Focus on the Rocks

Imagine I give you an empty jar. Along with it are a few rocks, pebbles, and a cup of sand. Your job is simple—fit everything into the jar.
You start with the sand. Easy enough. Then the pebbles go in. So far so good. Then comes the rocks. But there’s no room left. You try again but in reverse order—placing the rocks first. Then the pebbles go in around the rocks. Last comes the sand. Voila. Everything fits with ease.

This exercise is often brought up in the context of time management. But the metaphor is universally useful.

Algebra has an order of operations. Baking a cake properly requires a specific set of steps. Pilots follow a checklist before taking off.

It’s true in almost all areas of life—the order of what you focus on matters. It may even be the difference between failure and success.
It’s critical to answer the rock questions before thinking about the sand or pebble questions.

Sand question: “What supplements should I be taking?”
Rock question: “Am I exercising and getting consistent sleep?”

Sand question: “Should we be doing social media?”
Rock question: “Is everyone on the team rowing in the same direction?”

Sand question: “What’s the stock market doing this week?”
Rock question: “Do I have an investment plan I can stick with?”

Rocks are requirements for success. Depending on your goals, they may not get you all the way there. But failure is all but inevitable without them.

You can be fit without ever taking vitamins—but not without moving your body. You wouldn’t much care about pristine shingles on your roof if the foundation was crumbling under your house. You can get (and stay) wealthy without ever timing the bottom of a market—but not without a sound investment philosophy that you stick to for decades.

The details matter if—and only if—the big stuff is addressed first.

I get it. The pebbles and sand of life are usually the sexy stuff—the life hacks and shortcuts. They are the ads and social media posts that make you think, “This is what I’ve been missing!”

But that’s not true. What is usually missing is a focus on the right things in the right order.

When it comes to money, the big rocks are the boring and obvious things:

• Get organized
• Track your progress
• Systematize your saving
• Diversify your investments
• Stick to your plan

These aren’t exciting water cooler topics. They are the boring and obvious things that—when done for an uncommon amount of time—lead you to the promised land of wealth.

So next time you start getting distracted by which savings account has the highest interest rate or which stock is doing what this week, remember to focus on the big rocks. You can fill the rest in later.

Here’s to making money matter!