Time Management: Tackle the Big Rocks

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Dan WeissWhile working with a client this week, I was reminded of the importance of effective time management. This business operator has been struggling with reducing a backlog of service work. While he continues to handle incoming work, he never seems to get the time to “catch up” on the backlog of larger and more complex projects.

I’ve recommended a set of strategies to tackle this problem.


Measurement, combined with goal-setting, can be a powerful motivator. When we want to lose weight, we set a goal and track our performance by periodically stepping on a scale. Knowing that another weigh-in is coming, we are driven to eat less and exercise more.

Likewise, by measuring a backlog of service work, in both hours of work to be done and billable dollars, there is a specific, visible reminder of progress. And the billable dollars component can be quite motivating!

Set Goals

The measurement process allows us to set goals for improvement. When I stepped on a scale a month ago, I knew I wanted to lose twenty pounds. Since that time, I’ve continued to measure my progress, which has been slow but steady. I don’t always see progress in a straight line, but the trend is encouraging.

My client has a backlog goal of a specific number of hours of outstanding work. Realistically, it may take six months to reach that goal. By breaking up this goal into weekly chunks (e.g., a reduction of ten hours weekly), we can measure progress along the way.


While simply measuring results can often lead to improvement, a more specific strategy is even more effective. I’ve learned that exercising when I “have time” doesn’t work consistently. Too often, I will spend my time doing something more convenient and less painful. As much as I dislike rolling out of bed and getting on my treadmill, I’ve learned that it is the most consistent way for me to make progress toward my weight loss goal.

Big Rocks

The late Steven Covey taught this time management principle by drawing a distinction between “big rocks” and “little rocks.” The big rocks are the activities that lead to achievement of our goals. The little rocks include the activities that draw our attention every day but don’t further our goals.

Covey dramatically demonstrated this time management principle by half-filling a container with small pebbles and asking an audience member to add big rocks to the container. Of course, it was impossible. But by adding the big rocks to a new container and pouring in the pebbles, everything fit. By prioritizing the big rocks, the little rocks fall into place.

We all feel reluctant to tackle difficult and complex tasks. How often do we fill our days with “little rocks” and rationalize there’s no time to work on the “big rocks”?

My client has committed to spend his morning hours every day working on the “big rocks.” By prioritizing the backlogged projects and deferring the “little rocks” to the afternoon, he will be making progress toward his long-term goal.

Which big rock will you tackle today?


Dan Weiss, founder and President of Counterpart CFO, leads a team of flexible, part-time CFOs specializing in nonprofitsTo read more from Dan, follow him on LinkedIn or subscribe to his blog at www.counterpartCFO.com.

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