The Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand Story

Written by Siddhi Latey (Weloquent)

There once was a philosophy professor who was giving a lecture. In front of him, he had a big glass jar, a pile of rocks, a bag of small pebbles, a tub of sand, and a bottle of water.

He started by filling up the jar with the big rocks and when they reached the rim of the jar, he held it up to the students and asked them if the jar was full. They all agreed, there was no more room to put the rocks in, it was full.

“Is it full?” he asked.

He then picked up the bag of small pebbles and poured these into the jar. He shook the jar so that the pebbles filled the space around the big rocks. “Is the jar full now?” he asked. The group of students all looked at each other and agreed that the jar was now completely full.

“Is it really full?” he asked.

The professor then picked up the tub of sand. He poured the sand in between the pebbles and the rocks and once again he held up the jar to his class and asked if it was full. Once again, the students agreed that the jar was full.

“Are you sure it’s full?” he asked.

He finally picked up a bottle of water and tipped the water into the jar until it soaked up in all the remaining space in the sand. The students laughed.

The professor went on to explain that the jar of rocks, pebbles, sand, and water represent everything that is in one's life.

The rocks represent the most important things that have real value – your health, your family, your partner. Those things that if everything else (the pebbles and the sand) was lost and only they remained, your life would still have meaning.

The pebbles represent the things in your life that matter, but that you could live without. The pebbles are things that give your life meaning (such as your job, house, hobbies, and friendships), but they are not critical for you to have a meaningful life. These things often come and go, and are not permanent or essential to your overall well-being.

The sand (and water) represents everything else – the small stuff. Material possessions, chores, and filler things such as watching television or browsing social media sites. These things don't mean much to your life as a whole and are likely only done to get small tasks accomplished or even to fill time.

The metaphor here is that if you start with putting sand into the jar, you will not have room for rocks or pebbles. This holds true with the things you let into your life. If you spend all of your time on small and insignificant things, you will run out of room for important things.




We often feel overwhelmed with the host of tasks that lie before us demanding our immediate attention. On juggling between school, tuitions, and extra-curriculars, we are left feeling exhausted. In such a scenario, the story of rocks, pebbles, and sand proposes a unique outlook that encourages us to simplify our life.

Time management strategies can significantly help reduce stress and provide you with direction when you have too many things to pursue. Poor time management can cause tiredness, inability to concentrate, mood swings, forgetfulness, and loss of sleep.

Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States and a former US Army General, had to address several important commitments every day. To help him manage these, he invented the Eisenhower principle that prioritises tasks based on urgency and importance. To use this principle, make a list of all that you are expected to do and split them into one of the four categories:-

  • Important and Urgent

In this quadrant, you ought to include tasks that require immediate attention and need to be done today or tomorrow at the latest. You can include tasks such as looming assignment deadlines and last-minute exam preparations. We must leave aside some time to deal with unforeseen situations that life throws at us. 


  • Not Urgent but Important

These are activities that don’t have a pressing deadline but help you achieve your important personal and academic goals. You can include activities such as exercising, reading enriching books, pursuing your hobbies, and spending quality time with friends and family.


  • Urgent but Not Important

These are primarily tasks that are not important in getting us closer to our aspirations but are time-sensitive. It can include responding to emails, making phone calls, speaking to a friend or colleague etc.


  • Not Urgent and Not Important

This quadrant is meant for distractions that are neither pressing and nor do they help us with achieving our long-term goals. These activities include mindlessly surfing the web, spending time on social media, watching TV, etc.


Once the activities have been segregated thus, you can allocate time to each quadrant to help yourself get through the day without having to worry about things that might get left out. Starting with the big “rocks” - or the tasks that are important and urgent - and ending with the “sand” which signifies activities that are not urgent and not important - will help you make most productive use of your day. In addition to this, it is important to make time for adequate sleep. At least seven hours of sleep is essential for feeling energised and taking on the next day with revived vigour.