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Do you let the urgent get in the way of the important?

Stephen Covey, perhaps best known for the bestselling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, used to conduct a powerful demonstration in his speeches and workshops. I saw him do it this way:

He showed the audience a large glass bowl, a pitcher of sand, and a container of rocks. The bowl represents our time and energy on any given day. The rocks represent the important work we need to do, the work that has the power to transform our lives and our practices. The sand represents the urgent–and often unimportant–matters we attend to day to day, like going to meetings, returning email, running errands. And blogging, if you don’t play your cards right.

He poured the sand into the large glass bowl. There was a wee bit of room left, so he tried to add the rocks. A few fit, but most didn’t. The glass bowl, in that configuration, represents the way too many of us navigate our days. The Important is hijacked by the Urgent.

He emptied the large glass bowl and began again. This time, however, he added all the rocks first. Then he poured in the sand, which sifted into the nooks and crannies between the rocks. Everything fit, with but a few grains of sand left over.

The glass bowl, in the second configuration, is the image of an effectively mastered day: The Important gets first attention and there’s still space for the Urgent. And, as you’ve no doubt experienced, the Urgent that doesn’t fit probably wasn’t Urgent at all…just filler.

If you’re serious about building a thriving mediation practice, it makes sense not to sacrifice the Important for the Urgent, over and over. So what will you do to make a thriving practice your priority?


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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