Roll.

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  13. Everyone seems full of admiration for this. Can’t see why. Time management is neccesary but there is no simple or one-size-fits-all solution. You have to figure out how you work and what, therefore, works for you when you plan your time. It ain’t that the Pickle jobbie won’t work, it may just not be right for you.

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  14. Jeremy, I don’t break for lunch. Why? Well, I eat lunch each day at work but I do it whilst pounding the sand—maybe even the water—because I get absorbed and obsessed with the stuff early in the day. THANK YOU for the wake up call. I feel balanced in a Zen sort of way knowing Monday is not going to be like last Monday.

    I have honestly gone through much the same experience as you did in your “pre-pickle jar” days, but no more!

    Everyone I care about is going to get a link to this article. I hope they will improve themselves as I plan to improve myself. THANK YOU!

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  15. I stumbled across this great book called Getting Things Done by David Allen some months ago. Being a time management junkie I bought it. To my big surprise this book really contained useful stuff (compared to a lot of other grand theories that sound good but are not very practical)… Check out the website http://www.gettingthingsdone.com for more info.

    A warning though. It takes a little effort to implement this, but the rewards have been great!

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  16. Like I tell my kidz: if you have a frog to eat, eat it fast! If you have 2 frogs to swallow, eat the big one first.

    Keith

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  17. I am a first year student in college who has to rpoduce a time managent booklet by the 30th of november.
    I have been told to find as many theorists as possible to back up my underpinning knowledge. Does anyone have any ideas?
    Thanks
    desperate!

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  18. I will definitely use this for some of my essay, as factual / opinionated ideas that reflect upon my thesis and essay topic. THANKS FOR THE HELP!

    SCOTT B. WASCHER
    UNITED STATES NAVY

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  19. This theory sounds like just plain common sense to me. Like the “use your brain” theory. I’ve been practicing this for long years now, and I believe most time management techniques go down the same lane. The pickle jar analogy is a tasty one though. Although I would prefer a cookie jar myself. And instead of rocks, pebbles, sand, and water, I would fill it up with doughnuts, MMs, cocoa powder and milk (reminder to self: buy latest celebrity diet book).

    Seriously: why do we need such theorists to tell us what’s obvious?

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  20. Why? Because I talk to people every day who aren’t. If you are doing it then great. Personally I know I’ve tried dozens of systems in the past (as the article said), and finally settled on a few that work for me. I was simply sharing in case others were in the situation I was, and apparently they were.

    Anyways, it’s beena while since this was published, but it was definitely a worthwhile experience and article :)

    J

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  21. This was great! I’m writing a paper on time management and was getting a little bored with the norm. This was well written and displayed. It made me smile.

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  22. I wanted to find some information on time management, but didn’t want the same old stuffy, boring (yawn), dry material. This was perfect! I, too, had heard the lesson of rocks, pebbles, and sand. I like the pickles, though. I’m guilty of it all—trying to cram as much into one day as I can, rarely crossing off everything on the list, and then feeling like I wasn’t productive. I love this perspective and will use it at home and at work. Thanks for such a well-written piece.

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  23. well, when I think of all the rocks in my head, it’s good to know that there’s still some room for pebbles/sand/water.

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  24. What a load of bollocks

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  25. Makes a lot of sense. At this point my jar gets filled with water first, no doubt. (wink)

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  26. Even as a highschool student, this article was extremely helpful for me. Some good ideas were stated, and it sounds like this system actually works. Time for pickles!

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  27. A little caffiene always helps me remember which rocks are mine…

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  28. Like everyone who takes a free breath or air, every second life happens. Sometimes it invades our day and sometimes it just hangs over us. I work in our own company, as well as from my home office most days, but I still have a hard time keeping my office time sacred. People think you work in an at home office so they run all over your day. I am better at knowing the difference between urgent and important, but there are very few emergency times in anyones day unless your are a firefighter or police. So thanks for a reminder to sort out the needs to been seen too, and the they would nice to get to issues. As long as the sun rises I have hope of improving my time management skills, so I shall keep on course and eventually write articles like this (smiley face goes here.)

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  29. I am sorry to say; I ve never tried a time management system in my life before….what I tried most; was not to work(hence had all the time I needed for anything!!)…all my life I ve managed not to but, pickles taste good and I’ll try this… green or not.

    Rock pickles…..hmmmmm!

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  30. I had a jar of pickles in the refrigerator and they accientally froze. It took hot water and a screwdriver to melt the ice and open the jar.
    Well it ruined the pickles but i now have an empty jar.
    Dont freeze pickles, give them to me instead, and i like this time managemant theory.
    Anyone have any chocolate covered strawberies?

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  31. that stuff was gr8. i mean it was put very succintly. i have been using many other things about time management but this one was too good.

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