How many rocks can fit into a glass jar? Well, that depends…
It depends on the size of the rocks…
It depends on the size of the jar…
It depends on the shape of the rocks…
It depends on how you place them in the jar..
But the fact remains that no matter the size, no matter the shape, no matter the pattern of placement, there are a finite number of rocks that can fit into a glass jar before it bursts.
Why is this so easy to accept when it comes to rocks in a glass jar, but yet when it comes to applying this concept to your time and your daily pattern or schedule, struggles come up left and right? Have you ever stopped to think about that? Have you ever stopped to think that how you pattern your day can be compared to a glass jar full of rocks?
Are you wondering if I’ve completely lost my mind? I mean, c’mon! Rocks in a glass jar compared to a consistent pattern or schedule? How do those even fit together?
Well, let me tell you a story…
How much will fit?
One day, a professor stood up in front of his class with a bunch of big rocks and a glass jar on the table in front of him. One by one, he picks up the rocks, bigger than your fist, and places them in the glass container until they reach the top.
“Is the jar full?” he asks the class.
“Not really,” comes the response.
The professor then picks up some smaller rocks, ones about the size of a child’s fist, and starts to fit them in the jar with the bigger rocks. He slides them in where they fit next to and around the big rocks, taking care not to break the jar.
“How about now?” he asks.
“Yes,” the class replies.
The professor then pulls out a tray of pebbles from under the table and proceeds to slowly pour the pebbles in the jar. As the pebbles slide into the jar filling the gaps between the bigger rocks, the clinking sound they make agains the glass can be heard throughout the spellbound class.
“Yes! Absolutely!” comes the reply.
The professor holds back a tiny smile, reaches under the table and pulls out a pitcher of sand. He proceeds to slowly pour the sand into the jar, watching as the sand slides in between the big rocks, the smaller rocks, and even the pebbles, filling in the gaps.
“How about now?”
Most of the students responded with a clear, “Yes!” There was no way anything else could fit into this jar! But one person held out. “I don’t think so,” she said.
The professor smiled as he reached down and retrieved a pitcher of water. He held the spout above the opening to the glass jar and slowly poured the water. The water filtered down around the big rocks and the smaller rocks, through the pebbles and the sand, filling in every gap that was left until the water line reached the top. Just before it was about to overflow, the professor stopped pouring and looked out at the class.
“Now,” he said, “now the jar is full.”
This illustration has been around for many years, but the truth of it holds no matter how many times you hear it: If you don’t start with the most important things, you will never have enough room for everything.
Think what would have happened if the professor would have started with the small pebbles or the sand. Trying to fit the big rocks in would have failed. Oh, some might have fit, but not all of them.
Building Your Pattern Starts with Identifying Rocks
This is the approach you need to take when it comes to building a pattern for you and your family. You need to start by identifying the big rocks in your life.
Did I lose you there? Let me break it down: When it comes to building a pattern or a schedule for your family, you only have so much time to work with. You have 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. That’s the glass jar in the story. You’re only given a set amount of time.
If you’re only given so much time to work with, it makes sense that you would start with the most important things. These things are represented by the big rocks. You see, when you place the big rocks in your jar first, you make sure you have the time and the space for them.
So the question then becomes, what are the big rocks in your life? Is it family time? Homeschooling? Church? Youth group? Music Lessons? Sports? Work? What are those big, non-negotiable pillars in your life? But take care here! Don’t identify too many things as the biggest rocks in your life! Ideally, there should be between 2 and 5 things that are the biggest rocks, the highest priorities in your life.
Next come the smaller rocks. What are those things in your life that are important, but they’re less important than the absolute pillars of your life you identified as your big rocks? This could include family time, homeschooling, church, music lessons, sports, work, clubs, intentionally spending time with friends, going on dates with your spouse, a good night’s sleep, volunteer work, and more. Whatever it looks like for you, identify those things that are the smaller rocks in your life.
