Big Rocks

June 9, 2022

Thanks for your comments on last week’s post on procrastination. Clearly my journey has been shared by many of you. I decided to re-read the 1994 book from Steven Covey that I mentioned last week – First Things First. I still love Covey’s folksy, sometimes corny, but always insightful and spot-on writing, so I am devoting this week’s post to Big Rocks – one of the core concepts outlined in his book.

I have shown Covey’s Big Rocks video to different groups of teachers and administrators over the years. He challenges one of the persons attending his conference to fit several “big rocks” into a large bucket that is halfway filled with tiny pebbles. He explains that the big rocks are the important things – your career, your family, your physical health, and other important elements of your life. And the pebbles are all of the little things that vie for our attention. As the volunteer tries to make it work, Covey states, “She’s operating on the assumption that by moving things around, we create more space.” That does not work. You have to prioritize the big rocks firsts, then let the pebbles fill in the cracks around those rocks. As I re-watched the video for the umpteenth time, I found that it continues to remind me to be better about focusing on the big rocks in my life.

99% of us struggle to keep the pebbles from squeezing out time for our big rocks. We have to remind ourselves each year, each month, each week, and each day to focus on the big rocks and what is truly important.

Speaking of big rocks, I am getting very excited about the upcoming wedding in our family. Ryan will marry Yesi in September of this year, and it’s been a long time coming. Damn you, COVID! The details are all coming together. Last weekend they chose a wedding band to match her beautiful engagement ring (and the aforementioned rock), and other details are all coming together. It’s going to be a wonderful event, and I can’t wait! And I’m not even going to tell them to hurry on the grandchildren thing. Caring parents/in-laws would never do that. So even though that would make my family big rock even more precious, I’m going to show a lot of willpower and hold off from even a hint of that thought. They’ll never even know. In the meantime, I love them both, and I love them as a couple, and I am ready for September!

So, how do we focus on those big rocks and keep the pebbles, those smaller, non-important stones, from beating us down with their incessant demands? Another Covey technique is the Time Management Matrix. Covey categorizes all of our to-do tasks into four quadrants:

The goal is to spend as much of your time in Quadrant 2 as possible. Quadrant 2 is the non-procrastination zone where we can truly focus on the Big Rocks. Quadrant 1, important and urgent, is the “an unexpected fire just broke out” or the “I have procrastinated too long and now it’s a crisis” zone. You have to do it, but the more time you spend there, the less time you can spend in the calmer and more satisfying Quadrant 2. Quadrant 3, not important, but still urgent, holds the meetings, appointments, or events you “have to” attend.  Even though they may not make your life richer, they are obligations and we all have them. And Quadrant 4 is not important and not urgent, and yet these are the tiny pebbles that creep into and can even dominate every part of our life. I need to spend 20-30 minutes a day reading the news and understanding the world I live in. That’s a Quadrant 2 activity for me. But it’s easy to let that thirty minutes creep into much longer, with all of the different media feeds trying to tempt me to waste time in Quadrant 4. Quadrant 4 is always there to distract me, and I have to consciously avoid spending too much time there.

I was in my friend Kim’s office this week, and I saw that she has Covey’s Matrix front and center on her wall. Quadrant Two stares her right in the face every day, and she does what we all need to do – Kim keeps focusing and refocusing on what is important. That made me smile. First Things First reminds us that we have to set time aside each year, each week, and each day to focus on our big rocks, and spend as much time in Quadrant II as we can.

I wrote last week about my bike riding goal, which is still in Quadrant 2 but teetering on moving into Quadrant 1. I have suffered since writing that post, and that’s a good thing. Over 30 miles on Sunday with over 2,500 feet of climbing. Saddle soreness and leg pain tell me I’m on the right track. I’m not going as far as I need to go, and I’m very slow doing it. Quadrant 2 is about steady progress. I’m OK with that. I took the picture above on my way back down into Malibu. It’s easier to smile when you’re descending. Afterwards, I celebrated with a turkey sandwich, some salty Fritos, and a pint of Big Rock Amber, a new beer from the Malibu Brewing Company named after a Malibu beach south of where I live.

After a week of thinking about big rocks, enjoying seeing the picture of the big rock and wedding band that will forever symbolize Ryan and Yesi’s love, and a few strenuous and sweaty hours focusing on one of my big rocks, I got to celebrate with a Big Rock. Literally.

Have a good week.


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  1. Connie Harrington says:

    Mike, I remember Jerry Davis actually DOING this stones exercise at a Mgt Team Mtg and I’ve never forgotten the optics of it! It has come up over and over throughout my life!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      That’s exactly how I feel, Connnie! Thanks.

  2. Kevin McCarthy says:

    Thanks Mike. A nice reminder. What quadrant should i put drinking beer????

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Excellent question. Depending on the situation, it could be in any quadrant. Thanks for your deep thinking on this, Kevin. It makes us all better.

  3. Rose Ann Hansen says:

    Hi Mike. Thanks again for yet another insightful post. I always enjoy reading and learning from you. I have categorized reading your posts into Quadrant 2 under “Personal Development”. 🙂 Happy Friday.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      This is my favorite comment ever. Thanks Rose Ann!

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