Shostack + Friends Blog


The Allegory of Rocks and Sand

As the year closes out, I'm thinking a lot about the allegory of the rocks and the sand. You should, too. Jars with sand and rocks in them

2021 has been a tough year. Millions have lost friends or loved ones to disease. Many have continued to shelter in place, amazed at how society at large seems to be reacting.

In that context, I know I've been very lucky. I've been healthy, able to pivot my business to deliver training that I think is even better than what I did in person, and we've had more requests than we could take on. I'm grateful to those customers, to the team that's helped me deliver not only great training, but a lovely new website and new self-paced training options.

And as the year ends, I realized how much of my year has been interrupt-driven. I also thought about projects that had been on hold, and why. There have been some big projects — one I'll talk about soon that just wrapped up a week ago. But others have been on hold, and I've been working roughly ten hours a day for a year, without advancing another project that I'm really, really excited about.

And this brings me to the allegory of the rocks and the sand. It's pretty simple. You have a jar. You fill it with sand, and then try to add some rocks. The rocks don't fit. You pour out the sand, add the rocks, and you can fill in sand around the rocks. Are you ready for the big reveal? The rocks are the important things in life. Family. Friends. Hobbies. The projects that matter to you. The sand is all the little things. A request for 30 minutes of my time to help review this. Yet another email inquiring if someone plans to pay for an event I agreed to do on something like the schedule on which they agreed to pay. Doomscrolling through sea chanties about password changes. It adds up to a full jar.

I've decided to focus on the rocks for the next year. There's a few parts to that. One is being mindful of what's in what category. Another is each week, I'm going to write down what are the big projects and what I plan to do for them that week. (I also plan to read the Getting Things Done book, which I hear talks about this very technique.)

What are your rocks? Are they getting the attention they deserve?