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Is your jam jar too full?

Do you feel time is running away with you? Are you frustrated that there are things you wanted/want to do that you never seem to have time for? A renovation project? A trip to Machu Picchu? Retraining as an acupuncturist? A puppy with your name on it at the rescue centre? A story waiting to be written?

If so I now have the answer!

Imagine you have an empty jam jar. Into it you put two or three largish stones, then some smaller pebbles. It now seems pretty full, but you can still add a handful of sand which will filter into the spaces, and there’s even room for you to top up the whole thing with water. Easy.

Now imagine filling the jar in a different way. Put the pebbles in first, then the sand and the water and … oh no… now there’s not enough room for the big stones to fit in.

Someone mentioned this jam jar concept to me at the weekend as a metaphor for life, or, rather, for living. The idea is that the jar holds the time available to us in our daily lives. The big stones represent our major aims/ ambitions /personal projects or, in my case, perhaps, my next (overdue) novel.

The pebbles are the other significant things we have (or want) to do – writing blog posts for example, teaching writing courses, other work commitments, giving talks, publicising previous books, caring for an elderly relative.

The sand represents ‘essential’ day to day tasks – email, FB, Twitter, designing an avatar, picking the kids up from school, shopping, paying bills, walking the dog, stocking up the Kindle, having friends to dinner, keeping fit, going to the latest James Bond film.

The water symbolises all those other insidious (sometimes even invidious) time consuming, unavoidable elements of life like cooking, eating, cleaning, laundry, TV, sleeping, being ill, being tired or mowing the lawn.

How you categorise the elements of your life is a matter of attitude and personal opinion, but the basic idea is that it is all too easy to fill up your jar with pebbles, sand and water, leaving no time/space for the big stones.

If you don’t have any pressing, ‘big stone’ projects then that’s fine, lucky you, but if you do then the moral of the jar is that you should install them into your life, protect their space and fill up the time around them, not instead of them.

Does it work? I don’t know, but it’s always good to acknowledge aims and ambitions and to visualise them working out. As mentioned in a previous post I am as guilty as the next person of falling back on displacement activity. So this afternoon I am going down to the beach to find a suitably large, ‘next novel’ stone, I’ll pop it into a jar, sprinkle in a few pebbles, add a modicum of sand and water and have it sitting on the kitchen table as a reminder of my priorities.

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12 thoughts on “Is your jam jar too full?

  1. Yes, I’m a bit of an expert at filling up my jam jar with sand and forgetting about the stones! Funny to see the same theme as my blog, but with different (wiser) words.

  2. LINDA ANGUS on said:

    O.K, I’m the person who doesn’t write novels but does all the other stuff! I also have 2 part-time jobs. !. I would get a person I could share the ‘other’ jobs with.
    2. Employ a person to do the other jobs. 3. Forget the other jobs.
    Trouble with women we like to multi task – this does diminish as you get older!
    Best to get the big job done – (which means you have to be anti social), but you will get it done a lot quicker. Or KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON as usual either way
    is acceptable.

  3. I’m a sucker for trying out different time/goal management techniques – some work, others not so much. I’m best with ones without too many rules/structures and this one sounds good as it allows for a lot of flexibility. Hope it helps you write your next novel, Helen – so many of us are waiting eagerly for it!

  4. I don’t think I like this post, Helen. Maybe because I don’t like jam, unless it’s raspberry, or damson if I’m in the mood. Would a Marmite jar work? Course, that’s smaller so it wouldn’t be my fault if fewer big stones fit in it would it? Unless, they do catering size jars…what do you mean I’m just dissembling. There’s no work avoidance here…I just need to get the right sort of jar before I start properly, then maybe sort out my kitchen cupboards to find the right place for the jar… 🙂

    • Brilliant! My point exactly. Plus of course Marmite jars are dark so you wouldn’t be able to see the stones anyway! ps can I suggest Tipton’s Little Scarlett jam (James Bond’s favourite) delicious!

  5. Perfect post for me to read this morning, Helen. Love the metaphor of the jam jar..great visual for me to use. I am so drawn to rocks..the huge ones in mountainous or hilly areas and boulders, of course, but my home is full of a collection of interesting rocks that fit into the palm of my hand. You have planted a seed that is already beginning to grow 🙂 Thank you!

    • Yes, I love rocks and stones too – we found an amazing wierd stonelike thing in Fuerteventura recently – I think it’s a bubble of lava that landed in the sea and solidified with a hole in the middle. Might put it in my jar!

  6. I’ve heard this same story used as a metaphor for how busy/full your life really is and I could relate. Sometimes we let all the smaller particles take up pieces here and there of our time until we’re no longer able to fit any more big things into our day. It’s definitely a great reminder of setting priorities!

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