Sand and knitting and adding other small things

Do you remember this analogy?

A teacher fills a jar with rocks and then asks a student, “Is it full?”

The student says it is, but then the teacher adds a bunch of small stones, right up to the top.

“Now is it full?” the teacher asks.

“Yes, now it’s definitely full,” says the student. But now the teacher dumps sand into the jar, filling all the cracks between the rocks and stones.

The teacher asks one more time, “Now is it full?”

Catching on, the student says the jar still isn’t full. At that, the student grabs a bucket of water and pours it into the jar.

You’ve probably head this analogy used to illustrate a bunch of different things: creativity, perseverance, the importance of prioritizing, and so on. In this case, though, I think it’s a good example of how small things can always fit in.

Grandmotherly types tend to understand this. They bring their knitting with them wherever they go. To the rest of us, they seem a little odd, especially when they break out the needles right after summiting Mt. Everest.

But I like this approach. They understand the importance of bringing along little things to do. They know that if they don’t, they’ll end up filling the space with other little things that aren’t really important, things they don’t really enjoy.

Like when I procrastinate. I don’t just put off one big thing to work on the next big thing. No, no – I put off the big thing and then fill the space with whatever’s easiest, usually whatever’s least important.

For example, I’ll jump on Facebook when I should spend the few seconds brainstorming post ideas. Or I’ll brainstorm post ideas when I should try to learn some Korean.

My problem is that I don’t have a good, automatic response for when I have a few extra seconds.

But it would be a good idea to come up with one, like knitting. There are always more cracks to fill, and those cracks are going to fill one way or another. Might as well fill them with good stuff. On purpose.

Might as well come up with something to automatically do, even in the smallest amount of time, that will add up to something big.