Are you sensing a pattern here? The next thing you need to do is identify those things that are pebbles. Those things that slide in between the rocks and fill in the gaps. This could be any of the things that are listed above, any hobbies or something completely different. This is your life! You know best what things qualify as pebbles.
Then, you continue on and identify the sand and the water in your life. Those things you do when you have the time. Those things you don’t get to do until you have some time to spare, those things that are very much non-essentials in your life.
Can I let you in on a little secret? Every now and then, I’ll grab a piece of paper and identify these areas in my life. The big rocks are usually pretty easy for me to pinpoint. Even identifying the smaller rocks comes fairly easy. But when it comes to identifying the pebbles, it sort of turns into whatever is left that I find myself filling my time with. Sometimes I can’t even pinpoint the sand and the water in my life. And you know what? That’s okay! The point of this illustration is not to get so hung up on categorizing every little detail of your life. The point is to realize that if you don’t identify your priorities and work to put them first, things can get really crazy really fast! The point is to be intentional about identifying your priorities.
Building Your Pattern by Filling Your Jar
Now that you’ve identified these areas of importance in your life, it’s time to create your pattern.
If you haven’t pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil by now, it’s time!
When you create a pattern, it’s helpful to be able to write things down, then move them around so you can physically see the pattern you’re creating instead of trying to keep it all in your head! (Just a side note: Post-it notes stuck to the counter top make for some excellent planning tools. That way you can literally pick up something and move it around as you figure things out! Just make sure not to leave the post-it notes there forever!)
Think of your pattern on a weekly basis instead of a daily basis. You see, each day you do things that qualify as big rocks or smaller rocks in your life. However, you might not do every rock on every day. For example, if homeschooling is a big rock, you homeschool multiple days a week. However, most people don’t homeschool on the weekends (unless you’re trying to catch up on something!). If a date night with your spouse is one of your rocks, that’s a wonderful and important thing, but having a date night every evening might not be practical. However, having a date night once a week is a great goal. If music lessons are a big rock, the lesson itself will most likely happen only once a week. Practicing should happen daily, however there is only one hour-long block of time your child will be meeting with the instructor for their actual music lesson. Make sense?
Now, starting with those big rocks you identified, start filling in your pattern. For example, if family time is one of your big rocks and you want to make sure that Friday evenings are family night, write that into your pattern. If homeschooling is one of your big rocks, write that into your pattern.
As you are starting to sketch out your pattern, be sure to add in those things that you are committed to in a set time block. For example, if your child has music lessons every Tuesday from 2-3pm, that is a set part of your pattern. If you have a moms group you go to that meets on Thursdays from 9-11am, that’s a time that can’t be changed, but does need to be considered as you create your pattern.
Don’t Forget About Your Family
As you work through this process, don’t forget to take your family into consideration. Yup, I realize that statement seems weird as you’re sitting there creating a pattern for your family – of course you’re considering your family!
Let’s break down this idea a little bit more: Make sure you’re taking into consideration the people in your family, their personalities, and the age of your children. For example, if your children are young, having a consistent bedtime will be really important. So, planning activities where you’re out until 10pm every night might not be the best choice for your and your family in this season of life. Do you have a house full of morning people who are up and ready to go by 7am or earlier? Or do you have a more relaxed approach to mornings? When is the best time of focus for your children when it comes to homeschooling? Do they focus better in the mornings or is the early afternoon the best focus time for them? Take these factors into consideration as you build your pattern.
Think about it like this: Let’s say your family is used to more relaxed mornings and is ready to start their school lessons around 9am. Now if you insist on starting your school lessons at 7am, you’ll have some seriously grumpy people to work with. And this can cause a lot of frustration and make your homeschooling day last longer! On the other hand, if you start at 9am when everyone is awake and ready to learn, you have much happier people to work with as well as being able to accomplish more in a smaller amount of time. This concept holds true no matter what time of day your family is at their peak learning time.
