Building the personal development plan 3

Personal Development Big Rocks

In our last discussion on building a plan, we finished with our three month vision.  Here was the example we were using from our last post.


This was built from a combination of our critical few objectives and our overall three month time boxed aspiration to understand who we are.  In the next steps of building our scorecard, we build out the specifics of how we will realize this vision.  This starts with our big rocks.

Big Rocks

I first heard the term big rocks from Dr. Stephen R. Covey as one of the anecdotes he references in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  In case you haven’t read the book, or it’s been a while, I’ll sum up the idea here.  Covey asks us to think about our time as a mason jar that slowly gets filled up with all the things that we need to do.  All of the big important things we need to do are represented by big rocks.  We can think of all of the urgent things that come up throughout the day that we have to take care of as smaller rocks or gravel.  Finally, we can think of all the little things that we have to take care of as sand.  The sand items are things like email, text messages, interruptions, Facebook, etc.


Covey posits that the most effective people are those that focus on the big rocks first.  Back to the mason jar analogy, if we put the big rocks in the mason jar first, then we still have room for the urgent stuff (the small rocks) and the not so urgent (the sand).   The point of the analogy is that most people don’t work like this.  Most people tend to focus on the urgent which is not necessarily the important.  If you start filling your mason jar with the gravel and the sand, there’s no room for the big rocks.  When you are focusing on the urgent, those big important things never get done.  These are the big ticket items, the goals that, if completed, could have a big impact on your life.  Big rocks are the tools that allow us to work smarter rather than working harder.  These are the targets that drive purpose, rather than just pass time.

As I explained this analogy to one of the groups I was working with, one of the Sand-People.jpgparticipants claimed that he was nothing but a sand person.  Without missing a beat, one of the other participants said, “the sand people are easily startled, but they will soon be back, and in greater numbers.”  Star Wars hilarity aside, there are some lessons here.  This particular participant is one of the best educated people I have ever met, having both a Ph.D. and a law degree.  He claimed that as a patent attorney, his entire work existence was driven by sand and small rocks, by the urgent.  For him, he feels like it is just one case after another.  He wasn’t alone.  My wife is a doctor and she has felt the same way.  While she is at work, seeing patients, it is all about the urgent.  One patient after another, it becomes difficult to focus on the big stuff.

This is true with a lot of professionals, especially those professionals where he/she is the product.  The services they provide drive the business.  One of the sad realities of the schooling that professionals receive is that it is so specialized.  My wife spent four years in medical school and another three in residency and never once had a single class or lesson on business.  When she opened her practice, she felt constantly overwhelmed.  She had to see 12 to 15 patients a day as a family doc and try to run a business on top of that.  So where can big rocks possibly fit in with all of that urgency?  The answer for her was nowhere.  After about five years of this urgency, like a lot of professionals and certainly like a lot of family docs, she wanted to quit.  She loved the patients and the medicine but hated the system that forced her to practice medicine like a drive through attendant.  She was becoming bitter and that bitterness was making her unhealthy.

It took a couple of years of further unhappiness before she finally was forced into realizing that she would need to make some big changes.  She could either quit and do something else or she could focus on the business and become a business owner and not just the product.  After years as a sand person, she came to a tipping point where the big rock decisions she had to make were forced on her.  After going through that pain, she now splits her time between being a business owner and being a provider.  When she’s a business owner, she is allowed to work on the big rocks that allows her practice to work smarter.  When she’s a provider and back in the sand, things are running far better because the business invested in efficiency.  The sand doesn’t seem nearly as suffocating.

The moral of the story is that the big important stuff has to get done one way or another.  You can either wait until there is an emergency or you can be proactive and enjoy the journey.  If you look with the attitude of – let’s catch this before it turns into a fire drill – you will find that there is always time for the big things that drive improvement.  Big rocks create opportunity.  Sometimes that opportunity comes in the form of efficiency.  Efficiency creates time.  Sometimes big rocks create happiness, sometimes they create better relationships and sometimes they create mastery.  Regardless of the big rocks that you choose, they are going to affect change that will impact your life for the better.  The only mistake we can make when focusing on big rocks is not spending time on them.

Big Rock Process

Back to the process.  Once we have our critical few objectives, we need to figure out what we can do in the short term to accomplish our three month critical few objectives.  When we build out our big rocks we are now working at the one month level.  These big rocks are the important things that you can get done in the next thirty days that will move your three month objective forward.

Each big rock needs to fit the SMART goal definition.  This means that it needs to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results oriented and Time boxed.  When setting goals, most people go wrong at this stage.  The two big mistakes I see all the time is that folks will either try to boil the ocean and go waaaay too big or they pick something that is too ambiguous, where you can’t tell if you’ve succeeded or not.

Here is an example of some big rocks built for the vision above:


It’s ok to lean on the obstacle and plans from the WOOP step as a reminder of what you are nervous about in hitting your targets.  The obstacle and plan become far more important in our next step however, when building out our metrics.

Now that we have our big rocks filled out, we are making some serious progress on the end scorecard.  Here’s how the scorecard is starting to look:


In our next process post we will discuss how we are going to measure for success and how we set our time boxes on each big rock.

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