Now, this might take some trial and error to find the best pattern for you family! Don’t give up! If you try something and it doesn’t work the way you want, adjust it and try again. Your pattern can be found! Make sure to keep those big rocks and smaller rocks in their places of importance, but remember they can be shuffled around throughout your week to find the best time spot for each of them. The time and day you choose for each activity doesn’t matter so much as choosing the right day and the right time for you and your family and then continuing in the consistency of the pattern.
My Experience with Our Pattern
When I first started implementing this pattern concept into our days, I had some wrong ideas that had to be adjusted! For one thing, I learned that in my family, getting everyone up and ready to start school lessons by 8am every morning is not a good fit! While we’re fully capable of getting up and moving on those mornings when we need to, we all hit a learning groove starting about 9am, so that’s when we start school.
I’ve seen firsthand how helpful and beneficial having a pattern has been to my entire family – particularly as we added more kiddos to our family! When you have a pattern or a routine, everyone knows what to expect. Everyone can take more responsibility for their part because there’s less of an unknown factor.
Creating our pattern has been so incredibly helpful to us because it gives all 7 of us a framework of what to expect during the day.
Do you want to hear something rather crazy? When we stick to a pattern for our days, I find our days are so much more productive! It almost seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s true. When we all know what to expect and what’s coming, we all start working towards the same goals. When we’re all working towards accomplishing the same thing, we get more done in a day! And that leaves more time for enjoying the unexpected and unscheduled pleasures of life.
Not only that, I find that I personally get more done when I stick to a pattern. And, let’s face it, getting things done that you know you need to get done is a really good feeling!
A Consistent Pattern verses a Strict Schedule
When some people start to think about a pattern or a schedule, they automatically think of a strict, rigid, unbending straight jacket. It’s almost like that scene in ‘The Sound of Music’ where Captain von Trapp is telling Maria, the new governess, the schedule for his children: Every hour of the day is accounted for, every activity must be taken in it’s turn, and there should be no deviation from the schedule.
I love Maria’s response to this strict plan, “Excuse me, Sir, when do they play?”
Children thrive under consistency: Consistency of rules, consistency of daily timing, consistency of bedtimes. But when that consistency is held with such a closed hand that no slight deviation from the plan is allowed, that’s when you start to walk into strict schedule territory.
Allow me to make one thing very clear: Just because you’re creating consistency and a pattern doesn’t mean the pattern becomes more important than people. This is where you can so easily get into trouble: The schedule shouldn’t be held as more important than people.
The schedule, the pattern is there to serve the people, not the other way around. When the schedule becomes the task master, when it becomes all about keeping the strict schedule and nothing else matters more, then it’s gone too far.
On the other hand, when the pattern (or schedule) is created but ignored, what good does it do? Why would you spend time and energy creating something that might sit on the fridge but no one uses to help navigate their day? It doesn’t make sense, does it?
You need to find that middle ground, that harmony where the pattern, the schedule gives you a framework to work inside. A guide to navigate your day. But at the same time, one that can be changed when needed. When you’re having that rare sweet, but lazy morning where everyone is simply enjoying each other’s company, you can delay starting school by an hour. When everyone wakes up with a head cold, you have the freedom and flexibility to shift things around. But those become the rare occasions. For the most part, you do your best to stick to the pattern and that’s what creates consistency.
Don’t Break the Jar!
As you are putting together this pattern for your family, remember one very important thing:
Don’t break the jar!
Do you remember in the illustration the professor gave to the class what the jar was made of? It was made of glass! That jar is what represents the time you have to work with each day, each week, each year. You can’t add more time to your jar. You can’t take away time from your jar.
But, when you try to stuff more and more rocks into your jar, inevitably the jar will break. When you try to do more than you or your family can physically handle, your preverbal glass jar will break. Oh, there may not be a loop-hole created in space and time, but you’ll end up sacrificing your health, your sanity, your stress level, time with your family… The way the jar breaks is different for every person, but the fact of the matter remains: Something will give and most of the time it’s the important things, the big rocks, that suffer when you try to stuff your life, your jar, too full.
It is up to you how you’ll fill your jar.
It is up to you how you’ll use the time that you’ve been given. Use it wisely, my Friend!
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Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.